ChrisHaynes, CSNNW.com NBA & Trail Blazers Insider
ThePortland Trail Blazers lost a tough one again last night. For much ofthe game against the San Antonio Spurs, they were in control and soclose to breaking their two-game losing skid. In the end, the Spurspulled it off 112-109.
However,the same two issues popped up for the Trail Blazers: Defending andlack of bench production.
Lastnight marked five out of six games where the Trail Blazers haveallowed opponents to shoot over 50 percent from the field and theSpurs shot a whopping 57 percent.
Ican't put my finger on it, Wesley Matthews said. It's somethingwe have to correct somehow, but I can't tell you right now what itis.
Thenthere's the Trail Blazers' bench that's averaging a league-low 12.8points per game. The second lowest is the Los Angeles Lakers at 20.7points per game.
Lastnight the Spurs outscored the Trail Blazers' bench 63-4.
Now,it's too easy and way too convenient to say, There's no JamalCrawford or Manu Ginobili on that bench. Well, most of the leaguehas that complaint. Last time I checked, the Trail Blazers were notin a position to be competing for a playoff berth or a title thisseason. This year was suppose to be about the development of guyslike Will Barton, Nolan Smith, Joel Freeland, Luke Babbitt and VictorClaver.
No,none of those guys are going to light the scoreboard on fire, butI'll tell you this, with a consistent amount of playing time comes anincreased level of confidence when you know you're going to play.
It'sonly six games in, but to sit back and dismiss that the bench playisn't an issue, is illogical.
I'mmore concerned about what happens on the court when they're in thegame than actual numbers, points, rebounds, head coach TerryStotts said after the game. Like I said, the bench was a positivein the first half and we had a bad stretch, a horrible stretch andobviously we scored enough points to win. It's not about benchproduction, we scored points.
Iget it, he has to defend his players. You can't knock that.
TheTrail Blazers starting unit is averaging a league-high 86.0 pointsper game and averaging a league-high in minutes, 36.4. On the other hand, the bench is averaging a league-low 12.5 minutes per game.
NicolasBatum, who had a great game with 33 points and seven rebounds in 39minutes, admitted to being fatigued and stated he did not want thegame to go into overtime. That was the reason he chose to take athree with seven seconds left in the game with his team down 111-109.Looking back, Batum says he could have gotten a better look.
Thewear and tear of extended minutes and an increased role on offense,could be having a negative effect on the starters.
InsertingMeyers Leonard into the starting lineup and moving J.J. Hickson tothe bench is the only logical step, if a move is to be made. Hicksoncould provide a scoring punch off the bench and that will make life easier for Babbitt,Barton, and Sasha Pavlovic out on the court. Theproblem with that is convincing Hickson to step down, consideringhe's playing great, averaging a double-double, 10.2 points, and 10.7rebounds a game.
Willan increased role for the bench sacrifice some games? Yes it would,but it was to be expected this year.
There'sno quick fix on the bench, even with changes, they'll probably stillbe at the bottom of the league. But like I said before, four pointsis unacceptable and no matter what level of talent is on that bench,they're still better than 12 points a game.
There'sbeen much made about the shot selection of LaMarcus Aldridge and thefact that he's settling for too many jump-shots. Well, these are theoptions: Have him backing down opponents in the paint constantlywhile playing a high level of minutes and he ends up only playing 40games due to injury, or you allow him to utilize his outside gameknowing he's going to play a ton of minutes in order to keep himhealthy for a full 82-game season.
Forthis year in particular, my choice is obvious.