International Rookies Should Shine in Rose Garden
As the NBA basketball season slowly approaches, the Portland Trailblazers have surrounded the franchise in a lot of things new. A new coach and franchise player dominate the headlines but quietly, British power forward and center Joel Freeland along with Victor Claver from Spain will also be new additions to the Blazers’ roster that may very well give the city of Portland something to talk about.
Both rookies, Freeland and Claver will be bringing the unique skill set of international play to the Blazers which Portland is familiar with. In the case of Freeland, he is hope for a viable backup to LaMarcus Aldridge in being someone that can split time between the four and five spots on the floor for head coach Terry Stotts.
If for some odd reason you are feeling familiarity with the names, it may be because technically, Freeland was a Blazer about six years ago and Claver about three.
Freeland, a member of the Great Britain Olympic team, was drafted by Portland at 19-years old in 2006 but didn’t make his way onto the Blazers’ roster that year by mutual choice. Freeland had only been playing basketball for about three years and at that point in his young career, was encouraged by the Blazers to work on and improve his game internationally before stepping into a league with the world’s best competition.
Freeland now has a three-year deal at a reported $9 million and is apparently ready for his newfound and somewhat overdue tenure in Portland at the Rose Garden.
“Everything happened so quickly,” Freeland said. “After the Spain game (during the 2012 Olympics), I found out (about the offer), made the final decision and jumped over. It’s been a great experience, now I’m just focused on the challenge ahead.”
Freeland, a big man at 6 foot 10, is almost a lock to play alongside and behind Aldridge on the court but the NBA is known as being physically different than the international game he is used to. The success of Freeland as a power-forward and center aren’t imminent early on but through development with Stotts, Aldridge and international veterans like Nicolas Batum, Freeland should be well on his way to making a presence in the post at some point.
On the other hand, Claver and contributing right away isn’t a stretch. Claver should play a key role as a high energy player off the bench almost immediately. In observing him with the silver-medal team from Spain in the 2012 London Olympics, Claver should come with what are probably moderate to high expectations from Stotts and the Blazers due to his skill set.
The newest Trail Blazer @VictorClaver9 will wear No. 18 for Rip City— Trail Blazers (@pdxtrailblazers) July 11, 2012
Claver, only 23, is similar to Freeland in that he is also a former Blazers pick, but from the 2009 draft. Claver was selected at No. 22 by Portland and in the same fashion as his international comrade, stayed oversees to continue his games growth and development for maximum production in the NBA. Claver comes into the Rose Garden with a winning pedigree and experience that saw him win a gold medal with the Spanish national team in the EuroBasket in 2009 and ’11.
The Blazers should be satisfied with the international pair and have a true optimistic outlook for the season and future. Although in what is viewed as a rebuilding stage as a franchise, it is somewhat of the perfect opportunity for both Freeland and Claver coming in as rookies.
Growing into their roles with fellow rookies Damian Lillard, Will Barton and Meyers Leonard is something that won’t be easy in the fast-paced 82-game marathon of an NBA season. Being international players, respectively, there is going to be an additional learning curve for them both on and off the court. While at times this may be difficult, a veteran international teammate like Batum should be able to help ease this transition with some of his own personal knowledge.
For the two of them to step in and show what it is they have to offer and solidify roles as key contributors is something that will be discussed and analyzed from the start of training camp in October. The Trailblazers have had their share of international stars starting with Arvydas Sabonis and continuing with Fernandez and Batum and in all likelihood, the continued success in drafting international players in Portland looks as if will continue with the addition of both Freeland and Claver.