Midseason Grades #2

We continue our mid-season look at individual Blazers...

Steve Blake  28.8 mpg, 7.9 ppg, 40.8% fg, 40.4% 3pt, 3.6 apg, 2.5 rpg, 2.58 ast/t.o. ratio

Steve Blake has had a couple of amazing seasons with the Trail Blazers (well, amazing Blake-wise anyway).  In '05-'06 he shot 43.8% from the field, 41.3% from the three-point arc and impressed Coach McMillan so thoroughly with his hustle and point guard custodianship that McMillan asked for him back after he had been traded away.  In '08-'09 Blake fired at a 42.8% clip, 42.7% from the arc.

Unfortunately the beginning of this season Blake has drifted close to the form that he showed elsewhere, playing on teams that were pretty much OK with trading him away.  That's not to say he's been horrible.  Rather he's been the pedestrian Steve Blake that most people see him as rather than the productive utility man Blazers fans have come to expect.  His shooting percentages are down significantly from last season across the board.  The 40.4% three-point percentage looks fairly good still but Blake has earned it in streaky fashion, hitting everything some nights and nothing others.  First, that's not Steve Blake.  Second, the Blazers have other players who can do the streak thing but bring far more upside.  When you consider that much of his oft-cited offensive compatibility with Brandon Roy is predicated on the distance shot falling any reduction bodes ill, as this is one of the main reasons to have him on the court.

Some of this can be attributed to yo-yoing around with the rest of the backcourt in the three-guard sets.  All of the backcourt players were in positions foreign to them in the early season.  This may also account for the significant drop in assist he's experienced this year. 

In Steve's defense he still brings an unimposing court sense to the floor that none of the other guards possess.  Miller has the sense but is more imposing.  Bayless doesn't have it yet.  But Miller appears to be assimilating and Bayless appears to be gaining some point guard sensibilities, both of which will usurp Steve's territory.  Perhaps he's feeling that pinch.  Or perhaps he's just having an off year.  Either way, it hasn't been the best year for him, even by his own standards.

Grade: C- 

Joel Przybilla  22.7 mpg, 4.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 52.3% fg, 64.7% ft

Greg's back, now Greg's injured.  Greg's in foul trouble.  Now he's not in foul trouble.  Now he's in foul trouble again.  Now he's still in foul trouble but we need him in there anyway.  Oops!  Now he picked up another one.  Joel?  Oh Joel!  You're in.

And out.

And in again.

So goes the story of Joel Przybilla.  And up until the night he went fetal and started pounding the floor he gave the Blazers what he's always given them:  excellent rebounding per minute, credible paint defense, and a willingness to do what was needed when it was needed without complaining, taking space, creating headlines, or doing anything but contributing to the cause.

As with Blake, Joel's overall numbers are down this year.  He had a superlative season last year which accounts for some of it, but his overall production and percentages are slightly on the low side for his Portland tenure.  But, a few erratic sub-19-minute outings aside, Joel has continued to hold up his end of the court nearly every night under diverse conditions.  There's really not much to complain about with him except for things that are undeniably Joel-ish, like the inability to catch the ball in or near traffic.  Overall he's exactly the Joel you want and exactly the kind of bench player every team needs.

Grade:  A-

Click through to see reports on Rudy Fernandez, Juwan Howard, and Jerryd Bayless,

Rudy Fernandez  22.2 mpg, 8.1 ppg, 40.1% fg, 35.5% 3pt, 2.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.24 ast/t.o. ratio

Rudy has played only 23 games this year due to injury.  In those 23 games he's seen his minutes decrease by 3.4, his shooting percentage drop 2.4 percentage points, and his all-important three-point percentage drop 4.4 percentage points.  Like Steve Blake, Rudy's shooting has either been dead on or just plain dead with little in-between.  He's looked tentative on shots, his cuts (when made) haven't connected, and nothing is coming easy for him.  This has been especially true in the brief period since he returned from injury.

On the good side his defensive movement appears to be more sure than it was last season.  He still gambles but his stretches result in better coverage than they used to.  His defensive court sense appears better.  And he hasn't let poor shooting nights take away his hustle.

Until we see another month or so from him it's hard to say much more about Rudy's game than that.  The grade won't be as harsh as it otherwise might have been because of the injury and because it's hard to establish a firm baseline for a second year player.  This isn't the Rudy of last season but we don't know yet whether last season's Rudy was the Rudy that's going to show up every year.

Grade:  C- 

Juwan Howard  20.0 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 56.2% fg, 4.0 rpg

At the beginning of the year some folks were openly wondering what the heck this guy was doing on our team.  Maybe Howard himself was.  He's a long-toothed vet but he's also seen major playing time and has been known as a scorer.  Neither playing time nor shots were available.  Without huge defensive chops or massive energy contributions he seemed out of place in his 4-minute outings.  Then the entire front line got nuked and Howard starting drawing significant minutes.  And as Betty Childs discovered about Louis Skolnick in Revenge of the Nerds, once you got to know him he wasn't half bad.

Even with the shortcomings of age, fatigue (playing him 30+ minutes a night doesn't seem fair), and an unfamiliar situation Howard has given the Blazers some decent jump shooting (56.2% on over the top shots?!?), a little rebounding, and most importantly of all a veteran body thrown against superior centers.  Howard's mark isn't how many boards he gets, it's how many his man fails to get.  It hasn't worked every night (cough, SHAQ, cough) but opponents haven't found the Blazers to be pushovers up front most evenings.  That in itself is amazing.  Plus you never see an on-court expression outside of the occasional smile.  No matter what the rotation it's all business--Juwan being Juwan.  Scoring 16 or 6, attempting 12 shots or 3, the game is the same.  It's a decent lesson, and an added bonus, for this team.

I'm not sure how many games Juwan has flat-out made the difference in but without him the Blazers would have had a harder time in all of their post-Oden games.  Even saying that much is more than we expected.  When you pick something up at the Dollar Store and it finds a way into daily use without breaking you should be glad and not ask too many questions.

Grade:  A

Jerryd Bayless  18.1 mpg, 8.6 ppg, 39.3% fg, 30.2% 3pt, 3.9 fta, 79.3% ft, 2.3 apg, 2.16 ast/t.o. ratio

Jerryd Bayless has shown tangible progress so far this year:  better shooting percentages overall and from range, more minutes, double the points, better assist-to-turnover ratio, twice the fouls drawn.  He's doing just what you want for a second-year guy.  The fact that he's also made a game-changing impact in a couple of contests and co-chaired a few other successful outings is a bonus.  Of particular interest:  five games of 5 or more assists in the last three weeks.  Also of interest (but we already knew it):  he can finish at the cup as well as anyone in the league and he jumps out of the gym as well.  The fact that the excitement now blends in with his broader contributions on many nights is the most exciting thing of all.  Finding Jerryd's impact on the stat sheet and in the "W" and not just on the highlight reel is a significant step.

The down side?  First, he's still inconsistent, especially with the shot.  That's not unexpected for a second-year guy coming into his own.  Second, he tends to drift when he's not the focus of a play.  This is also expected.  The poor overall shooting percentages are probably the most serious flaw, but how are you going to complain when they went up 28 points overall and 43 points from the arc from last season?  Remember what I said about second-year players and mid-year grades above.

Grade:  A 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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