The regular season has ended with the Blazers securing the 8th and final spot in the western conference. They blossomed through the month of March, with some sudden scintillating form that elevated them from a lottery team to a playoff one. While they may have been expecting to finish higher than 8th, it’s hard not to call the regular season a ‘success,’ from the way they finished. In many ways their season was saved.
Their star backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is largely responsible for their change in fortune and play, but what about the rest of the roster? How did they fare, and how much did they contribute? Here’s a report card for role players on the roster, grading their entire regular season.
Maurice Harkless – B (Previously: B- in February)
Harkless is the definition of selflessness. Given that he’s averaging career high stats in points, assists & rebounds, it speaks volumes that his primary role on the team is to act as a gap-filler, not a stat-stuffer. He’s always feeding in the nuts and bolts that are required in any given circumstance, and is highly adaptable depending on the opposition. Along with being more than capable defensively, he’s also able to do it all on the other end of the floor. He can shoot, drive, and in the latter half of the season, Terry Stotts has entrusted the ball to him in the post. Harkless isn’t irreplaceable, but he’s a role player that’s great to have.
Noah Vonleh – B- (Previously: C in February)
The Noah Vonleh experiment has finally started to click . He’s young and raw at 21, and much of his game still needs to culture and tailor. However, what’s impressive about him is his raw athletic ability, and the energy he brings to the floor. This has started to translate to results, as Vonleh has recorded his career-high double doubles this season. In Jusuf Nurkic’s absence these past few games, Vonleh has been the Blazers’ most important big man. He’s filled into that large hole very effectively.
Jusuf Nurkic – A- (Previously: N/A)
This man alone is one of the biggest reasons Portland has wormed their way past Denver into the 8th seed. In Mason Plumlee, the Blazers had a versatile big who simply couldn’t cut it on the defensive end. However, Nurkic has transformed Portland’s defence, along with his fantastic offensive capabilities – from passing to rolling to working in the post. The teams record before he arrived (23-32) and after he’s arrived (18-8) tells you all you need to know about how important he is to the franchise.
Meyers Leonard – C- (Previously: D in February)
Leonard was given a 4 year, 41 million dollar deal at the start of the season. It’s extremely hard not to factor this in to his grade, as his athletic build and prowess is not being used during games. He may be a stretch center, but staying out on the perimeter and throwing up threes at an average clip is not what Portland (or any team) need in a 7 foot 1 big. His post game and defence is weak, and compared to other giant centers in the league, he’s somewhat lacking in strength. The Blazers are going to have an even tougher ride against the Warriors in the first round if Nurkic is deemed unfit to play. Leonard just doesn’t cut it as a starting center in the NBA.
Evan Turner – B- (Previously: C+ in February)
Turner continues to gradually improve in the Blazer uniform, recovering well from his 14-game absence due to a broken wrist midway through the season. He’s another jack-of-all-trades type player, an efficient defensive contributor with a solid mid-range game. His three point clip remains mediocre at below 0.300, but is an inside scorer with post skills. He’s been particularly effective throughout the season when Stotts has given Turner floor general duties with the second unit. While he isn’t a true point guard, the Portland bench has been successful with him running the point. One thing is for certain though; to improve his grade further, Turner is going to have to do much more to justify his mammoth 4 year, 75 million dollar contract.
Allen Crabbe – B (Previously: C+ in February)
Crabbe belongs in the same oversized contract boat as Turner and Leonard, but has done more than the previous two to at least attempt to truly be worth that amount. He’s an extremely talented shooter, with field goal and 3pt field goal clips of 0.490 and 0.444 respectively. Terry Stotts enjoys playing Crabbe alongside Portland’s star guards. He’s able to provide useful floor spacing to allow Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to use as much of the court as they need to make a play. He recently had undoubtedly the best performance of his career, where he torched the Timberwolves with eight 3 pointers at an extremely high percentage. He’s growing as a player and is now a valuable member of the roster.
Al-Farouq Aminu – B- (Previously: B- in February)
Aminu continues to be the heart and soul of this team on the defensive end of the floor. He always guards the opposition’s best player, and is able to use his width and wingspan to great effect. He’s genuinely a tough matchup for any player, and his defensive rating stacks high against almost every other player on the roster. Additionally, since the all-star break he’s been a missile behind the arc, making more than 40% of his looks. What stops his grade improving are the somethings questionable plays he makes on offence; from running and *trying to* complete 1 on 3 fast breaks, to attempting isolation moves.