First, if we're going to be a running team--which we should be and it's really fun to watch!--then it's not going to work with an 8-man rotation with two 40-somethings among them for this jam-packed schedule. As soon as we came out super-flat against Phoenix, I would have liked to have seen the second unit go in and try their luck. There's just no way that we were going to stay up with Phoenix otherwise. Raymond's still carrying extra weight, LaMarcus is still getting up to speed, and even the Predator needs a break now and then. I think that the stats will show that teams with crummy benches (like the Grizzlies) are going to underperform while those with good benches (Nuggets, Sixers) are going to hold up well despite so-so first units.
First off, I'm a Blazer Lover, not a hater, and no, the sky certainly isn't falling. But 3 points that have been apparent to me really crystallized in Phoenix.
Secondly, good news: we have some perfect pieces to use on the second unit. Kurt Thomas has been great--a Juwann-plus--but we're going to have to use Chris Johnson more if we want to become a first-tier team. His blocks have the ability to jumpstart the break, and he can run the court, too. Yes, his skill set is limited, but there's an upside, and without a shot blocker, we're not going to run very well. Likewise, Elliot Williams is a legitimate A-list NBA athlete who is quick and can cause some havoc defensively (maybe for us as well as the other team, but the man is only going to get better with experience). I have seen enough to know that the man can get into some passing lanes. Much as I like the sight of Craig Smith's giant torso, I don't think pairing him with Kurt does us much good, particularly since his torso is on a 6' 6" body. Once the two of them are on the court, we're not likely to do much running. The bottom line is a running team needs to have athletes and legs.
Thirdly, we need a passable point guard for the second team. Jamal Crawford is not a point guard, but rather a 2 with a good handle. Nolan Smith...well, I know it's premature, but I don't think he's ever going to be an effective NBA player, as he's not quite quick enough to shake a good defender, isn't a gifted passer, and is not quite accurate enough from outside.
Now granted, Jamal has had some exceptional stretches. The guy is completely unafraid and is a handful to guard. But when he's at point in the half court, everything...slows..down. Crawford probes, examines, and eventually usually hoists a shot, which he's making at a very poor clip for someone who isn't connecting on 3s. He's below his usual efficiency (35% FG v. 41% career), but his career rate isn't great, either, and given the compressed schedule I'd take a Vegas bet that he won't equal his career percentage. Now, I still really, really want this guy on my team--we'd be a .500 team without him right now. The man has cojones. But his offense is coming somewhat at the expense of any kind of rhythm/movement on the second team, which isn't helping Batum at all.
Crawford reminds me a bit, role-wise, of Vinnie Johnson, The Microwave, of the Bad Boy Pistons teams. Their styles aren't terribly similar, but they both were confident, attack oriented players. The main difference is that The Microwave was never a point--he always played aside Isaiah or Joe Dumars. That way, his instant offense was always tappable, but someone other than him had some control over choosing when to turn on/off that particular tap.
My solution would be to start looking for a serviceable backup point guard who could be had for a number one pick. Jose Calderon, for example. Defensive liability but he could keep the tempo up, improve the spacing. Maybe Luke Ridnour, since Minnesota's got 3 point guards and just signed Barea to a longish deal. I'd love to have DJ Augustin but I don't think that the Bobcats are selling. I don't really know who we could reasonably get, but if we did come up with someone, we'd have a second unit that could put the pedal to the metal. Jamal would still be a huge part of the offense, but instead of him having the ball for 80% of the possession, we could always throw the ball to him with 8 seconds left and he'll get just as good of a shot as he usually does.
Thanks for reading--really enjoying the season so far, just wishing as always that I was the GM.