Blazers mid-season player report cards
PG: Raymond Felton. When Andre Miller was traded for Felton people assumed that they would see an improvement over Miller. Felton was suppose to be the outside shooter and floor spacer that the Blazers never had. Unfortunately Felton's shooting number are down all across the board and his turnovers are through the roof. He has gotten bad enough to see his minutes decrease and lose his starting job to Jamal Crawford. Felton has been one of the worst point guards in the league, especially since he was supposed to be an upgrade. Grade: D (By virtue of at least not being injured)
SG: Nicolas Batum. Batum gained a lot of experience overseas and it shows. He is better off the dribble and is an improved passer. He is less passive, and is not afraid to shoot anymore. He took over the starting shooting guard spot by virtue of inconsistent Matthews and Batum's better shooting percentages. The only downfall was Batum not getting an extension, meaning the Blazers will be matching other team's offers this offseason. The good news is Batum is 23 and has room to get better. Grade: B+ (mainly due to some lapses on defense and occasional bouts of passiveness)
SF: Gerald Wallace. Wallace has clearly been inconsistent. He excels in the open court, but when the game slows down he often differs or cannot finish. He has relied so much on his athleticism in the past that it easy to see why he is struggling. He will need to adapt his game in the future as he slows down. The Blazers need him to play his best more than ever. He scores an average of 10 more points a game in wins if that is evidence enough. If Wallace can string some good games together (especially on the road) the Blazers will win more. Grade B- (Blazers need consistency from Wallace and it is not happening.)
PF: Aldridge has turned into an amazing player who can score in a variety of ways. He can make it from almost anywhere on the floor and his post moves have turned into a thing of beauty. His defense has also improved. He does need to crash the boards more. He recognizes double teams way faster too. He has developed an up and under move to his repertoire. Aldridge still has some difficulty dribbling to the hoop, but he excels at so many other things that it does not matter. Grade A (no longer an all-star in the making!)
C: Marcus Camby is probably the most agile center for his age. The fact that he is still capable of pulling 20 rebounds down in a game is outstanding given his age. He does get beat more often than he used to on defense but his passing ability, rebounding, and court awareness makes him a good asset to have. The bad news is offensively he has virtually no game outside of his set shot and the occasional tip-in. His minutes have seen a decline due to his lack of offensive firepower and his age. Given how weak the center position is in the league he could be in the league for a while longer assuming he does not get injured. Grade B (age is catching up with him, and his offensive liabilities hurt the team)
Wesley Matthews. Don't let Matthews demotion fool you. He is still a very capable player. He has proven to be a streaky, albeit reliable three point shooter. His defense can be phenomenal at times. The problem is he can be very predictable. He can only accomplish straight line drives and has problems changing directions with the ball in his hands. Matthews could be better utilized coming off screens than trying to beat the guy guarding him. Matthews shooting touch comes and goes, and right now it is gone. Matthews would be better off exerting most of his energy playing defense as he has shown he can shut players down at times (Chris Paul). He has not really taken that step forward that many thought he would. Until he becomes better with the balls in his hands and can drive in and finish more consistently he is better served in a sixth man role. Grade B- (needs to improve dribbling skills and finish at the basket better)
Jamal Crawford is exactly what we thought he was. A shoot first guard who is streaky enough to shoot you in and out of games. Sometimes his play looks borderline erratic, but get him on the right day and there is no stopping him. He is one of the only players on the team who can create his own shot, it just does not always go in. His defense has actually been better than in years past, no doubt from pressure coming from the coach. Recently Crawford has been playing more point guard and proving he can distribute the ball better than Felton right now. His points are down from years past, but that is due mainly to playing less minutes. It will be interesting to see if he takes over the point guard spot for good or if the game against the Spurs was merely an aberration. Grade B (shooting percentages and team play need to improve)
