Mid-Season Grades: Part 1

Having just passed the 42nd game of the year it's time to evaluate the first half of the season for individual players.  We'll take the roster in reasonable chunks to make discussion easier.

I should preface this by saying that I hate the idea of "grading" players, as if I were their instructor or something.  It's cheeky, far too broad, and thus wildly inaccurate and near-spurious as a measure.  However it does help as a starting-off point and/or focus for discussion so I'm doing it.  Even I take them with a grain of salt.

/disclaimer

Brandon Roy   38.8 mpg, 23.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.1 apg, 48.3% fg, 34.8% 3pt, 6.8 fta, 79.4% ft

After a huge contract signing in a summer wherein he admitted he hardly touched a basketball, Brandon Roy had a rocky start to the season.  His shot and timing were off.  The usual grace with which he maneuvers around the court was conspicuously absent.  He had trouble adjusting to Greg Oden and Andre Miller alike.  It looked for a while like this would be a season of doubt more than triumph for Roy.  But then the entire team went down and he was called upon to fulfill his traditional role as savior and unquestioned prime player.  At first the transition back into the pilot's chair seemed forced, as teammates lost their way around him as he scored.  But after a trial period the old Brandon emerged, complete with astonishing scoring, timed unselfishness, and a near-seamless fit amongst his cohorts.  You still see situations where it's clear Brandon or a teammate are producing rather than both, but most of the time with most of the team he's a comfortable fit.  It's no accident that as the true Brandon has re-emerged the games of several of his teammates have lifted as well.

Throughout the year the Blazers have relied on Brandon for big minutes, not just big plays.  If anything Roy may have been overused, especially with nagging pains.  But what can you do...especially when he responds game after game no matter what ails him?  His numbers are incredible, made even more so by the fact that he's the one defenses watch every time he steps on the floor.

If there's a flaw in Brandon's game it's clearly defense.  But his effort has picked up there as the season has progressed as well.  At the beginning of the year you'd see him routinely lose players to picks or take a half step towards an opponent instead of getting in their way.  The flaws have been much less obvious in December and January.  Besides, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams made careers out of covering for Clyde and Terry when their defense flagged.  Somebody on this team should be able to step up for Brandon.  Complaining about Roy's defense at this point is like complaining that your supermodel girlfriend doesn't play Modern Warfare with you.  True...but you can't find somebody else to do that?

Grade:  A   (It's usually been an A+ so we did give some credence to the early struggles.)

LaMarcus Aldridge   35.7 mpg, 15.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 49.5% fg

Like Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge had a bumpy start to the season.  He looked lost playing alongside Greg Oden.  His offense devolved into long turn-around jumpers punctuated by the occasional streak down the floor for a break-leading jam.  His rebounding was passive.  A month in he had twice as many games of 12 points and under as 20-point efforts.  The pitchforks and torches weren't out yet but the natives were getting restless, as was LaMarcus himself.

The situation improved somewhat after Greg Oden went down.  Aldridge rattled off five straight games of 19 or more including consecutive games of 31 and 25 against Milwaukee and Sacramento in mid-December.  But then the bottom fell out with a 6-shot, 3-point outing in a loss to Orlando followed in short order by an ankle injury that kept him sidelined for most of three games, followed by 11 and 8 point nights against the Grizzlies and L*kers, consisting of 8 shots each.

In the last week or so, though, LaMarcus' ankle and head and whatever else was bothering him seems to have come around right.  He's doing well enough on the offensive end but the real revival has been in rebounding...sorely needed on this depleted roster.  He's logged 13, 14, and 15 boards in the span of four games.  He also looks more settled than he has been.  Hopefully this is the sign of things to come and not a brief course correction in an otherwise meandering season.

For all that it's tempting to bag on LaMarcus' year so far when you look up he is averaging a post-rookie high in field goal percentage and a career high in rebounds, rebounds per minute, and defensive rebounds.  You also have to account for the continual shift in roles and responsibilities.  LaMarcus is not doing that poorly when compared to LaMarcus.  He's suffers when compared to expectations and perhaps the opportunities wide open in front of him currently.

