The Portland Trail Blazers have one of the most solid starting fives in the NBA. There is no position where they don’t have a starter who wouldn’t likely rank in the top 15 among players at his position. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the best power forwards in the league, Damian Lillard is the favorite to win rookie of the year, Nicolas Batum has gotten better every year he’s been in the league, J.J. Hickson has thrived since becoming a center, and Wesley Matthews is a great hustle player with a strong knack for driving to the basket. If NBA teams consisted of only five players, the Blazers would be able to hang with anyone.
Unfortunately, that’s not how things work, and once you get to the bench, things become shockingly thin in Portland. None of their bench players are averaging more than 4.8 points per game this season. They don’t have anything resembling a sixth man, and while their starters are easily good enough to reach the playoffs, the exceedingly weak reserves will likely be enough to keep them at home come playoff time.
Now, it’s not that there aren’t any potentially solid players on the Blazers bench. Rookie Meyers Leonard is a pretty good backup center, who has been surprisingly efficient for a first-year player, shooting .560 from the field in his limited action. Also, Luke Babbitt, while still not worthy of the lottery picked used to take him, has gotten a bit better in each subsequent year in the league. He’s a decent three point shooter, and when his shot is working, the Blazers bench might momentarily appear competent.
Sadly, all the good news ends there. The Blazers patchwork bench is destroying them, as they have struggled to get decent play out of a group of marginal to terrible players. Anyone who watched Sasha Pavlovic’s dreadful run with the Boston Celtics last year knows he’s just about washed up, and under no circumstances do you want him to be part of your rotation. Still, Pavlovic has been getting 12 minutes a night for the Blazers because they just don’t have anyone else. Naturally, he’s continued to struggle mightily, shooting just .351 from the field.
Plenty of other guys have struggled to do anything for this team. Nolan Smith was a stud at Duke but he’s been decidedly underwhelming since coming to the pros, failing to establish himself as a legitimate point guard in either of his two seasons. this year, things have gotten really bad, as he is shooting just .322 from the field, and has been completely unable to drive the Blazers offense when he’s been on the floor this season. Jared Jeffries was never anything special as a New York Knick, but he had his moments, especially during last February’s outbreak of Linsanity, when he did fine job of filling in for Amar’e Stoudemire. That’s why it’s been surprising to see him contribute absolutely nothing to this team, as he’s currently averaging just 1.1 points per game. If a guy can’t crack the rotation on a team this thin, that really doesn’t say much for his future career prospects.
Quite simply, the Blazers bench is a black hole; a void where little to no talent exists. It’s quite possible that Leonard could develop into a special player in due time, but right now, he’s not enough to carry this horribly weak group. It’s a shame, because Portland’s starting five should be talented enough to not only make the playoffs, but win a series, too. Instead, their dreadful second unit will likely prevent them from even reaching the postseason. Hopefully, in time, the Blazers front office will recognize this issue and make the necessary adjustments to create a solid bench. For now, the considerable contributions of their starters will likely go to waste simply because they have no decent layers to spell them. What a shame.
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