Pelton: ‘No Power Forward In The NBA Is Better At Both Ends Than (LaMarcus) Aldridge’

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

The Basketball Prospectus, the yearly almanac that profiled every NBA player participating in the upcoming season, quietly died when Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle, authors of the Prospectus, joined ESPN.com full-time covering the NBA.

But while the paper edition of The Basketball Prospectus is gone, the content has undergone a digital metamorphosis and now lives on ESPN Insider (a yearly subscription to Insider is less than the cost of The Basketball Prospectus, so thank Kevin for saving you a bit of money). Pelton’s player profiles for the Trail Blazers came out on Tuesday. Here’s a little taste.

On Damian Lillard …

He set a rookie record for 3-pointers and ranked third in the league behind Stephen Curry and James Harden with 86 unassisted 3-pointers, per Basketball-Reference.com. That ability to pull up off the dribble kept opponents from going under screens and gave Lillard a head-start to the basket. Because of his small stature, Lillard shot just 53.1 percent at the rim, and developing an in-between game or kicking out more than shooting will be key to his future development. Though right-handed, Lillard did prove especially adept at finishing going to his left.

As advanced as Lillard was offensively, his defensive effort was more typical for a rookie. He plays smaller than his size and tends to get hung up on screens, which was the start of Portland’s difficulty defending the pick-and-roll. Teams also had success simply isolating Lillard and beating him off the dribble, illustrating the need for him to improve his footwork in addition to adding strength.

On Wesley Matthews …

A physical defender, Matthews relishes the challenge of matching up with the league’s best players. He’s not quite quick enough to be a lockdown one-on-one defender, but the Blazers can generally feel comfortable with him against almost any opposing shooting guard. Matthews’ rebound rate declined last season at both ends of the floor.

On LaMarcus Aldridge …

Per Basketball-Reference.com, Aldridge took more long 2-pointers (from 16 feet or farther) than any other NBA player. While he hit them at a solid 41.8 percent clip, Aldridge is more effective when he’s in the post and can use his long arms to shoot over smaller defenders. Post-ups also tend to translate into more free-throw attempts, which Aldridge cashes in at better than 80 percent accuracy.

That quibble aside, it’s easy to see why contenders will be lining up for Aldridge if the Blazers decide to trade him before he reaches unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2015. No power forward in the NBA is better at both ends than Aldridge, who is a fine defender. He battles well in the post and can block shots from the weak side, but Aldridge’s defensive strength is matching up with guards after switching the pick-and-roll. He moves well laterally and forces them to try to shoot over his long arms.

And on Dorell Wright …

Wright is a good fit for the Blazers because his game is similar stylistically to starting small forward Nicolas Batum. Like Batum, Wright has some ability to make plays — he averaged a respectable 3.0 assists per 36 minutes last season — but spends most of his time spotting up. Slightly more than 60 percent of Wright’s shot attempts last season came beyond the arc, and he made them at a solid 37.4 percent clip, in line with his career average. Wright is also good at running the floor for transition finishes.

Pelton goes through the entire roster, so if you’re interested in reading the entire post, head over to ESPN.com and consider purchasing Insider.

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Podcast: Rip City Report, Episode 56

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…

On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.

You can find the Rip City Report on SoundcloudiTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!

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Damian Lillard Passes His Buddy Brandon Roy In Scoring

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.

And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.

“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”

Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.

Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.

“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”

Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health  — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.

“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”

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Trail Blazers Enter The All-Star Break With Another Win

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

PORTLAND — What a nice way to go into the All-Star break.

For the second time in five days, the Trail Blazers built a large third-quarter lead against the Rockets, then allowed them to make a comeback, only to make a final push to come away with the double-digit victory, this time to the tune of a 116-103 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center.

“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively, we’ve been really good the last two or three weeks. Our aggressiveness has been good, our alertness has been very good and I thought we did that for most of the night tonight. It’s good to go into the break on a win streak and playing well.”

The Trail Blazers are now 27-27 overall and 16-11 at the Moda Center this season. With the win, Portland is .500 for the first time since the team was 4-4 on November 9, 2015, have won eight of their last 10 games at home and 12 of their last 15 games overall, regardless of venue. Thanks to that streak, the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings while the Rockets, a team that started the game in seventh place, drop to ninth.

“We dug ourselves a hole to start the season, giving up some games late, but we stuck with it, we kept going, we kept working,” said Damian Lillard. “We didn’t get too high or low. We were able to close in and get to .500 going into the break. Our team has done a great job of sticking to the grind, working every day in practice and staying together. That’s gotten us to where we are now.”

After ending the first quarter tied 29-29, the Trail Blazers used a 18-3 run in the second quarter to build a 12-point lead. Portland would expand their lead to 21, only to see the Rockets cut the deficit to five with 9:31 to play in the fourth. But the Trail Blazers would close out the game by outscoring the Rockets 23-15 to come away with the 13-point victory.

Portland won Tuesday’s contest despite shooting worse percentage than the Rockets from the field and the three-point line, but making eight more free throws despite having the same number of attempts and turning 20 Rockets turnovers in to 31 points more than made up for their so-so field goal percentages.

“I like the fact that we’re doing it within the context of our defense rather than gambling and extending our defense,” said Stotts of forcing turnovers. “We’re being aggressive on the ball, we’re alert on the weak side, so I think those two things combined help create those turnovers.”

The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who went 9-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from three and 9-of-11 from the free throw line for 31 points to go along with nine assists, three rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.

Maurice Harkless remained in the starting lineup, despite Noah Vonleh being on the active list for the first time in the last two games, and responded with his best game as a Trail Blazers with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes.

“I liked his defense on Harden, he finished around the basket, he got rebounds, he ran the floor well,” said Stotts of Harkless. “He did a little bit of everything in a kind of understated way.”

Meyers Leonard went 6-of-9 from the field for 14 points while grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu shot just under 50 percent to finish with 11 points and five rebounds and Ed Davis grabbed 13 rebounds in 21 minutes. Gerald Henderson went just 3-of-10 from the field but made up for it by going 7-of-10 from the line to finish with 13 points.

The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 34 points, and Dwight Howard, who added 28 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes.

Next up, the Trail Blazers have more than a week off before hosting the Golden State Warriors on February 19.

“We’re playing well and hopefully when we get back we pick up where we left off,” said Stotts, “but everybody could use a break.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.

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