I feel a little about everything, disappointed is a word that will be thrown a lot around Portland this summer whenever this season will be brought up. Sure it stings that the Rose Garden won’t be buzzing with playoff indications while teams like the Thunder, Nuggets and Jazz are representing the Northwest Division. But to as much of a roller coaster season full of highs and definite lows, I am kind of thankful for our summer to start early. We knew midway through (and up until after the trade deadline) that the lottery was in our future.
But fear not Rip City, this summer will be a total overhaul and I cannot wait for what’s in store. Anyone from Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Roy Hibbert, Rajon Rondo and other stars could be fitting into a Blazer jersey by the start of training camp as Portland will build around Aldridge and Batum. The NBA Draft will be another key factor as to what Portland plans to do with their two first round picks into a deep talented draft of young stars.
The future is bright, so as we sit and relax ourselves, I’ll take a look back into what I liked and didn’t like this season. Thank you to every Blazer fan and see you in the fall. Go Blazers!
MVP: LaMarcus Aldridge
It’s a no brainer that LA most deserves this is of course. The guy is a stud and he finally had a breakthrough All-Star year, being named to the reserve roster of the All-Star Game as the first Trail Blazer since Brandon Roy. After coming alive as a legit offensive threat halfway through last season, his numbers and productivity have gone way up as he finished this season posting some of the best numbers of his career: 21.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists in in 36 minutes per game. He also busted the top ten charts in different NBA statistics worth noting, ranking 8th in points per game (21.7), 7th in field goals made per 48 minutes (11.62) and 8th in points scored (1191).
The 26-year old was made the number one offensive option for the team after Portland found out on Opening Day that Roy would take a medical retirement along with the team cutting ties with Greg Oden. With the dream of the “Big 3″ lying dead on the table, the Blazers helped make Aldridge into one of the most impressive power forwards in the West. That helped him finally get the word of his All-Star status by keeping Portland in the mix for the playoffs for the first part of the season as the Blazers started at an impressive 3-0 and then to 7-2. He dropped double digit scoring in all of his 55 starts, dropping a season-high 39 on the Oklahoma City Thunder and dueled with other notable power forwards such as Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Pau Gasol with his trademark fading jumper and sweet post moves that had a hint of Hakeem Olajuwon. He also set a new career-high 23 rebounds against the Toronto Raptors and hit a game-winning jumper in overtime to seal a victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
Sadly Aldridge’s season was cut short as the Blazers made aware that he had a small tear in his right hip that would require arthroscopic surgery. As Portland fell further behind in the race for the seeding for the postseason and the team in rebuilding mode, Portland made a smart move by sitting Aldridge for the last eight games, giving him enough time to heal and to get into top form for training camp in the fall. LaMarcus Aldridge next season will need to work on further improving his offensive game plan and realize that he needs to become a clutch big man late in games, hopefully Portland will pick up a nice piece at the point to compliment Aldridge down low. I believe this is the start to a monster season when the Blazers return to action in November.
Best Addition: J.J. Hickson
Believe me, when Portland picked up Hickson off of waivers from the Sacramento Kings for literally nothing, he could have been damned to forever be a bench player and only see garbage time. Or worse, becoming some sort of piece that resulted in grabbing another draft pick. Now the Kings are smacking themselves on the heads asking “What the hell did we do?” Hickson is a blessing, coming off the bench behind Aldridge, he’s got the scoring ability and the hustle, as Aldridge tends to linger outside the paint and settle for the jumper, Hickson will duck his head and drive inside and feast on offensive boards. Hickson also will come out of nowhere to for put-backs and feed off of alley-oop passes, making him versatile and a valuable piece for the future. For someone who was averaging 4.7 points, 5 rebounds in 18.4 minutes of play, the Kings basically told Hickson “thanks but no thanks, no hard feelings” and soon he’s dropping 14.8 points, 8.3 rebounds in 31.2 minutes and was at times the main focus point of the offense. His best Blazer performance came against the heartbreaking 98-97 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in which he scored a season high 29 points with 13 rebounds. He’s filled in the power forward slot for a absent Aldridge for the remainder of the season and would be nice to see back again next season.
Most Disappointing Player(s): Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford & Wesley Matthews
Where do I begin with Raymond Felton? I wasn’t too hot when Portland traded bad ass Andre Miller for Felton, the move didn’t really help our problem at the point position and we didn’t get any younger. What we did get was a slightly chunky and slow Raymond Felton who wasn’t ready for the shortened season. He became the butt of jokes around Portland for his constant turnovers, many of them stupid ones like dribbling the ball off his foot for throwing an alley-oop to no one around the basket. He made Andre Miller look like a pure genius. Fans got sick and tired of “Felton Time” which he would end up help costing the Blazers some winnable games by turning the ball over in late game situations, showing off that porky, confused face to the ref and then getting worked on by the opposing point guard. It got so bad for Portland that it was well known that Felton was available during the trade deadline along with Jamal Crawford, and neither were picked up.
When I found out that Jamal Crawford would sign a two-year deal during the offseason I was so excited. A former Sixth Man of the Year and own for just his scoring abilities, it led me to believe that Crawford would be just the right punch off the bench and give our second unit some automatic firepower. What transcribed was one of his most disappointing seasons since his rookie year, season low numbers in points and shooting percentage, Crawford was not the guy I was looking for, it got pretty old watching him over dribble the ball to run some clock then realize how much time was left, only to chuck up a long three-point shot that hit nothing but the back iron. A few four-point plays and some fancy dribbling were nice, but his productivity and his sliding popularity in Portland makes me think that he will book it from Rip City and test the free agency waters.
I feel bad for Wesley Matthews here but this season simply was not a good one for Matthews as it sure made that five-year, $34 million contract look pretty pricy. Looking lost on offense, he didn’t bring the firepower till very late in the season when nothing really mattered anymore. He constantly looked frustrated like something was holding him back and his shooting percentage took a nose dive, .449 a year ago down to .416, his three was off as well, .407 to .387. Wouldn’t be surprised if a good offer was made for Matthews that the Blazers would take it but depending on how big the market for shooting guards will be this summer, Portland will hope that he has a much better season.
Top Second-Year Player: Luke Babbitt
Luke Babbitt has been the unfortunate inside joke with Blazer fans, known for his time sitting on the bench, appearing in garbage time and being the only white guy on the team. He quickly got the distinction of being Portland’s designated to-go “Chalupaman”, after hitting a three one game to push the Blazers above 100 points and award the Rose Garden crowd free Taco Bell coupons. He was quoted then after the game as one of the best quotes of the young season and quite possibly the entire league by saying: “It feels good to give the fans free Taco Bell”. After that, Portland fans rooted for Babbitt to shoot from beyond the three-point line only for that reason. He nor much of the rookies didn’t see much playing time due to former coach Nate McMillan’s desire to play more of the starters and his productivity hit a skid. After McMillan was fired, new interim coach Kaleb Canales gave Babbitt a chance to prove himself and he really did. Babbitt was suddenly given plenty of more minutes and welcomed by Portland fans to shoot the ball. Aside from being deadly downtown, Babbitt grew into more of a skilled player by showing some never-before-seen post moves and floaters that showcased his talents. He has been made fun of plenty but I am here to renounce myself as a Babbitt Believer.