Portland has been relatively lucky when you consider all the injuries around the NBA so far this season. They are the only team in the NBA to send out the same starting five for each and every game this season. That trend won’t stop with an injury to backup center Joel Freeland, but the bench rotation will surely take a hit.
Freeland’s stats have been unassuming at 3.3 points and 3.9 rebounds (both career highs by the way) and he’s only been averaging 13.8 minutes a night; however, it’s not the offense the Blazers will miss. Freeland made improvements over the summer to focusing on rebounding and defense after realizing these are the attributes that will get him playing time with Portland. He succeeded in improving and he’s been an important cog in the Blazers’ second unit.
Early in the first quarter of last night’s game, Freeland was fighting for position when his knee buckled and he had to be helped off the court by his teammates. An MRI would later show that Freeland had in fact sprained his MCL in his left knee and he will be sidelined anywhere from four to eight weeks. Here is the injury if you missed it last night:
So, now the real question is who will step and be that backup big that the Blazers desperately need moving forward?
Thomas Robinson has had an up-and-down season to say the least. He started the season in the rotation and then was benched in favor of Meyers Leonard and now they have kind of split time at the backup positions.
Even after Freeland went down early last night, Leonard only played 14 minutes, posting four points, three rebounds and the lowest +/- of anyone in the game at a -10. Robinson only played seven minutes, finishing with two points and five rebounds. Neither have shown a propensity to excel on the defensive end but my money is on Robinson getting the bulk of these minutes. He brings an energy that infuses this team, and though he still makes many, many mistakes that constant energy is tough to duplicate.
The more important question might be — will this now force Neil Olshey’s hand at the trade deadline? Recently Terry Stotts told Sean Deveney of The Sporting News that he doesn’t expect many changes at the deadline.
“We can and we need to improve defensively with what we have now, because I don’t anticipate any roster changes. Our growth is going to have to come from within. Our young players are going to have to continue to improve, our starters are going to have to continue to remain engaged, and we have shown we would not have the record that we have if it were not for our defense. We have played very good defense in spots, but we have just not been consistent with it.”
This was of course before Freeland’s injury, so now do things change? I still don’t think the Blazers are going to be willing to give up the assets the Rockets want for Omer Asik, but I’m sure Olshey will be able to find another serviceable backup big man to pair with Robinson and Leonard.
Someone like a Carl Landry, Andrew Nicholson or even Jason Thompson shouldn’t be too expensive for the Blazers at this point, but we will have to see what comes of it over the next week or so as the trade deadline approaches. Until we hear further we have to assume that both Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson will both see increased roles — let’s hope they’re ready.
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