Before we exit the break I thought it might be interesting to look back at a post from the start of the season entitled What Really Matters. We took a look at things that would be important as the season progresses. Such as...
Grade So Far: B+
I would give this an overwhelming "A" had I mentioned just Brandon alone. He has asserted himself in the eyes of every soul who bothered to watch. Pick almost any game this year (with the exception of about a 10-day mini-slump) and you will find Brandon as the focal point...sometimes obviously, sometimes more subtly, but always there. You could not ask for a smoother, quicker progression into stardom. Admittedly Lamarcus suffers far more in comparison than in absolute terms. It's nearly inconceivable that Brandon could have done this much, this quickly. To expect that of two players on the same team would entail Jabba-the-Hutt-level gluttony. However even considered in isolation Lamarcus has drifted a little more this season that I would have liked to have seen. His back-to-the-basket game has been inconsistent. His scoring, while fairly constant, has seldom been decisive. His rebounding has been spotty. His impact has been good (no complaints!) but not great yet. All of this will come, to be sure, but one wonders if he'll struggle once again to find his place next season when Greg Oden will be assimilated into the offense. (I imagine Oden's arrival will do nothing but help Lamarcus defensively.)
Grade So Far: A
We are WAY farther along in this area than I thought we'd be. Even when we were losing early on in the season we were still looking more coordinated on offense than we had in years. The play during December and most of January was flat-out inspired. And who can argue with a defense that's holding opponents to such a low percentage, especially when you figure not many guys on our team are natural defenders? Our defense works to the extent it does because we work as a team. The results are not as good yet as they will be but the foundation is definitely there. The words "Blazer Basketball" are starting to take meaning again.
Grade So Far: C-
The shining star here so far has been Travis who, if not exactly producing consistently, has at least shown enough to make all of the drooling we've done over him seem worthwhile. His developing jump shot and fourth-quarter heroics have earned him more leeway and more years to show what he's got.
After that, though, it gets really spotty. I'm not sure we know who Martell Webster is yet and the picture is not getting any clearer as time goes by. Jarrett Jack is producing in some areas, struggling in others. Sergio Rodriguez remains a non-factor and there's no telling when, if, or how that will end. Channing Frye has had some great moments and also displayed some serious weaknesses. I think we have a decent idea what he can give. We just have to decide if we're going to play the kind of game where his contributions are imperative.
Since even Travis is having ups and downs and the rest are head-scratchers I don't think you can give the team credit for great progress in this area.
Grade So Far: A
I know the last couple of weeks we've had efforts that people have characterized as poor or dispirited, but I don't think it's fair to impugn the entire season for a few fatigue-induced outings. We have shown our mettle over and over again, absorbing that winning experience and distaste for losing. We've not given up. We've seldom shrugged shoulders. We've been consistently unselfish and most often in motion. We could use a couple more hustle players but you can't have everything.
Grade So Far: B
I just asserted in someone's diary that it was somewhat disingenuous to judge an entire fanbase based on a small, though often vocal, percentage of it. So we won't. I think most Blazer fans are enjoying this season, accepting it for what it is, and getting very excited about the prospect of an incredibly bright future. The next 30 games are important for the same reason the last 52 were, as stepping stones to eventual greatness. Signs of that greatness come early to flower are a welcome bonus, but the deeper signs of evolution remain the primary focus of the year. If there are occasional impatient choruses of "trade this" or "fire that" or "what the heck is wrong with the other" they are, if not infrequent, at least probably confined to a relatively limited segment of the population. This season is a blast and should be enjoyed and marveled at, even as we continue to edge farther and farther off of those seats.