The Portland Trail Blazers are once again in the midst of an injury crisis. Their season was ruined last year thanks to injuries to Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Rodney Hood and so many more. Yes, they did scrape into the playoffs but considering they were in the Western Conference Finals the season before, 2019-20 was a failure for the franchise.
This season is not looking much better for the Blazers. Collins is still out from the injury he received in the bubble, Nurkic fractured his wrist on an innocuous-looking play, and CJ McCollum is out with a fractured ankle.
On top of this, Derrick Jones Jr has missed time with a foot injury, and Damian Lillard missed the Philadelphia 76ers game with an abdominal strain. With Nassir Little out, this only left the Blazers with nine players suited up, including the two-way player Keljin Blevins.
The Portland Trail Blazers needed CJ Elleby to step up
With Robert Covington being the only started available against the 76ers, the majority of the usual bench rotation had to step up and start, While these players understand what it takes to start, the deeper bench players got more of a role which they were not used to.
This means that CJ Elleby got the most court time of his young career. Up until the 76ers game, Elleby had totaled 44 minutes on the court in eight contests. Against the 76ers, Elleby had 31 minutes which was the highest of the four bench players.
The reason Elleby was left out there for so long was that he collected a stat line of 15 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, one assist, and one steal. While he did commit four fouls but Harry Giles committed five in just 14 minutes.
This would have taught Elleby a lot about how to play in the league. His previous eight appearances have been during junk time, and he has never played more than nine minutes in a game. Against the 76ers, Elleby was against All-Star caliber players and held his own.
He shot the ball well from the floor, making 5-of-9 but let himself down a little from deep where he only went1-of-5. This will come for the 6’6″ small forward. As he gets a little more time, he will get his reps up from deep and gain more confidence.
It would be unwise to suggest that Elleby will receive similar amounts of game time when the starters come back. This is simply not going to be the case. He is not going to move past the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Gary Trent, or Hood in the rotation this season.
What he has done is show the coaching staff that he has what it takes to earn rotation minutes. If he can just get five minutes a game, he is going to be invaluable to this franchise. It might not be obvious this season but what you have to take into account is over the next three or four years.
The reason for this is the Portland Trail Blazers have tied up a lot of money in their backcourt of McCollum and Lillard. This means they are going to be looking at rotation pieces who are low-cost to fill out their roster. If Elleby can secure one of the spots for another few seasons he will continue to develop in an NBA environment.
He just needs a few more games like this one against the 76ers.