The Portland Trail Blazers officially said goodbye to last year’s backup point guard Mo Williams on Monday. While Williams’ departure was hardly a surprise, Blazers faithful were really hoping he’d take a pay cut to return to Rip City. And now the Blazers are facing the same question that plagued them last year: how will their backups play?
If the NBA were only judged on the starting five, the Trail Blazers would be an elite team. The starting lineup sometimes looks like poetry in motion and could compete with any team in the NBA. Damian Lillard gets better in every game. Wesley Matthews is simply amazing on both sides of the court. Nicolas Batum is an elite defender and three point shooter. LaMarcus Aldridge is arguably the power forward in the NBA. And Robin Lopez is a very capable center who can get offensive rebounds as well as anyone.
The only problem last year was the Blazers’ bench, the cornerstone of which was often Williams. Thomas Robinson, Will Barton and Dorell Wright had stints of solid play, but Williams was both the leader and the most consistent of the bench players.
Last season, Williams played in 74 games, averaging per game 24.8 minutes, 9.7 points, 4.3 assists and 2 turnovers.
One half of the Blazers’ big off-season acquisition was Steve Blake, who played for both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors last season. Blake, who was drafted in the same year as Williams, was a starter for the Lakers and averaged per game 33 minutes, 9.5 points, 7.6 assists and 2.6 turnovers. With the Warriors, Blake was a backup to Stephen Curry. He averaged per game 21.7 minutes 4.4 points, 3.6 assists and 1.1 turnovers.
It is really hard to truly compare Williams and Blake since their usage was so different. Blake has shown the ability to be a reliable player when called upon with the Lakers. His numbers fell when he went to Golden State because the Warriors did not need a scorer. Coincidentally, Blake’s best season statistically was with the Trail Blazers back in the 2008-09 season. He averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds per game while starting for the Blazers.
The Blazers do not have any other point guards on the roster besides Lillard and Blake. Years ago that could be a troubling fact, but basketball is very different than it used to be. The traditional point guard is largely extinct. Modern point guards are often score-first and could easily play shooting guard, like Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry.
Personally, I consider Blake a slight downgrade from Williams, who had become a fan favorite amongst Portland fans. But I’m also expecting the Blazers to use C.J. McCollum more as a combo guard. McCollum will hopefully have a better sophomore year in the NBA now that he’ll hopefully participate in off-season practice more.