We're halfway through the year so it's time to borrow a hoary old chestnut from the annals of sports writing and give out mid-season report cards. I'm breaking these up into multiple posts, the better to give you opportunity to comment yourself without getting lost. You can give your grades (and explanations) in the comment section of this post and when everybody is done we'll have a cumulative GPA for each player.
My grades are always based on the player living up to their own expectations. A higher grade doesn't necessarily mean a better or more valuable player.
MIDSEASON GRADES: The Forwards
Z-Bo had two things to prove going into this season: whether he could come back from the knee surgery with any resemblance of his old game and whether he could lead a team and occasionally carry it on his back. He's answered the first in no uncertain terms. He's averaging a career high 23.6 points and a near-career high 10.2 rebounds per game. He's also shooting his highest percentage in three years. His nefarious post moves are a thing of beauty to behold, plus he has all that range he gained while playing on a gimpy knee. The answer to the second question is more mixed. On the plus side you can say with confidence that we'd probably have no more than half our current wins without Zach. On the minus side we still don't have that many. Plus some of the traits that seem to be leading to losses--porous defense, sloppiness or outright laziness in transition, predictable offense--have #50 written all over them. It's not like he's the only one responsible, but he sure ain't helping many nights, and a leader is supposed to get you out of your negative habits, not cement them. Still he's head and shoulders above everyone else on this team in terms of production and consistency, which makes it hard to dock him too much. Grade: A-
There's no need to repeat the story that everybody knows...how Ime only got an invite to training camp because Aaron Miles got injured...how he immediately won the respect of teammates and the trust of his coach...how he snatched the starting position from all the young hopefuls...how he's been one of our most consistent players since. Ooops, I guess I just re-told it. It's worth it though. Ime has been a very good defender, a steadying influence, and best of all somebody you never, ever have to worry about out there. He's going to do his job and he'll do it well. Plus he occasionally adds some offense and we're 10-7 when he scores 10 or more. Grade: A
Travis Outlaw The Leaping Enigma is having his most consistent season ever. He's notching career highs in points, rebounds, blocks, steals, shot attempts, and free throw percentage. That's the good news. The bad news is that other than his 9.3 points per game (which is passable for 24.5 minutes) the other stats just aren't all that impressive compared to anyone but himself. He's more confident in his shot but it's not going in more. He has fewer complete lapses out there but they still come. In short "more consistent" is still a long way from "trustworthy". Still, you like his energy and it's hard not to be tempted by his jumping ability. (Even then, though, you have to ask how many spectacular, opponent-demoralizing dunks he gets versus how many times he fumbles the ball away on such attempts.) He's getting experienced enough that we should expect better performances than excuses. Grade: B- (and it may go down by the end of the year)
Martell Webster This has been a tough year for Martell all around. Fans expected big things for him coming off the end of his rookie season and he expected even bigger things from himself. But he's found his playing time at shooting guard usurped by Brandon Roy and Ime and Travis both sit ahead of him on the depth chart at small forward. His inability to defend and his propensity to disappear completely have kept him from getting more minutes. In fact his disappearing act spanned weeks at one point, making him near impossible to play. On the bright side, even with all that he's one of the best three point shooters in the league. His overall percentage is up slightly but his three-point percentage is up dramatically. If you had one person with one shot to take and you knew you could set him up well, Martell shooting a jumper is not a bad option. Though his faults have seriously outweighed his contributions so far there have still been a number of bright spots, including 5 games of 15 or more. Plus we have to adjust for age, experience, and the obvious mismatch of all of our expectations to his level of play right now. Grade: C-
Lamarcus Aldridge Big Smoothie arrived on the scene with moderate expectations. We knew he was a good defensive player but we also know he needed more bulk and more shooting ability before he could play serious minutes. He may not have gotten all the way to the left lane on the highway to success, but he's still gone a lot farther, faster than many expected. He's shooting 49.5% and averaging 7.2 points in 19 minutes, which ain't bad for a rookie. He's had 13 double-digit scoring games, 6 games of 7 rebounds or more, and 10 multiple blocked shot games. He's shown the ability to guard smaller players a little but he gets shoved around by the bigger ones. He runs incredibly well for a 6'11" guy and will someday make a great finisher on the break. His most impressive asset is his turn-around shot which is already money in the bank. Not many rookies have a go-to move like that. A little more consistent concentration will give him more minutes and more opportunities. Grade: B+
Raef LaFrentz The Blazers gave some lip service before the season to LaFrentz being a significant piece but I'm not sure anybody believed it. Despite him reportedly being a great practice player it hasn't really panned out for him. When he has gotten playing time he's shown a veteran's ability to be in the right place with his body but either he's old or hurt or for some other reason his body just won't do the things he wants to once he gets there. His shooting percentage is so obscene it can't be mentioned on a family website like this. (Hint: It's lower than Joel Przybilla's free throw shooting percentage and Joel's having the worst year of his career at the line.) He's not able to defend many players either. I wish we could take his instinct and transfer it to some of the younger guys who have the athletic ability but don't know a third of the things he does. Grade: Incomplete