One of the most tumultuous calendar years in Portland Trail Blazers history is coming to a close. At this point, every fan has read repeatedly about the excitement and unexpected disappointment of the last 12 months. As 2015 fades, rather than looking back and continuing to rehash Wes' injury, Aldridge's departure, CJ's emergence, etc., let's look forward. In the spirit of the New Year, here are some suggested Blazers resolutions for 2016:
C.J. McCollum: Get to the free throw line more often.
McCollum has exceeded all expectations this season, but his game is not without flaws. Most notably he rarely draws foul shots. C.J. averages only 2.8 free throws per game; no other player in the top 20 in scoring averages fewer than 3.9 per game. Even in his spectacular 35-point performance against the Kings last week he only had three foul shots before the Kings began intentionally fouling at the end of the game.
Much of McCollum's inability to draw foul shots relates back to an inability to get to the rim off the dribble. He has improved in recent weeks, especially against Cleveland and Sacramento, but in general McCollum is too often forced into mid-range jumpers when he drives. Hopefully as he learns to get into the lane with higher frequency he will also learn to use counter-moves to keep defenders off balance and create contact.
Damian Lillard: Work on getting around screens.
This has been written about on this site and others, but it is worth repeating until he does something about it: Lillard absolutely has to resolve to stop letting a single screen take him completely out of the play. Portland's big men are among the league leaders in fouls; there are several good help side defenders in the group, but none of them can be trusted as primary "backstops" when opposing guards are constantly waltzing to the lane after one screen. McCollum has emerged as a legitimate starter and offensive threat, yet the inability to stop opposing guards leads to continued questions about the wisdom of starting C.J. and Damian together. If Lillard can make even incremental improvements on defense it will do much to dispel that criticism; it doesn't get more incremental than learning to get around screens.
Allen Crabbe: Get a haircut...
Just kidding! I actually kinda love Crabbe's hair - if nothing else it makes him easier to identify on the court.
Crabbe has been playing incredibly well within Stotts' offense. He's primarily been a catch and shoot player a la Kyle Korver, with the occasional cut to the basket mixed in. His resolution should be to add any kind of off the dribble move to his arsenal. A simple go-to move would be a huge boost to his game. Wes Matthews, for example, added a step-back elbow three to his skillset that allowed him to create space and shoot over a defender when the shot clock was low and other options had been cut off. A similarly effective move for Crabbe would make him even more dangerous.
Meyers Leonard: Get confident!
McCollum's emergence has helped relieve pressure on Leonard to become a potential All-Star for the Blazers. Nonetheless, it will be a huge boost for the team's rebuilding efforts if Leonard can become a consistent threat. Right now, the biggest stumbling blocks for Meyers seem to be mental; at times it feels like you can literally see the wheels turning in his head as he makes a defensive call or thinks about shooting. Unfortunately, at the NBA level the opposing players are too quick for anyone to hesitate. Meyers could start by pulling the trigger more often and more quickly on open jump shots rather than overpassing into the next option in the offense.
Mason Plumlee: Stop and think more often.
Plumlee's resolution should be the polar opposite of Leonard: He needs to stop and think more often. Specifically, Plumlee should resolve to reduce unnecessary turnovers. Most obviously, he could be more cautious when handling the ball in the open court. For example, it's fine if Plumlee tries to take a defense by surprise and dribble up court. He does have above average ballhandling skills for a center and he can occasionally turn that into fastbreak points by surprising the defense. But it becomes a problem when he keeps dribbling after an opposing guard recognizes the play and cuts off his path to the rim. When that happens Plumlee needs to pick up the dribble immediately and find a teammate.
Terry Stotts: Be willing to throw in the towel more often.
Fans love to see the coach and players compete until the last minute, and the Blazers have parlayed a "never say die" attitude into some truly remarkable comebacks during Stotts' tenure. Accordingly, franchise cornerstones Lillard and McCollum are in the top 13 in minutes played per game this season. But in recent years teams have begun to recognize that asking players to regularly play major minutes and run through fatigue to chase individual regular season victories may not be worth it. The Spurs, for example, are regularly league leaders in fewest games lost to injury and are also the most aggressive about controlling their players' minutes at the possible expense of regular season victories. Stotts should resolve to re-consider whether or not playing his franchise cornerstones major minutes in a rebuilding season is the best long term strategy.
Gerald Henderson: Don't try to do too much on offense.
Henderson's shot is not pretty - multiple opposing announcers have pointed out that it has an unusual side spin. He is also not an effective shooter, averaging only 39.2 percent from inside the arc for the season. Despite the low shooting percentage, Henderson regularly tries to break his man down off the dribble to create mid-range jumpers. When he gets hot the results can be positive, as evidenced by his19 point outburst against the Pelicans a couple weeks ago, but in general he does not create reliable offense. Unless the shot clock is under five seconds, Henderson should resolve to use his dribble to move the ball, rather than pull-up for a shot.
Luis Montero: Keep trash talking from the bench.
Even if Montero can't get into a game outside of garbage time, he can resolve to keep trash talking from the bench. It's fun for the fans and adds some swagger to the team.
Pat Connaughton: Volunteer to do every single pre-game player address to the fans.
Often the pre-game player thank-you to the crowd is incredibly awkward and everyone just feels bad for the poor guy that has to do it. But Connaughton totally nails it! Even if he strikes out as a basketball player he could probably pursue a career in broadcasting.
My personal resolution: Get better about appreciating the "big picture" of the game.
Often I found myself so focused in on a particular player or a particular set the Blazers are running that I forget to pay attention to what Dave would call the "game flow." This makes it harder to appreciate the game and have fun watching what, in general, has been a more enjoyable season than I expected.
Readers: What resolutions would you suggest to the Blazers for 2016? Do you have any personal Blazers-related resolutions? Let us know in the comments!