PORTLAND, Ore. – This wasn’t a good season for the Blazers. The team didn’t live up to expectations and the majority of the players on the team came up short in that department as well.
The Blazers, however, finished the regular season with 41 wins, the picture of mediocrity. The team played much better after the All-Star break with an 18-8 record, fourth-best in the NBA. The Blazers were especially lifted by their performance in March, when Portland won 13 of 16 games. But even though the Blazers finished the regular season strong and made the playoffs, the season was a disappointment overall.
Some of the grades for the Blazers for this season won’t be pretty. They reflect the reality of what happened all season, not just in March.
The good news is the book has closed on the 2016-17 season. The players can work this summer to improve their games. The front office can make smart moves to improve the roster. Everyone gets a fresh slate, a blank report card, when training camp begins next October.
GRAPHIC INSTRUCTIONS: Take a stroll around the court and check out the player cards for the nine rotation members of the 2016-17 Portland Trail Blazers. Click on each card to open a larger version. Click on the card again to flip it over and see the back. To close the card you’re looking at, click it one more time. Mobile users, rotate your phone to see the full graphic.
Vonleh may have been the most improved player on the Blazers roster for the 2016-17 season. His season stats don’t jump off the page. He averaged 4.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in 17.1 minutes per game. But Vonleh’s improvement in the last two months of the season contributed to the Blazers’ success down the stretch.
The Blazers don’t depend on Vonleh to score. Even in March and April, he only averaged about five shot attempts per game. But his rebounding and defense, especially his ability to switch onto smaller, faster players and hold his own, were important to the Blazers’ starting lineup. Vonleh increased his averages to 6.0 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the floor in March. He was even better in April, averaging 8.7 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the field. As he gained confidence, Blazers coach Terry Stotts showed more confidence in him, increasing his minutes to about 30 per game by the end of the season.
Vonleh was at his best when he was paired with Jusuf Nurkic. It’s not a coincidence he started to emerge after Nurkic’s arrival. But the two were also a dynamic pairing on the court. They played 306 minutes together during Nurkic’s 20 games with the team. When they were both on the court, the Blazers averaged 112.2 points per 100 possessions, similar to the Warriors’ offense (113.2). The Blazers’ defense with that pairing, though, was most impressive, allowing 99.1 points per 100 possessions, better than the Spurs’ league-best mark during the regular season (100.9).
Vonleh is only 21 and still has two years left on his rookie contract. That, paired with the improvement he showed this season, makes him one of the Blazers’ most intriguing players.
This offseason, he needs to improve his offensive game. He gets most of his points off putbacks and dunks. He showed the ability during the season to shoot the ball well from the perimeter, shooting 44.2 percent on midrange jumpers and 42.9 percent on 3-point shots above the break. He needs to improve his postgame, though, as he shot only 40.9 percent on shots in the paint. Developing some moves in the paint should be the next step in his development.
Blazers report cards
Note: Report cards weren’t made for Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton, Jake Layman, Shabazz Napier or Tim Quarterman, because they played too few games and minutes for an accurate assessment of their value.
How we determined each player's grade
These grades reflect where each player fits within the hierarchy of the league, as judged by statistical data. The NBA statistic “Player Impact Estimate” (PIE) was the data point used to calculate each grade.
According to NBA.com, PIE “measures a player’s overall statistical contribution” while they’re on the court. It is a comparable stat to Player Efficiency Rating (PER).
The formula to compute the statistic incorporates points, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, personal fouls and turnovers.
For context, Russell Westbrook had the highest PIE in the NBA with a score of 23, followed by Anthony Davis with a score of 19.2. An average player in the NBA, according to the PIE statistic, had a score between 10 and 11 and included players like Otto Porter Jr. and Marcin Gortat.
19 PIE and up — A+
17.7-18.9 — A
16.4-17.6 — A-
15.1-16.3 — B+
13.8-15.0 — B
12.5-13.7 — B-
11.2-12.4 — C+
9.9-11.1 — C
8.6-9.8 — C-
7.3-8.5 — D+
6-7.2 — D
4.7-5.9 — D-
3.4-4.6 — F+
2.1-3.3 — F
0-2.0 — F-
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW. Follow him on Twitter here.