It's Part Two of the Blazer's Edge Little Things Awards! All the stuff you thought we forgot about may magically appear below as the entire Blazer's Edge staff debates who deserves the most credit for doing the dirty work.
Here's Part 1 in case you missed it.
As a reminder, each contributor got one vote to pick the Blazer they thought was the best at a small but important skill, like moving without the ball or setting good screens. The votes were tallied, a winner was crowned, and then we set our writers against one another in a literary cage match to defend or challenge the choice of the winner.
Enjoy the verbal sparring, join the friendly swashbuckle with your own ballot, and look for Part 3 later this week.
Most Likely to Dive on the Ground
Who wears floor burns like Russell Westbrook wears colored pants?
Winner: Wesley Matthews
Bryan: Do I really need to explain this one? C'mon, you know this is right. Yes, that is pretty much my argument here - "C'mon".
Dude just hit the floor like it was a slip and slide. And that's the thing with Wes - you never see any hint of hesitation to put his junk on the hardwood. He seeks out these opportunities, as if he to strives to moonlight as head court mopper or something. Not only is he the most likely to dive, he's the one who lets it all hang out with the game on the line - and his success rate feels remarkably high. He is on his way to authoring a collection of dramatic, memorable, game changing dives - like the one against Lance Stephenson at the end of the 23 point comeback in November, or the small library he authored in the Rockets series last spring, including the Game 4 clinching steal. Ok, maybe I'm cheating by reaching back to last year, but in any event I look forward to hearing about the Steve Blake floor-diving montage.
Runner Up - Steve Blake
Evans: Brace yourself, because I'm about to compliment Steve Blake in the most backhanded way possible. There are a lot of basketball skills that Blake just isn't good at. His passes result in too many turnovers; his jumpers, in too many misses. He's too slow to guard most West guards today. Blake has a lot of deficiencies, especially now at almost 35. He makes up for it, though, with his fearless play. He scraps, he claws, he dives, he does little things like that. With most of his other skills diminishing, Blake's willingness to get dirty is one of the few things keeping him a viable NBA player.
Straight up, who's the best at going...well...straight up?
Winner - Robin Lopez (tie)
Sagar: Robin Lopez is the Blazers' final line of defense standing between the opposing penetrator and the hoop. With that task, he is the most vulnerable of the Blazers to commit fouls due to bringing the arms down while contesting a layup (which is a foul), although he doesn't commit the most fouls of the trio.
Of the shots they contest at the rim, Lopez contests the shots the best, allowing the opponent to shoot a smaller field goal percentage than both Freeland and Aldridge, making Lopez the Blazers player with the best verticality.
Winner - Joel Freeland (tie)
Tim: OH COME ON! THIS SHOULD JUST BE NAMED THE "JOEL FREELAND AWARD". WHY ARE WE DEBATING THIS?
Ok, fine, I admit it: Robin Lopez is absolutely outstanding at keeping vertical while defending the lane. And Meyers Leonard has come a long way, though he still can't resist swiping that arm forward at the end (C'mon Meyers, the refs will always call that). Even Chris Kaman has his moments. Verticality is a like a happy virus that has slowly infected the Blazers' front line. But it was Joel Freeland's discovery of verticality, along with weight-lifting and that subtle push-in-the-back when rebounding, that helped re-launch his career from the early NBA doldrums. How good is his verticality? After a season of getting whistled despite good defense, he's now starting to get signs of respect from the referees. Now if he could just stay on the court long enough to take advantage of that. When Lopez went down to injury, Freeland was surprisingly capable of "holding down the fort" in his absence. His ability to stay vertical on defense played a factor in that. And will probably lead to some interesting contract negotiations in July.
Runner Up - LaMarcus Aldridge
Dan: Watch LaMarcus on his defender. As the ball is being pounded into the key, LaMarcus keeps his upper body upright in a parallel position to his opponent. His hands are outstretched anticipating a chance to down-swipe the ball, or go straight up for a block.
In somewhat of a neutral defensive position, he can go straight up without having to jump into his man. This neutrality also keeps him in a position to feel for an offensive foul, or, if a shot goes up, turn on a dime and gain his rebounding positioning.
