While it’s only been two games, it’s never too early to evaluate what we’re working with. Here are some impressions of a few select players:
Thomas Robinson – Besides Batum, he’s the Blazers’ biggest x-factor, and while they shouldn’t have expected a lot out of him, they could have ended up with a (moderate) difference-maker. I’ve been impressed with Robinson’s spin moves, even if they draw the ire of other Blazers journalists. Is he getting anything from them? Not yet. But his speed and balance is remarkable, and if he can better evaluate what to do AFTER he makes his spins, it will be a very tough move to stop. I’ve also been grateful for the energy and take-no-crap attitude. He’s still learning the system, still figuring out his teammates, and still trying to rebuild the confidence that evaporated during his disheartening season last year, but I think he’ll be an important piece for the Blazers moving forward.
Allen Crabbe – Woah. Is this the same guy who laid an egg during Summer League? Crabbe has shown he can make it happen off the dribble as well as act as the floor-spacing spot-up shooter the Blazers drafted him to be. In my eyes, it’s night and day. I was pretty convinced he was going to be a non-factor after watching him this summer, but I think and hope I was wrong. Time will tell whether his new-found confidence bounces back after the inevitable bad game that all players have from time to time.
Wesley Matthews – A few weeks ago, I wrote “Unless [Matthews] seriously upgrades his handles or starts finishing at the rim better, there’s really nowhere for his game to go.” Well guess what? He did both. He’s gotten more comfortable with the ball up top, even while being pressured by the defense. His handles have improved. And while he hasn’t had a sparkling preseason, I wager to guess that having a starting shooting guard who isn’t stymied by the prospect of dribbling is an asset.
Will Barton – If you wanted a basketball player with absolutely no fear who’s willing to do things like, say, try to block a Meyers Leonard dunk during FanFest (see picture, taken by yours truly, to the left), then Barton’s your man. If you want someone who’s level headed and calculated… well, you want Andre Miller. But Barton is growing up by extending his range and picking his shots. He’s the Blazers’ third-leading scorer in preseason, shooting a blistering 73% from the field. While that won’t last, it’s nice to know that his all-or-nothing attitude (which the Blazers sorely need more of) won’t come with as heavy of a price as it did last season.
Damian Lillard – Has his defense gotten any better? He might say so, but so far his newfound aggression has only led to more fouls. He’s as steady as they come, and plays with a combination of tenacity and intelligence which often defines great point guards. He leads the Blazers in scoring for the preseason, and while his 16% three-point percentage thus far isn’t pretty, it’s about the only thing he hasn’t done well on offense so far. I especially respect his willingness to go into the teeth of the defense, sometimes surrounded by two or three defenders, and still have the poise and power to convert.
Dee Bost – He didn’t get a lot of run last game, but he’s determined to make the most of every minute he spends on the court. I wish there were room for him on the team. There probably isn’t. But he plays with a full motor, is a capable passer, and hasn’t been a liability when he’s on the floor.
The rest – LaMarcus is recovering. Nicolas Batum and Mo Williams sat out a game. Joel Freeland has improved, as has Victor Claver, and Leonard’s shooting has gotten better even if his defense hasn’t. Robin Lopez gets a few more games before I get too critical of him, and I do respect his presence and offensive rebounding.
Conclusion so far – They haven’t put it all together, but trust me: the Blazers are a better team than last year. Maybe a lot better. Here’s hoping the next few preseason games brings us back some more players so we can see what we’re really working with.