Portland Trail Blazers: Omer Asik, Wesley Matthews, and Starters Minutes

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Dave Deckard of Blazersedge.com answers reader questions about the Portland Trail Blazers. This edition includes trades for Omer Asik, the early production of Wesley Matthews, and Portland's reliance on the starting five.

Here's a Friday Mailbag for you, fresh off the presses.

Dave,

You haven't weighed in on the Asik thing.  Your thoughts?

Allison

I haven't weigh in on the Blazers trading for Omer Asik because the only way it makes sense to me is if:

A.  The four core starters remain untouched.  And...

B.  Asik comes in addition to Robin Lopez and not as a replacement for him, giving the Blazers a deep defensive platoon at center and relative immunity to foul problems, injuries, and the like.

I'm struggling to find a plausible scenario in which this happens.  If it could, you bet I'd be all over that every day of the week and twice on Sundays.  But that would be semi-miraculous.

If you include Lopez in a package for Asik you don't solve that many issues.  One can argue that Asik is an upgrade, modified by chemistry potential.  But he's not that much of an upgrade.  You don't add depth.  You don't change the style of the defense that much or add new wrinkles.  You're doing the same thing, depending on the same fortune, just with a different name on the uniform.

If, on the other hand, you trade away a non-Lopez starter to get Asik you mess with a core that's meshing and producing.  The reason Lopez works right now is that the Blazers haven't needed him to perform much beyond his capabilities.  They're OK with him not scoring, with his offense limited to opportunity dunks and the occasional short hook shot.  They're OK with leaving him in the middle and depending on their perimeter defenders.  Granted, they haven't faced stiff challenges to their system. It may end up inadequate in the long run.  But to the extent that they are experiencing success and hope to in the future, that success depends on not overtaxing the center position.  That would be true whether Lopez or Asik manned the spot.

Trading away one of the core starters means putting more burden on the center. Depending on who the Blazers lost the center would have to score more, extend the defense, handle the ball more in the offense and pass.  That's not a good plan.

Besides that, the only starters the Blazers would even consider in such a trade (if they would consider any) would be Wesley Matthews or Nicolas Batum.  Houston is pretty well set for wings.  You could work a three-way maybe but the value of Matthews and Batum is higher to the Blazers right now than it would be to the Rockets.

Dave,

I'm loving the hot start from Matthews this year, but I've begin to notice that he scores almost all of his points in the first half, and is almost non-existent for the 2nd. Why do you think that is?

b.l.

It's too soon to make definitive pronouncements, but to the extent that this is true it's probably the combination of defensive choices and how Matthews scores best.

As I said in the recent Milwaukee game analysis, early in the season opposing defenses have seemed more interested in running their defensive schemes than in actually defending the Blazers.  The book on Portland right now should be pretty simple:  keep all your men home at all times, forcing the Blazers to either shoot contested jumpers or put the ball on the floor.  LaMarcus Aldridge will still score on you from the left side, but that's going to happen anyway.  Damian Lillard will get a couple drives and pull ups, but you'll live with that or maybe give help low when he's at the rim and has no choice but to score.  But despite the stars scoring, the Blazers will not hit those three-pointers.  They are not built to score off of individual play.  They have been constructed to bend your defense and then make you pay, pay, and pay some more for the guy you leave unguarded.  Leave nobody unguarded and you're going to whittle away their scoring chances.

Yet time and again we've seen defenses trap, scramble, send extra men, leaving the weak side of the floor wide open.  Phoenix came the closest to doing it right.  Everybody else sent guys closing frantically (and futilely) as Portland shooters lined up in the coffin corner for a three.

Who's the king of the weak-side catch and shoot?  Wesley Matthews.  And once a couple of those fall he gets confident and his step-back three starts working as well.  When that happens his points come in droves.  Matthews benefits from this offense more than anyone else on the team, at least in the scoring department.

That said, opposing teams aren't entirely stupid.  Or at least most aren't.  Usually by halftime they've figured out where the leak is coming from and they do a better job covering shooters in the second half.  Plus shooters' legs wear down a little. players on a roll cool down, and Matthews in particular has a habit of forgetting what his best shots are.  All of those things contribute to harder scoring in the second half than the first.

But again, I'm not sure if this is an actual trend or not.  We'll have to see more games to ascertain.

Dave,

Dan Feldman (via Ben's links) states the Blazers are playing their starters the same percentage of total minutes as last year (72%). I was under the impression our bench was playing better this year with more minutes, such that 2 or 3 starters did not always have to be on the floor. In any case, Feldman states the Blazer percentage is highest in the league. Is this a worrisome trend, as it was so clearly last year when fatigue and injuries caught up with the Blazers in the second half of the season?

Jerry

The Blazers still rely pretty heavily on their starters.  The distribution of those starter minutes is slightly different so far; Aldridge and Lillard are playing slightly less and Batum almost three fewer minutes per game than he averaged last season.  Feldman's chart only shows aggregate minutes for the five, missing that the burden on the highest-traffic starters is down a little.  But overall his point is solid.  This team still rides it main players pretty hard.

One reason it seems like the bench is playing more is that they're playing more effectively.  Another is that, so far anyway, only four reserves have really played and Mo Williams outstrips them all by far.  With the bench struggling at all levels last year minutes were more evenly distributed.  Individual bench players are getting more minutes this year but with fewer of them actually playing, it adds up to a similar ratio when comparing the bench against the starters as a whole.

Fatigue will become more of an issue than it is now as the year progresses.  But that's going to happen even if you rest the starters for 2-3 more minutes a game.  Fatigue isn't just about court time.  It's travel, dealing with pain, emotional and mental stress, the process of employing your muscles and then resting them repeatedly.  Taking an entire day off from exercise a week is going to replenish your body far more than shaving a couple minutes off of each exercise routine and still going every day, even if the actual amount of time reduced is equal in both cases.  NBA players don't get that time off during the season.  They have to gear up game after game.

For me, though, fatigue is much less of a worry than injuries.  I don't think you can control for those by shaving a few minutes off per game either, nor by taking entire games off even.  Injuries happen, period.  Teams that avoid them tend to do well.  Teams that can't avoid them are judged by how well they can compensate while riding them out.

I do worry about the Blazers' ability to ride out injuries to their starting lineup.  Losing Lopez or Aldridge would be an unmitigated disaster, the former because of depth and the latter because of role.  Losing Lillard wouldn't be far behind, though Mo Williams might make up for that over a short stretch.  I want to say Portland is more bulletproof at the wings with Batum and Matthews since Williams and Dorell Wright are competent and C.J. McCollum hasn't even hit the floor yet.  Then again, look at how key Batum's passing and defense have been to this 10-2 run, let alone Matthews' marksmanship.  Put all that together and you begin to see why Coach Stotts plays his starters so much.

But hey, if injuries happen, they happen.  Worrying about them now is no use.  If somebody does go down maybe the Blazers will find yet another gear that we don't suspect.

Keep those Mailbag questions coming.  We're doing another video version of the Mailbag early next week, so send in your queries now!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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