The Portland Trail Blazers are a much improved team this season but they do have a glaring weakness.
Just don’t make the mistake of pinning the blame on any of the Portland Trail Blazers starters. The Trail Blazers’ starting five has been absolutely fantastic all season; they lead the league in scoring as a starting group, averaging 80.3 points per game.
LaMarcus Aldridge was recently named an All-Star for the second straight season, Nicolas Batum is living up to the four-year, $41.6 million contract extension he received this past offseason and dynamic rookie point guard Damian Lillard appears to have already locked up the Rookie of the Year award with his stellar play.
The only thing that currently separates Portland from the better teams in the Western Conference is the Trail Blazers’ lack of depth. In a stark contrast to the highest-scoring starting five in the NBA, the Trail Blazers’ bench is dead last in the league. Not only are the Trail Blazers the lowest scoring bench in the NBA, they are the lowest scoring bench by a wide margin.
Portland’s bench currently scores only 16.5 points per game. The closest team to Portland in terms of low bench production is the Indiana Pacers, but they average almost 10 more points per game than the Trail Blazers. Regardless of how the season ends for the Trail Blazers, they will certainly spend the upcoming offseason attempting to improve their depth. The Trail Blazers are not a team with ample cap room so they will need to find value in free agency. Let’s take a look at five free agents the Trail Blazers may target.
The Blazers are in desperate need of a dependable scorer off the bench capable of providing them with a perimeter threat when Lillard or Wesley Matthews are in foul trouble or taking a breather. Free-agent guard Randy Foye would be a versatile scoring option for the Trail Blazers. Foye is a former first-round selection who has settled into his role as a valuable bench player the last two seasons. Foye has averaged more than 11 points per game the last two seasons for the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz.
When Foye is called upon to play more than 25 minutes per game, his scoring takes a noticeable jump. Foye has improved his 3-point shooting the last two seasons and could find a number of open looks in Portland with Lillard’s point guard play and the attention that Aldridge receives in the post.
Matt Barnes has played for eight teams during his 11-year NBA career. Barnes was available to the Los Angeles Clippers late into free agency and they signed the veteran forward to a cap friendly deal of one year for $1.2 million. Barnes is enjoying his best season since his 2008-09 campaign with the Phoenix Suns. A right knee injury sidelined Grant Hill to begin the season and Barnes found himself on the court early and often for the Clippers. Barnes responded to the increase in minutes as well as the Clippers could have hoped. Barnes is averaging 10.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He is an athletic small forward who plays terrific on-ball defense and adds grit and toughness to the team he is a part of. The Clippers bench is currently second in the NBA averaging 40.3 points per game with a significant contribution coming from Barnes. Barnes is comfortable starting or coming off the bench and he would fit in well with the current Portland team.
The Philadelphia 76ers used their amnesty clause this past offseason on Elton Brand, making him a free agent. The Dallas Mavericks acquired the former No. 1 overall pick and two-time All-Star for the 2012-13 season. Brand has been a valuable member of a Dallas bench that ranks first in the NBA in points per game. Brand is capable of playing power forward or center and provides Dallas with a strong presence around the basket.
Brand graciously accepted his role on the bench despite being a starter for his entire career. Brand’s veteran presence, toughness and team-first attitude would suit a talented young Portland team well.
Antawn Jamison has been one of the best values in the NBA this season. Jamison had averaged 17 points per game the last three years in Cleveland, but he has seen a large reduction in minutes per game this season in Los Angeles for the Lakers.
This changed when Pau Gasol tore the plantar fascia in his right foot. Jamison was forced into the rotation and quickly proved that he is still capable of providing instant offense at a very affordable cap figure. Jamison is a two-time All-Star and won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2003-04. Jamison will be 37-years old heading into next season so he will likely be a dependable, affordable target for a team like Portland in need of increased bench production.
Chase Budinger was traded from the Houston Rockets to the Minnesota Timberwolves this past offseason and was off to a nice start in Minnesota to begin the year.
The fourth-year forward was averaging 11.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game prior to his tearing his meniscus in his left knee. Budinger hopes to return the court soon and a strong finish to the season will increase his free agent value. Budinger will still likely be a value to a team like the Portland Trail-Blazers that lacks scoring punch on the bench.
The Portland Trail Blazers are a team on the rise but for them to join the elite teams in the Western Conference they must spend the upcoming off-season adding proven veterans that are capable scorers and willing to accept a role coming off the bench. If they are able to improve their team with a strong off-season, Portland may find they are poised to make a legitimate playoff run next year.