Freeland Has Finally Found Role with Portland as Playoffs Begin -

Freeland Has Finally Found Role with Portland as Playoffs Begin

On the same day Great Britain and Portland Trail Blazers forward Joel Freeland was set to make his NBA Playoffs debut he has opened up about his new found role this season, which allowed him to become an integral part of the Blazers rotation.

“I’ve finally found my role on this team,” Freeland said in a call from the US before Game 1 against Houston, where he would hit a crucial free throw down the stretch to help give Portland the win in OT.

“It’s not necessarily making a lot of shots or highlight plays or anything, but being a solid player, being a solid rotation player, giving Robin Lopez some rest, doing my job on defence, rebounding, running the floor, setting good screens.

“All that stuff has got me to play this year so I’m excited to see what I can do during the playoffs; if I can continue that at a high level and bring this team something that they need to win.”

A tumultuous rookie season saw Freeland appear in just 51 games averaging 9.4 minutes per game after making the leap to the NBA after being drafted by Portland in 2006 and becoming a star in Europe in the meantime.

He admits he remains inexperienced in the NBA, but is learning all the time and has made the necessary adjustments to his game to succeed in the US.

“No question,” he answered when asked if he would say he is still inexperienced. “I’m new to this league, it’s my second year now, last summer I had to completely change my game because I realised I barely got any court time at all in my first season.

“I had to completely change my game and take my whole ego out of it because in Europe I was the main guy, the guy to go to on offence. Over here it just wasn’t going to work like that, you have too many people on this team that are being paid millions and millions of dollars to do that, there’s just not space for that.

“I just figured I want to play in any way possible and I have to change the way I play. I have to bring value to myself and to the team and the way I can do that is playing a kind of Nick Collison role, playing the way he plays.

“Hustling, rebounding, invaluable things that help teams win games and let your teammates know you’re trying to help them win. I earned the respect of my teammates and my coaches from Day 1 coming into training camp with that mindset, so that’s my mindset now.”

His numbers are up in almost every single statistical category this season, and he would have comfortably appeared in a lot more games if it weren’t for a freak knee injury, a sprained MCL which is more common in American Football than basketball, in February that saw him miss 29 games in almost nine weeks.

“It was pretty frustrating,” said Freeland of the injury. “It’s the first time in my career that I’ve been out for an extended period of time. I’ve been out the longest I think for three weeks before with twisted ankles and stuff just the regular stuff.

“This was quite a serious injury for me, it put me out almost nine weeks, so yeah it was quite frustrating, but at the same time I learnt a lot about my body.”

Freeland made his return Wednesday night last week, recording six points, seven rebounds and two assists in nearly 18 minutes.

“I’m feeling quite fresh at the moment,” he continued. “I was surprised in the game the other night, playing more than my average minutes and feeling solid, feeling good. I didn’t get winded too easily, I wasn’t thinking about my knee at all, in general I felt pretty good so I’m happy.”

Just how much Freeland will play in the playoffs remains to be seen. During the 29 games that Freeland was sidelined, the Blazers were forced to adapt, with coach Terry Stotts tweaking the style and makeup of his second unit.

Dorell Wright has been used more often at the four, with the Blazers playing more “small ball,” featuring a spread-the-floor, shooting-heavy lineup.

Coach Stotts has openly said he “doesn’t know how he fits in” but added he has no reservations about playing him.

Freeland will be the only British player in the playoffs after Luol’s mid-season trade to Cleveland from Chicago has left him not competing in the post-season for the first time since 2009.

“We’re not just going into the playoffs to be here as another team,” Freeland said intently. We’re here and we’re trying to go as far as we possibly can.

“…We’re going to war, we know what the deal is, we know what the schedule is and we’re looking at Game 1 at the moment.”

With Game 1 in the bag and his playoffs debut under his belt, time will only tell whether or not Freeland and the Blazers can pull off the upset.

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Image Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

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