Kurt Thomas. He knows all the veteran tricks. He is tough and has a good mid range shot. Players bite on his fake a lot. He is a good glue guy to have. He struggles to get rebounds due to his size. The coming of Joel Przybilla may cut into his time on the court. Grade B (limited offensive game, undersized, makes up for it with IQ)
Nolan Smith. He clearly has the IQ to play the game and could be a good backup point guard. His lack of athleticism may prevent him from becoming a starter. He knows how to distribute the ball and makes few mistakes, which is encouraging as a rookie. He may struggle to create his own shot, unlike in college, but he is smart enough to adjust and become a capable point guard. Grade B+ (lack of mistakes and mental lapses bode well for his future)
Elliot Williams. The best athlete on the team is Williams. He is quick, exudes confidence and has a decent stroke. Keep in mind he was slated to be a lottery pick before is injury in college. Once he improves his awareness and defense he could be a starter in this league. It is refreshing to see him play after having a procedure on both his knees. He may earn some minutes through the rest of the season. He is currently shooting 54 percent which is downright phenomenal for a guard. He reminds me the most like a young Jason Terry, hopefully his career turns out the same way. Grade B+ (his shooting ability and confidence are important in paving the way for Elliot's future)
Craig Smith. The rhino is known for putting his head down and charging to the basket. He is undersized though, which hurts him the most on defense as people shoot over him and as smaller guys blow past him. His rebounding though has suffered the most, which has caused his minutes to shrink even more throughout the season. He is a fun player to watch, but his physical limitations limit his play. Grade B- (Blazers need more rebounding, better defense from Smith if he wants to earn more minutes)
The rest. What to say that hasn't been said? Oden is still injured. Babbitt is the Chalupa man. Armon is the odd man out, and Chris Johnson is still skin and bones. Oh, and welcome back Joel! Keep in mind the Blazers will need to decide who to waive (Chris, Armon, Greg) in order to make room for Joel.
Nate McMillan. Nate has resisted change as he was hesitant in starting Batum, and resisted calling out Felton. The bad execution late in games can be partially blamed on Nate. Nate could also open up his rotation more to Nolan and Elliot when the situation arises. Nate has dealt with a dearth of changes so that also needs to be taken into account, as well as the grueling schedule. In reality, at this point I don't see a better option than Nate (unless Phil Jackson, and Sloan come out of retirement). Nate does not deserve all the blame for some of the failures, but improvement from Nate is a pressing matter. Grade B- (Nate needs to take more control of some players like Crawford and less control over others like Batum)
Grades are based on pre-season expectations, and per-minute production. Not based on player comparisons.
What to expect in the rest of the season.
Blazers are on pace to win 36 games and have loss so many close games so far that you would have to figure that a few more close wins come their way for the second half of the season. Blazers also need to improve on the road in the second half of this season. Blazers are currently the eighth seed in the west, slated to play Oklahoma City in the playoffs. Every single game will matter though as Denver is going to get Danilo back from injury and Wilson Chandler back from China. Memphis is going to get Zach Randolph back, and Minnesota will only get better. The different seeds will be separated by a mere one or two games. If Felton improves from his work out this weekend, Joel comes back better than he left, Wallace plays consistently well, and no injuries occur, then the Blazers could string enough wins together to stay in the race. Blazers could finish as high a 3 seed or could miss out on the playoffs. My guess is that they get the 7 or 8 seed. Hopefully the Blazers are up to the challenge.
The coming of Joel Przybilla
Assuming Joel passes his physical he will be with the team for the rest of the season. Joel has lost a considerable amount of mobility over the past couple of year.However, he will probably be in better shape than when the Blazers last saw him because his knee his fully healed. He will most likely share back-up Center duties with Kurt Thomas depending on the match-up. Even now Joel brings rebounding, toughness, and some good screens to a team that could use all of those things. Joel's screens alone will help free-up the guards on the perimeter, and his toughness will help against teams trying to bully their way to a win. Make no mistake, Przybilla is not going to be a savior, or that missing piece, but he will improve a front line that is one injury away from a catastrophe. Joel brings more depth and size to a team that could use it the most.