Steve’s Report Card
When one looks back at the 2011-12 Trail Blazers season, there were certain expectations for a number of players, some of which were met and some of which fell short. A season recap is already up on the NWSB.
For others, the abbreviated season wasn’t really long enough to give a fair evaluation of their skill enhancement, as practice time was at a premium and the various injuries that took place throughout the year called for changes to the lineup that would normally not be made.
With that being said, as an organization, my grade for this year’s edition of the Portland Trail Blazers as a whole falls right on the mendoza line.
LaMarcus Aldridge: A+
There wasn’t much that LA did that could be classified as negative this season. On par with last years numbers, Aldridge led the team with 21.7 points (21.8 last year) and 8 rebounds (8.8 last year) on his way to his first appearance at the mid-season All-Star Game.
LaMarcus Aldridge had been a pillar of strength this season for the Blazers, when only a late season ending injury to his hip derailed the remainder of the year and slowed his path to becoming one of the elite power forwards in the game.
Nic Batum: A-
Nicolas Batum has taken the trade of Rudy Fernandez and the retirement of Brandon Roy as an opportunity to improve his offensive stats and rank on the “go to guy” pecking order. If the Blazers are going to return to the top eight teams in the west next season, they need to lock Batum down in contract talks this summer.
JJ Hickson: B+
Almost doubling his point production and increasing his total stats across the board on both ends of the court, J.J. Hickson may have found a home and a role with the Blazers next season. In 19 games after coming off the waiver wire, 10 of which he started, Hickson proved to be an enigizer off the bench or a suitable replacement in the starting five if the team runs a “small ball” lineup.
Jamal Crawford: C+
JC’s return to the Northwest did not end with as much fanfare as it start with. Beginning the season coming off the bench in his sixth man role, Jamal Crawford filled in solidly at either guard spot.
What hurt Crawford the most this year was his inconsistent shooting percentage and a nagging knee injury that led to his worst statistical season since 2002-03.
To be fair to Crawford and his hometown (well, as close to it as possible) fans, a full season in the Rose Garden is a must next year in order to fully evaluate his contribution to the team.
Ray Felton: C+
Ray Felton‘s report card was a blueprint of a roller coaster this season. Starting off on the starting unit, Felton quickly found himself in Nate McMillan’s doghouse. Coming off the bench, Felton found motivation and with his shooting percentage increasing and his turnovers dropping, a return to the starting lineup soon followed.
What may be a classic case of “contract year-itis”, Felton made a big push to impress not only the Blazers front office, but others throughout the league that may be looking for a starting point guard. Here is what my colleague at the NWSB Blair thinks we can do with Felton.
Wesley Matthews: C
Wesley Matthews bounced back into the starting lineup after being sent to the second unit for a wake up call. Chances are high that Matthews will return to the starting off guard spot on a full time basis in the 2012-13 season after finishing with bad taste in his mouth about his production this year and the urge to make up for a disappointing season.
Luke Babbitt: C
A serviceable player off the bench, Luke Babbitt is a what you see is what you get type player. The team’s best long range marksman by percentage, Babbitt should return to the club next season and after bidding his time for a couple of years, see a continued increase in playing time.
Craig Smith and Kurt Thomas: C
The “Rhino” and “Big Sexy”, is not a new WWE tag teaml, but the nicknames for two Blazer big men that could find a second career in the squared circle. Providing solid backup minutes at the power forward spot and for Thomas the occasional appearance as an undersized pivot, Smith and Thomas are on opposite ends of the career ladder.
If Smith learned anything from his 40 year old teammate, it will go a long way next season both on and off the court.
Joel Pryzbilla: C
Ghostface returned to the Rose Garden this season after being sent to Charlotte last year for Gerald Wallace. With the lack of a true big man once Camby left, Pryzbilla managed to score at least sixteen minutes of action a night and posted his best stats in two years.
A free agent at the end of this season, there is a chance that Pryzbilla could return to the team next season to help mentor an incoming big man.
Jonny Flynn and Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams: C-
In his second second chance to make a first impression, Jonny Flynn came over in the Marcus Camby deal and was given the opportunity to play a backup role to Felton. With the role originally belonging to Smith, Flynn came in and stole some of the former Blue Devil’s floor time.
As a rookie, Nolan Smith found himself with the perfect opportunity to showcase his talent. With Felton and Crawford bouncing back and forth in the lineup, both Coach McMillan and Coach Kanales were looking for a solid backup pg.
There is more of a chance that Blazer fans will see Smith return next season than Flynn.
Playing the role of combo guard, Williams struggled in his first year with the team, ending the season on the injured list with a dislocated shoulder.
Armon Johnson, Chris Johnson, Hasheem Thabeet: Incomplete
Be it injury, trade or just plain lack of talent, these three failed to register a mark on the report card. None of the above are under contract for next season and chances are high that none of them will be granted an opportunity to return.
Here is hoping that some members of the Blazers roster hit up the gym for a “summer school session” and improve their report card for next season.
Although they finished the season eight games out of a playoff spot, one would like to think that if the team chemistry was a bit stronger and the medical staff was up to par with that of the renowned Phoenix Suns crew, a push for the seventh or eighth seed next season would not be out of the question.