Grade:  C+

Greg Oden  23.9 mpg, 11.1 ppg, 60.5% fg, 76.6% ft, 8.4 rpg, 21 games played on the year

Greg Oden established a baseline last year.  Basically it read:  rawer than sushi, slower than molasses, more fouls than a KFC (cough), but so big and strong that he couldn't help but grab some rebounds and block a few shots.  It became evident quickly upon the advent of this season that he was going to exceed those expectations considerably.  His weight was down.  His speed and reaction times were up.  Previously you cringed, feeling slightly embarrassed every time he touched the ball on offense.  This year you got kind of excited, knowing that this could still be a botched possession but that it could also turn into something spectacular.  His rebounding was phenomenal.  His defense anchored the team.  He was still a ways from being a complete player, particularly in the foul area, but he had leapt beyond where he had been at such a speed that you began to salivate once again when considering the future.

Then his knee cracked and it was all done for the year.  Again.

Also you have to factor in that despite the improvement neither Brandon nor LaMarcus looked particularly comfortable on offense with Oden on the floor.  That may or may not be Greg's fault, but it does color the perception.  As with LaMarcus, one has to decide whether to grade Greg against Greg or against expectations, the latter of which would have to include the injury.  I prefer to acknowledge Oden's development by leaning towards the former.

Grade:  B+

Andre Miller    29.0 mpg, 12.4 ppg, 43.1% fg, 20.9% 3pt, 80.2% ft, 5.0 apg, 2.9 rpg, 2.44 ast/t.o. ratio

Andre Miller has had a tough season.  His minutes are down and nearly every significant stat has dropped both in raw terms and in per-minute production.  Obviously some of this is due to the switch in teams and systems.  As he has acclimated and his role has increased his production has also risen.  But Miller has had an equally rough time off the court where his taciturn ways reportedly have caused friction and misunderstanding.  He has not been able to adapt his veteran experience to the demands of the coaching staff, nor was the coaching staff able to adjust to him early on.  His job description was to run the team, provide veteran leadership, and maybe penetrate a little more than our point guards did last year.  The first two never happened and the third didn't mesh with the offensive flow.  A few memorable outings aside, Miller's early season was forgettable, at best.  When you factor in defense, maybe forgettable doesn't do it justice.

However a funny thing has happened in January.  Perforce or by choice, the coaching staff has come to rely on him more.  He took the starting job weeks earlier but the New Year saw him gain a steady diet of 30-40 minute outings, nominally at the point but sometimes functioning as a scoring guard by default.  Lo and behold, he's averaging 19 points and more than 7 assists on the month and has made key contributions to Portland wins.  The ice has thawed on the bench and on the court with smiles and high fives visible upon occasion.  Most importantly, he and Brandon Roy have found ways to mesh (or at least score in the same game).  He's looking much more like the Miller folks envisioned when his contract was signed.

Grade:  C

Martell Webster  27.8 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 41.2% fg, 38.1% 3pt,

Martell Webster's season arc follows Andre Miller's fairly closely.  He had a couple amazing performances early in the year but those were staccato bursts in a languorous  fugue of mediocrity.  When his three-pointer fell Martell was great.  But it seldom fell for more than a quarter per game.  When the shots weren't falling and the touches weren't forthcoming the rest of Martell's game suffered.  It was disappointing considering the field was clear for him as the only true and experienced small forward on the team.

As with Miller, a funny thing happened to Martell in the New Year.  All of a sudden hi minutes solidified at season highs, his defense picked up against some of the better forwards in the league, his point production went through the roof (only double-digit performances in January, 4 games of 20+), and his rebounding increased 50% over the month before, doubling his production from the beginning of the year.  Though he still has ups and downs his confidence is soaring and his defense remains fairly steady.  Prior to three weeks ago Martell was all but doomed when Nicolas Batum returned.  Now he's likely to retain his starting job for a while at least and, provided he can produce with slightly more modest minutes, should form a nice defense/shooting platoon with Batum.  Provided, that is, that the other shoe doesn't drop somewhere along the line.  Having returned from an entire year off gives Webster some leeway in grading.

Grade:  B-

More to come...

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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