For his career, LaMarcus has picked up 1658 personal fouls for an average of 2.7/game, and is averaging over 8 rebounds /game.
Best Screen Setter
Who's the last person on the Blazers you would want to run into? Sure it's more complicated than that, but that's not a bad place to start with this award.
Winner - Robin Lopez
Tim: Robin Lopez is a runaway for best screen-setter. The Blazers have always struggled to find big guys who can set good screens, so this is another part of the package that makes Lopez so valuable. He has an inherent understanding of the timing to come out for the screen to give the wing a chance to get room for a shot. He obviously has the body to set screens; I'm not sure an eighteen wheeler could move him out of position once he's set his feet. But he's become very good at the subtle hip-check move, where he moves his hip out to make himself just a little wider, then holds still as the defender approaches, preventing a moving-screen foul call. If this were a college class, this is stuff that would be taught in Screens 301 and 401. He's clearly very close to graduate study, and then taking six months writing his thesis on screens. And this doesn't even discuss his ability to roll to the hoop, which has forced defenders to stay honest. If both players approach Batum off the screen, he'll simply send a bounce pass to Robin for an easy two. These small touches have made our offense tougher to defend, thanks to Robin's screening prowess.
Runner Up - LaMarcus Aldridge
Evans: The thing about "best screen setter" is I can't look at just one screen in a vacuum. It doesn't work that way. A screen is part of a broader sequence of events, and part of being a good screener is being a dangerous weapon offensively after that screen. Robin Lopez might be great at using his big lanky body to impede defenders, but LaMarcus Aldridge brings the complete package - he's got the length, he's got the solid positioning and he's also got the ability to dominate with the ball in his hands after that screen. A screen-and-roll between LMA and Damian Lillard brings endless possibilities. Will Aldridge cut to the basket? Step back and hit a fadeaway? Kick out to an open shooter? All of the above can be terrifying for opposing defenses.
Hardest to Screen
This guy must have gone to Grandma's house a lot cause he gets over and through things with ease.
Winner - Wesley Matthews
Ben: I've said it before, I'll say it again. If we had a hustle award, Wesley Matthews would win it. If the league had a Hustle 1st, 2nd, 3rd team like they do for all-league and defensive, Wes would be 1st or 2nd team. That's what you can expect from Wes, hustle, every single time out on that floor. He's a player that gives his all 100% of the time.
Dame is my guy, I love Dame. But Dame doesn't give 100% the whole game, every time out. Dame waits to get going on offense, which affects his effort on defense. He is Mr. Clutch, but there's a reason beyond that why he's 1st in the league at 4th quarter scoring, and that's because he's a progressive player. Meaning his game tends to pick up as the game progresses rather than fire from the tip. Most nights he's running the offense, facilitating to LA and the rest of the guys, so it's going to take him until the second half or the fourth quarter to really light up and get going himself. That's just his game. But he sacrifices defense for his offense in those clutch times, and when he's holding back on offense for a portion of the game it affects the rest of his game and he ends up holding some back on defense as well.
Wes doesn't play this way, Wes is Wes from tip to final whistle. He might have an off night, but even then he's giving you the same effort he always gives. That's what makes Wes the hardest Blazer to screen, because he's fighting through every single screen with 100% each time, not just some of the screens and not just some of the time. He's rarely calling for the switch and the most important part of getting through the screen is getting back on your man in time, which Wes always does. Ask yourself this, who you would rather have on a James Harden or a Russell Westbrook coming off all those picks. Now ask yourself the same question, but the Blazers are in the fourth quarter...
Runner Up - Damian Lillard
Chris: In a vacuum, I don't think Damian Lillard is the most difficult Blazer to screen; That distinction should go to Matthews, and deservedly so. That said, I used my vote here to give props to Lillard for his improvement on the defensive end of the floor. Last year, opposing defenses could put him completely out of a play with just a decent on-ball screen. This year, Lillard has shown an ability to fight through and over most picks set on him, even jumping them entirely if he sees them coming. From earlier in his career until now, I think Lillard has shown the most improvement of any player in how he deals with screens, and he deserves credit for that. Considering his quickness and slight frame, Lillard may be more difficult for many opposing bigs to screen than a wider guy like Matthews.