Play of the night.
Notes from the final game of the season:
Point guard play:
With quite literally nothing on the line, fans were finally treated to a solid showing from both Jonny Flynn and Nolan Smith. That’s not to say the pair hasn’t had good performances over the past couple of months, but the confidence they each displayed tonight was a bright spot. Even if Devin Harris only played 12 minutes.
Yes, Flynn continues to make poor decisions on the court, but he was able to connect for 11 assists and help get his teammates open looks. No, he doesn’t have what it takes to be the Blazers starting point guard next season. Unless he shows major growth in maturity over the next couple of years, he’ll be coming off the bench wherever he lands. He can still be a valuable contributor for Portland in the second unit. As he and his teammates become more familiar with each other’s games (and have more than 12 practice days in a season) he has the potential to be a solid distributor coming off of the bench.
His shooting percentage has declined since connecting on 41 percent of shots his rookie season—this season he only hit 33 percent. Admittedly a small sample size, his 25 percent shooting from 3 - 9 ft. this season was truly awful, but something he can absolutely work on in the off-season. Flynn took most of his shots at the rim this season, converting 50 percent. If he is able to add a reliable midrange game, it’s not terribly difficult to see him bringing much needed energy to the Blazer second unit. Add in the ability to score in bunches and distribute the ball without too many thoughtless passes, and Flynn is worth keeping around. His 18 points and 11 assists were both season-highs. This is exactly the taste he wanted to leave in the Blazer brass’ mouth heading into the summer.
Nolan Smith’s numbers were slightly less impressive than Flynn’s, but his game was equally encouraging: 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting and seven assists. Portland doesn’t appear to be in strict rebuilding mode, and for that reason it’s unlikely Smith moves to the starting lineup next season. While he has definitely had some poor showings the past few months, his leadership skills and poise have begun to emerge. Sure, keeping your cool in a game that has nothing at stake isn’t exactly the litmus test for future point guard potential, but it’s a start. Smith took the open shot when it was given to him and converted. He hit the open man and assisted on seven shots, making the game easier for his teammates. He defended the pick and roll perfectly when Harris was on the court. He did everything the Blazers needed him to do tonight, including becoming outraged when his teammate didn’t get a call at the end of the game.
Like Flynn, Smith has difficulty hitting from the 3 - 9 ft. range, but the starting point guard doesn’t necessarily need to be that guy. He converts when he makes it to the rim 53 percent of the time, and has shown improvement in his outside jumper. What’s most surprising about his shooting stats is he is markedly worse at the Rose Garden than on the road: 25 compared to 48 percent. Make what you will of that statistic, but keeping your cool on the road is an important skill in a starting point guard. Usually that comes after feeling good about playing at home, but it’s possible Smith has just matured early in that area.
Smith ended his season on a strong note, a bright spot when looking forward to the 2012-13 Trail Blazers.
The Three-Point Champ that wasn’t:
Maybe it’s better that Luke Babbitt didn’t qualify for the league-leader in three-point shot percentage with his horrid shooting night.
Just kidding, it’s totally not better that he was awful tonight.
Babbitt shot 1-for-8 from three-point range tonight, and 3-for-11 in 37 minutes. He had some nice finishes in the lane in the middle of the third quarter, but his impact on offense was otherwise unimpressive. Shooters are going to have poor nights, but when the sample size isn’t even a full season, it’s hard not to look at crumbling under pressure as just that.
Here’s to sincerely hoping Babbitt becomes more than just a Chalupa Man next year, and fills the role of a true offensive threat off of the bench for Portland.
Hasheem the Dream played 0 minutes in tonight’s loss.
Kurt Thomas played 27 and scored 10 points.
There was absolutely no reason to not play a guy who is healthy, sitting on the bench, and waiting desperately for some burn. Unless that guy is really, truly awful.
We haven’t seen anything (well, there was the air ball hook shot) to suggest that Thabeet isn’t worthy of a single minute in the final game of the season, with nothing at stake. But my fear is that the coaching staff has.
Craig Smith scored seven points in seven minutes. He quickly became a fan favorite in Portland, and it was nice to see him have a positive end to his season.
It doesn’t feel fair to pile on Wesley Matthews who struggled mightily from the floor, especially after the difficult season he’s had and the effort he’s shown. He remains a valuable piece for this Blazer team moving forward.
JJ Hickson’s play has caught the attention of plenty of other teams around the league. Tonight’s numbers: 20 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, and 10-for-13(!) shooting. He works hard, keeps his head in the game, and genuinely makes an effort to get better every time he is on the court. The Blazers should make him an offer as soon as they are able, and show him how valued he is by Portland. That’s not to say they should overpay for a solid role player, but Hickson has been a great addition to this franchise. It’d be a shame to lose him next season.
Lastly, congrats to Jamal Crawford for earning the free throw shooting title. On the season Jamal shot 92.7 percent, connecting on an incredible 191 of 206 free throw attempts.
/drops the mic