Grading the Blazers Roster: Edition One
The Portland Trail Blazers enter All-Star weekend following a half of a season that has never at any stage looked like impressing. Whether it be due to overly sized contracts or a lacking in team chemistry, a clear edge is missing in the talented team that was present last season. At this stage matching last seasons performance of reaching the Western Conference semi finals can be considered a lost cause, but certain individual performances have still managed to stick out. Here’s a look at some of the report grades players can be assigned.
C.J. McCollum: A
It’s hard to name a Blazer thats been better than McCollum this season. Damian Lillard may still claim honours for being the team leader and the best player overall, but based on this season alone, McCollum has been there in many more ways than Lillard has. He’s averaging career highs in points and rebounds, and his shooting percentages have flown high to the point where he’s shooting 48.4% from the field, 41.1% from downtown and 90% of his free throws.
Within a fingertips distance from the elite 50-40-90 club, he’s the only Blazer that will be participating in the All-Star break’s festivities, with a deserving spot in the 3 point contest. Moreover, advanced metrics have ranked him as the best pure shooter in the league this season, and while he may not be at the #1 spot, he’s been in the conversation for the top shooting guard this league has to offer. There was trade talk surrounding McCollum for some time, but that seems to have subsided now. Regardless, it would do the Blazers well to hang on to a man that clearly plays at an All Star level.
Damian Lillard: B
It seems farcical to give a man averaging 26-5-6 a game anything less than an A, but the lofty expectations surrounding Damian Lillard the whole of preseason have come crashing down on him. This is the same man that Steve Kerr, incidentally the coach of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, called the leading MVP candidate last fall. His field goal and three point percentages fall well short of backcourt partner McCollum and while he still knocks down 26 points a night on average, he’s been suspect of playing hero ball throughout games.
Moreover, as the undisputed leader of the Blazers, part of the responsibility of the teams poor record ends up falling on him. Greatness is defined not only by playing great basketball but how good you make your teammates. With the Blazers at an extremely disappointing 10th in the West, behind teams like the Nuggets and the Kings, it’s clear that Lillard has more work to do in this regard. He’s inspiring, well-liked and a fantastic player in the league. But with his team ranked so low and with C.J. McCollum slowly picking up the reigns in late game tight situations, Lillard’s work this season deserves no more than that of a B.
Allen Crabbe: C+
The reason Allen Crabbe cannot fall into the B category is because although he has improved as a basketball player this season, he still falls highly short of resembling any kind of player that deserves a 4-year $70 million contract. His shooting percentages (45.9-43.0-86.5) are great and his ability to space the floor as a sharpshooter is undervalued. However, his defence is still lacking in firepower and alongside Lillard and McCollum, just doesn’t receive enough touches to expand his game. His somewhat middling 10 PPG isn’t fantastic, but is just enough to make him a worthwhile member on the team.
Evan Turner: C+
Evan Turner is another example of a player that is slowly finding his feet on the Blazers team and has been playing better basketball as the season has progressed, but still is undeserving of his enormous contract. His only go-to attribute on offence is a well worked pull-up midrange jumper which can trouble the opposition when he’s hot. His main role on the team, however, is being a pest of the defensive end of the floor by guarding the opposition’s best backcourt player. He defends with an intensity and better than most other members on his team. Unfortunately, his 3 point shot remains poor and cannot space the floor well for either Lillard or McCollum to enjoy more space. His off-ball offence is virtually non-existent, but like Crabbe, cannot get enough touches on the ball to make an impact.
Al-Farouq Aminu: B-
Yes, with Aminu on the floor, the Blazers are virtually playing with 4 and a half men on the offensive side. His shooting clip is poor, his dribbling is sloppy and he’s averaging a career high in turnovers. It’s on the other end of the floor where he makes his money, and is undoubtedly the heart and soul of a Blazers defence that struggles on a nightly basis, only ranking 27th in the league on that end. Without him, they’d be at rock bottom. His versatility and ability to take on the opposing teams best player is important, and more importantly he is able to match up against players bigger and stronger than him. It’s hard to imagine a 220 pounder defending successfully at the power forward position, but Aminu is able to do so.
Look out for the next edition of Blazers player ranks, featuring the remaining players on the roster.