This Portland Trailblazers (17-25) do not appear to be headed toward the playoffs, but they made some huge strides during the first half of this season. Much of the teams improvement from the beginning of this season to now can be attributed to the play of its young talent. Brandon Roy
has come back extremely strong from his early injuries and is the clear-cut favorite to be the Rookie of the Year this season, LaMarcus Aldridge
is finally starting to see consistent minutes, and Sergio Rodríguez has put up some huge numbers in recent games. While the Trailblazers may miss out on the playoffs this season, they have shown the blend of production and potential that should get them there in the long-run.
Note: The number in parentheses indicates the change between the players cumulative statistical averages between 27 and 42 total games.Brandon Roy
31.9 (+3.2) Minutes, 14.7 (+2.9) Points, 3.9 (-0.5) Assists, 3.0 (-0.9) Rebounds, 44% (+2%) FG
Roy started out January on fire, and it looks like he is not experiencing any lingering effects from his heel injury. In retrospect, Nate McMillan
may have been waiting for Roy to heal fully before sending him back onto the court. This would explain why he didnt miss a beat. Roy has looked extremely crisp since coming back, and has really started to hit his stride in terms of production.
Offensively, Roys increase in production can be attributed to a number of factors. He has been a lot more assertive with the ball in his hands, and has looked to create his own offense rather than differing to his teammates like he did early in the year. He has also shown increased range and accuracy on his jump shot. This has really helped open up his game because defenders can no longer give him a cushion when he receives the ball on the perimeter.
With defenders closing him out harder, Roy has been able to get into the lane more often, and has really started to take advantage of his opportunities. Not only has he finished effectively, but he has gotten to the foul-line more frequently. This ability to draw contact has paid huge dividends for Roy given that he is shooting over 90% from the charity-stripe this month.
Roys best game as pro really put his new found offensive prowess on display. He scored 28 points in a 99-95 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on January 21st on 10 of 15 from the field. Roy was absolutely brilliant throughout the game scoring off of cuts, using floaters in the lane, and knocking down shots from the perimeter. On not one, but two occasions, Roy caught his defender sleeping and cut backdoor for easy lay-ins. He hit 2 of the 3 three-pointers he attempted and connected on a handful of off balance jumpers off the dribble. In the same vein, Roy knocked down numerous shots with a hand in his face, appearing more assertive when guarded. On one occasion, he handled the ball on a pick and roll at the top of the key, but rather than using the screen to penetrate, he simply stepped around the screen and hit a deep jumper over the outstretched arms of Andrew Bogut
Roys assertiveness carried over to the other aspects of his game. He attacked the glass hard and finished with 9 rebounds, all of which were on the defensive end. While his assertiveness has increased his scoring, it has subsequently decreased his assist numbers. Defensively, he played his man aggressively, leading to two steals and numerous pass deflections. Throughout the game he played his man tight around screens and refused to give up position in the post.
Roys recent play has been extremely encouraging. It appears as though he is getting into better shape, as his effort level has increased precipitously since his return. If this continues, Roy should walk away with the Rookie of the Year award. It will be interesting to see if he begins to overshadow Zach Randolph
as the Trailblazers number one option offensively. While this isnt an entirely likely scenario, it is will become inevitable if Roy continues to progress at the rate he has this season.
18.8 (-0.3) Minutes, 7.2 (+0.5) Points, 3.8 (-0.4) Rebounds, 1.0 (+0.1) Blocks, 50% (-2%) FG
After seemingly losing ground in Nate McMillan
s rotation, Aldridge has seen his minutes stabilize as of late. January has been his best month as pro in terms of offensive production primarily because he has stepped up his effort on the offensive glass and has fought harder for position inside.
Aldridge hasnt been as efficient shooting the ball as he was early in the year because he has become a little more assertive, and that will always lead to a few mistakes. His assertiveness has paid off for the most part, as he has been scoring at a higher clip. However, not a lot has changed for Aldridge offensively from then to now. He still gets open looks at the top of the key when the Trailblazers run the pick and roll and touches inside from hustle and positioning.
One thing that has changed in Aldridge is how he defends the rim. He has been much better at contesting the shots in both one-on-one and help-side situations. His help-side rotations have been especially crisp, and he has shown the ability to get off the floor quickly to block shots. While Aldridge is yet to have a signature game, he has had a good amount of success. It will be interesting to see if he sees more minutes as the Trailblazers begin to transition into the team they will become next season.
