The Portland Trail Blazers have been full of surprises this year, but there is one thing that Blazer fans are not surprised about; the Blazer bench, or lack thereof. Fans knew coming into this season that the team had no depth, and the lack of depth is really beginning to show for the Blazers.
Consistency is hard to come by in the NBA, but it is what makes a good team. The Blazers’ starters have been very consistent this season, with each starter averaging double figures in points. Four of the Blazers’ starters also play more than 35 minutes a night, which over the course of an 82 game season will take a toll on players. Just look at Wesley Mathews earlier this season. He was averaging 37 minutes a game when he suffered a left hip flexor strain. If you know Wesley, you know that he never misses games due to injury. For the first time in his career, he had to sit out and watch from the bench for six games. The injury problems will only get worse as the season wears on, especially if our starters are playing almost 40 minutes a game. That is one reason why the Blazers need a reliable bench. So far this season the Blazer bench has been abysmal, averaging just 16.4 points per contest on 37% field goal shooting. That is nine points below the next-worst bench in the league, meaning that the Blazers’ bench is historically bad. In the last 15 years, no bench in the NBA has averaged less than 17 points per contest. Yikes.
Injuries aren’t the only problem posed by having such a weak bench. You ever notice how this season the Blazers love to get down big early, and then attempt a furious comeback only to come up just short? That can be attributed directly to our bench, or lack thereof. Our starting lineup will hold their own in the first quarter, and then as soon as our bench unit comes in we lose a handle on games and end up going into the half down big. Then the starting lineup comes back after halftime and chips away at the lead; until the Portland bench strikes again.
In the defense of our bench, Will Barton and Meyers Leonard have showed some promise as bench players. In a few games Barton has been able to be a spark off the bench, and Meyers Leonard, well, he is a big body and he has shown a nice mid-range touch for a big man. If Elliot Williams were healthy, then the Blazers’ second unit would not be such a laughingstock. Elliot has always had a hard time staying healthy (That’s an understatement), but at the end of last season he showed a glimpse of what he can do off the bench. This season would have really been a great opportunity for Elliot Williams to showcase his talent, and I am sure there is no one more disappointed about the missed opportunity than Elliot.
On a side note, I know there are a lot of Blazer fans out there who love Luke Babbitt for one reason or another, but I have no faith in the guy to hit open threes, which is the one thing being asked of him. In the last 16 games, Babbitt has only connected on 29% of his threes, and quite frankly that is just not cutting it. I feel bad for the guy, but the NBA is a business, and people expect results.
I don’t think the Blazers should make any moves before the trade deadline. It is already too late to turn back. They might as well play this season out and continue developing young talent by giving the rookies more playing time, which is something that Nate McMillan almost never did. I believe that Will Barton and Meyers Leonard will both develop into decent players, and if the Blazers can add one more bench scorer this off season then I believe they will be able to put their bench woes behind them.