This is Part 3 of a 5-part series reviewing the first quarter of Portland's season.
PG - Mo Williams
One of the three big off-season free-agent signings, Williams was expected to come off the bench and be a playmaker who could create for himself and others. So far, he's been exactly that, although his efficiency leaves much to be desired. Here's a look at his Q1 stats:
I'll be honest, I'm not a huge Mo Williams fan. I wasn't crazy about the signing, and he's actually been even worse than I thought he'd be. Now, look, I appreciate what Mo brings to this team. The Blazers definitely need a playmaker who can come off the bench and fill it up when necessary. Personally, though, I'm just not a fan of low-efficiency guards who put up bad shots and turn the ball over at a really high rate.
I've noticed that many Blazer fans love Mo Williams. I think this is probably because he's so much better than anything we had on our bench last year. Or maybe he reminds people of a tiny, PG version of Travis Outlaw; I don't know. Those reasons are understandable. Let's not get carried away and ignore reality, however. Mo Williams, by any reasonably objective measure, is not an above average (or even an average) backup point guard or 6th man.
The stats don't paint a pretty picture. Williams has the worst offensive rating on the team, undoubtedly due to the fact that he takes a lot of bad shots (see: FG%), turns the ball over way too much (see: TOV%) and almost never gets to the free-throw line (see: FTr). That's not a good combination. I won't even talk about his defense because thinking about how bad it is decays my bones. No other rotation position could be as reasonably upgraded in the next 1-2 years.
When Mo does what Mo do, it's good for the team; sometimes. Call me a hater, but I hope CJ McCollum gets better soon and is half the player most expect him to be.
For a more comprehensive look at just how bad Mo Williams is relative to others filling similar roles around the league, check out a separate fanpost I put up earlier tonight.
SF - Dorell Wright
Wright has proved to be a nice signing. He does exactly what the team asks of him and seems to fit in well. While not the scorer he was in his Golden State days, he's still a positive contributor on the offensive end with his ability to space the floor. His most important Q1 stats:
Three years ago, Wright averaged over 16 PPG, thanks in large part to high-volume 3-point shooting. Not that much has changed except for minutes played. He's still a high-volume 3-point shooter whose primary responsibility is to space the floor.
Wright isn't shooting as well as he, or anyone else, would like. A 38/35 split isn't going to cut it long-term. He's not a bad defender, but he's not good either, so Wright needs to make a higher percentage of his looks if he wants to be valuable in future NBA seasons. Given his career percentages, look for him to start shooting better, if only slightly.
Ultimately, Wright does what Portland needs him to do. He comes in, gives Batum a rest, and works hard. His ability to space the floor keeps the offense from suffering too much in Batum's absence. His contributions aren't irreplaceable, but Wright is a good fit given his responsibilities.
PF - Thomas Robinson
I think it was Dave who recently compared Thomas Robinson to a puppy. This is a great comparison. Robinson provides a ton of energy off the bench and shows flashes that remind you why he was the #4 overall pick just a year ago, but he still has a lot to learn. Here are the telling stats from Q1:
If you extrapolated those numbers over 36 minutes, they'd be pretty good. Obviously, this doesn't actually work, for a number of reasons, but nonetheless, it's been a promising start to the year for T-Rob. He's shown improvement in year 2 and it isn't unreasonable to expect more considering how raw he still is. Stotts' willingness to allow him to make mistakes and give him consistent run has undoubtedly been positive for his development.
This season, expect more of the same from Robinson. As long as he can come in, give Aldridge a rest and provide a bunch of energy, Stotts will be happy. Every bit of experience matters, but Robinson will need to put in work this off-season to become the kind of player the Blazers hope he can be. He already grabs a bunch of tough, in-traffic rebounds and his attitude re: cleaning up the glass is one you wish every big-man had. If Robinson can learn to play under control, develop at least one go-to back-to-the-basket move and become a consistent jump shooter, he'll have a long, productive, efficient career in the league.
I loved the trade when it happened, and 21 games in, I still love it. Robinson is not going to be a star, but he has enough tools and shows enough flashes that it's worth getting excited about his potential.
C - Joel Freeland
After last season, there probably weren't many people who thought Joel Freeland had a chance to be a productive NBA player. 21 games in, he may not have changed everyone's mind, but he's certainly made those watching notice. Here's what Freeland has done so far this season:
The stats aren't overly friendly. I've yet to hear anyone imply that Freeland will ever be a starter in this league. The improvement he's shown, however, does suggest that he could make a career for himself as a bench player.
Freeland's FG% leaves something to be desired, but I expect it to rise. He gets a lot of good looks that just don't seem to find the bottom; don't be surprised if he ends up above 45% by the end of the season. Defensively, Joel has some physical limitations. He plays solid man and help-side defense, often barely missing blocks. Thus, offensive players aren't afraid to attack him, and sometimes there's just nothing more he can do.
Freeland's ceiling is low due to below-average physical traits (combination of length and athleticism), but he understands how to play the game on both ends. If Meyers Leonard had Freeland's mind and attitude, he'd be a starting NBA center. Whether or not Freeland is a long-term answer for the Blazers coming off the bench remains to be seen, but he'll continue to be a valuable piece this season considering the alternative.