11.1 (+1.3) Minutes, 3.1 (+0.9) Points, 3.3 (+0.2) Assists, .5 (+0.1) Steals, 44% (+5%) FG
With Jarrett Jack
out with a concussion from a minor car accident, Rodríguez found himself with the opportunity to log extended minutes in his absence. While Nate McMillan
opted to start veteran Dan Dickau
over Rodríguez, it was Rodríguez that stole the show.
Rodríguez tallied the first double-double of his career in a losing effort against the Denver Nuggets on January 14th. Rodríguez recorded 23 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals in a little over 30 minutes of play. While he is known best for his ability to set up his teammates for easy baskets, Rodríguez proved capable of putting points on the board during this game. His stroke was very consistent, and he didnt take any hurried or unnecessary shots. He shot a handful of lay-ups, but most of his 11 makes came from the perimeter. It appeared that he was really in the groove offensively, as he was hitting shots off the dribble all night. On one occasion he even stepped out and knocked down a spot up three-pointer off of a skip pass. One of the most telling aspects of the game for Rodríguez is that he was charged with covering Allen Iverson
for the most of the game, which he did rather effectively. While it was nice to see Rodríguez pick up some of the scoring load in Portland, this was really the only game where he has produced like that all season.
With Jarrett Jack
back in the lineup, Rodríguez wont be seeing a lot of time in the near future. However, he did seize the opportunity that he was presented with, and that is a good example of what kind of player he is. Portland fans will definitely have someone to look forward to watching develop in Rodríguez.
34.9 (-0.8) Minutes, 12.5 (-0.7) Points, 5.5 (-0.4) Assists, 1.2 (-0.1) Steals, 45% (-2%) FG
Jack missed three recent games because he was involved in a minor car accident. He suffered a mild concussion and was unable to travel with the team for a few days. While he is now back in the lineup, it will be hard to say how long it will take him to be entirely back to normal. He appears to have shaken off most if not all of the rust, but the effects of head injuries should never be underestimated.
One of the things has changed slightly since Jacks return has been his shooting stroke. It has looked good, but it seems that he has been taking more off-balance shots than he used to. Outside of that, his three-point stroke has continued to develop to the point that it appears the Trailblazers are now occasionally running plays to get him open for three-pointers from the short corners.
Outside of these new developments in his shooting stroke, Jack has been the same consistent offensive player that he was before his accident. Defensively, he has been playing the passing lanes a little more aggressively, but it seems like he only really attacks them when he has switched onto someone elses man. Nate McMillan
is thankful to have Jack back and healthy, as his leadership will be a key asset to this team down the stretch.
20.8 (-1.1) Minutes, 7.2 (-0.3) Points, 2.7 (+0.2) Rebounds, 41% FG
Webster has continued his inconsistent play over the past month. While he may score in the double-digits on consecutive nights, he has followed up many of his most productive performances with some of his least productive ones. With Brandon Roy
back in the fold full-time, Webster has been relegated to coming off the bench.
While it would be nice to see Webster get more playing so he can continue to develop as a player, it doesnt seem likely that things are going to change for Webster this season. When his shot isnt falling, he doesnt bring enough to the table at this point in his career to warrant a starters minutes. The promising thing that Webster has shown recently is his ability to work hard and get rebounds. In the long run, his other skills may be what make or break his development.
Webster has been working noticeably harder on defense than he was early in the season and this has translated into an increase in the number of rebounds he is pulling down. While he is by no means a lockdown defender, he done a better job moving his feet and closing out under control. On occasion, poor shooting performances have forced Webster to find new ways to contribute, and it has really shown in his game. He has proven to be a rather solid option off the bench for Nate McMillan
. Webster still has the potential to be a great player, but he must become more consistent if he plans on earning more minutes.
Waived on January 2nd
With their entire roster healthy, the Trailblazers decided to cut Graham loose. After being waived, Graham signed on with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on January 10th. While playing for the Skyforce last season, Graham put up good enough numbers to warrant a callup, and it appears likely that he will be able to do the same this season. He still needs to work on the mechanics of his jump shot if he wants to find a permanent home in the NBA, but there should be a few teams looking to secure his services as the season goes on. Read about Grahams performances in the recent NBA Developmental League Showcase here.
24.4 (-0.9) Minutes, 9.3 (-0.9) Points, 3.6 (-0.3) Rebounds, 44% (-3%) FG
Outlaw sprained his right ankle in a game against the Knicks on January 3rd and hasnt played since. Since he hasnt played much since we last checked in on him, there arent many conclusions to draw about his game.
The only thing that was noticeable before he went down was the low quality of his shot selection. He appeared to be forcing things on the offensive end more than usual, leading to misses and turnovers. Hopefully Outlaw will be able to bounce back with some strong performances in the second half of the season.