Blazers big man Joel Freeland served as the team's backup center for much of the 2013-14 season, earning a reputation as a hard worker who could come off the bench and play solid minutes as starting center Robin Lopez rested. Freeland beat out Meyers Leonard for the spot in coach Terry Stotts' frontcourt rotation off the bench, playing 14 minutes a night over 52 regular season games until a knee injury in mid-February knocked him out of the lineup until playoff time.
As Stotts tightened up his postseason rotations, Freeland watched mostly from the sidelines, registering just 2.7 minutes a game in the playoffs. Still, the 27-year-old British center proved to be a reliable big man when healthy last year, with a willingness to contest shots defensively and scrap inside with players who were often bigger and taller.
The case for Freeland as a contributing role player for the Blazers going forward can look difficult to justify statistically, as he didn't post many impressive numbers. He scored 3.3 points and pulled in four rebounds a night last year, 2.3 of them defensive. Freeland was sixth overall on the team in defensive rebounding percentage and eleventh in defensive rating -- a stat that shows the amount of points scored by the opposition per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com -- and picked up just 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes.
On the offensive side of the ball, Freeland struggled from certain spots. His midrange jump-shooting game was passable from some points and unreliable from others, while he struggled to convert inside for much of the season, ending the year making just over 57 percent of his attempts within eight feet of the hoop, a fairly pedestrian conversion rate for a 6-foot-10 big. In Freeland's defense, his role was never to be a scorer and he wasn't asked to shoot much.
The most bankable skill for the two-year veteran -- Freeland was drafted in 2006 but played his next six seasons overseas before signing a three-year, $8.9 million deal before the 2012-13 NBA season -- is probably offensive rebounding. With an offensive rebounding rate of 13 percent last year, Freeland was third on the Blazers in that category, trailing only Lopez and power forward Thomas Robinson.
Freeland is currently participating in offseason workouts at Portland's practice facility in Tualatin with several other bench players, including guards CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Will Barton to go with frontcourt players Robinson and Leonard. Preparations for the 2014 Summer League in Las Vegas also begin in a few weeks, which will see all six aforementioned players on the Blazers roster.
If Freeland shows the same improvement he did last summer -- when he passed up on his British national team obligations to train for the upcoming NBA season -- there's no reason he can't find himself again putting in about a dozen minutes a night for the 2014-15 season, spelling Lopez and occasionally power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Freeland's defensive efforts were as good or better than any other frontcourt players' defense off the bench last year, and Leonard may not be ready by this fall to take over those minutes off the bench.
Coming off 52 games last season as Portland's backup center, what do you think Freeland's role with the team is going forward? Do you see Leonard surpassing him in the rotation and getting the center minutes behind Lopez?
Also consider Blazers GM Neil Olshey has just two possible roster spots open -- as things currently stand -- and a few exceptions to spend this summer in attracting potential free-agents. What kind of player would bump Freeland out of Stotts' frontcourt rotation? Is such an asset a realistic acquisition, considering Olshey's limited resources and a number of holes to fill on Portland's bench?
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter