As an extension of a piece I wrote about what the Blazers’ Summer League roster may offer in Las Vegas, I wanted to take a closer look at that roster’s elder statesman, Joel Freeland.
Drafted in 2006 with Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, Freeland spent six years overseas, first with Gran Canaria and then with Unicaja Málaga, before signing a 3-year deal in the summer of 2012. While the 2012-13 season wasn’t what Joel hoped it would be, when a young and rebuilding roster should have given him plenty of playing time but instead gave him less than 10 minutes a game and a D-league recall, it did provide a valuable learning experience. The shoot-first Freeland transformed seemingly overnight into a passable defender, able to body up against opponents inches taller and stones heavier than he. All of a sudden, the Blazers had a respectable backup big who could board and get vertical with the best of them.
Injury derailed Freeland’s playoff hopes of contributing, but with another summer ahead it may prove to be yet another opportunity for growth, especially in these areas:
Offense. Freeland can shoot. While his efforts to bolster his defense are admirable, it would be very helpful if both Freeland and the Blazer coaches loosened the reigns a bit and gave him a green light to take open shots. For Pete’s sake, even Thomas Robinson was doing his best impression of Aldridge with some long jumpers, and later in the season they weren’t half bad. The more you can make the defense come out of the middle when you happen to be on the wing, rather than letting them pack the paint, the easier it is for others so slash, rotate, and pass for easy baskets.
Fouls. While there is something to be said for burning so much energy on defense that you are making good fouls, Freeland commits about 5 of them every 36 minutes… in the same amount of time, Aldridge commits about 2.5. Staying on the floor is vitally important for a relatively thin team like the Blazers; especially if injury takes out a key reserve or (God forbid) a starter.
Picks. Freeland already sets decent picks, and last year he developed that ever-elusive “toughness” (thanks to Luke Babbitt) that makes such a crucial difference for post players. But wouldn’t it be nice if his picks were just fatal? Sure, guys are going to flop. You’ll get some fouls called on you, but you’ll take them for what it would do for the mentality of the rest of the team and the opposition. And, this directly contradicts the previous piece of advice for Freeland to not get so many fouls, but I’d rather the fouls be for hard picks than for finding yourself somewhat out of position on a rebound and trying to fight your way back in.
Leadership. So he hasn’t been in the league that long. Big deal. Freeland’s been playing professional ball longer than Robinson and Meyers Leonard have played high school, college, and pro ball combined. It’s tough to tell what goes on behind the scenes, but I would implore Freeland to embrace a leadership role if the opportunity presents itself. Especially for Leonard, who hinted that he understands how important his development this summer is to his future with the Blazers and the NBA, Freeland can be a guide and a good example. Can you imagine if Leonard had half the grit Freeland showed last year? Look out.
While the Blazers roster is not yet settled and it could very well happen that they make an acquisition that pushes Freeland further from the court, he’s already shown that he can grow over the summer. If it happens again, the years-long professional development of Freeland will have been worth the wait.