Has Joel Freeland toughened up this year? It appears he has from a production standpoint, however his teammates maintain he’s the same ol’ Joel.

“Joel is probably the toughest European player that I’ve played against,” LaMarcus Aldridge told CSNNW.com. “I never questioned his toughness at all. He’s just getting a chance to show it now.”

As a member of last year’s Portland team that featured one of the worst benches in NBA history, Freeland, who struggled with the speed of the game and was unable to crack the rotation.

That’s not an encouraging sign considering the team bolstered its reserve unit over the summer.

A couple of problems Freeland grappled with last year: his shot was constantly batted away in the paint, he was often pushed out of position on the defensive end and quite frankly, he wasn’t feared. He wasn’t feared by his opponents and apparently, he wasn’t feared by one of his former teammates.

That would change, however.

On March 20 in Chicago last season, Portland was practicing the day before it squared off against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center and things got a little heated.

Freeland and former Trail Blazer Luke Babbitt got into a scuffle.

According to some onlookers, Babbitt was repeatedly fighting through screens using his elbows. After being struck a couple of times already, Freeland warned Babbitt in a not-so-friendly way that that would be his last elbow.

A play later, Babbitt did it again, resulting in a physical altercation. According to an eyewitness, a fired-up Freeland literally picked up Babbitt and threw him to the ground. The two eventually ended up on the floor exchanging blows before teammates intervened and separated them.