It seems silly to be talking about long term thinking in the midst of a 11 game winning streak. The Blazers are on fire right now, playing unselfish, inspired basketball. However while this winning streak is great, ultimately this season has to be about more then just November, it has to be about the playoffs. In order for this team to continue to be successful over the long season and then in the playoffs, health is going to be a huge factor. All you have to do is take one look at ESPN to see how injuries have ravaged the league only a couple weeks into the season.
I bring this up because the Blazers starters have started to see their minutes creep up. LA is up to 37 and Lillard isn't far behind that. Nic is at 36 and Wes 34. At our current rate that puts all four of our core players in the top 20 in minutes played. While currently that seems fine, eventually that will catch up to us. Winning doesn't actually effect the wear and tear of playing big minutes, it just makes you feel better about doing it. Last year Terry Stotts showed absolutely no consensus when it came to minutes management for his starters and as a result he ran us into the ground. Even after the season was over he defended his decision to play starters huge minutes by saying that he didn't see a problem with leading the league in minutes because other players, like LeBron and Durant play big minutes too. It was probably the biggest concern I had about Stotts coming into the season and so far while the wins are great, he has once again shown a reluctance to play his bench.
If you look at our minutes compared to the Spurs, the team we are currently chasing, the difference in philosophy is stark. Not a single SA starter is playing over 30 minutes a night. While it's true that the spurs are an older team and may necessitate that strategy, it remains a fact that by the end of the season our starters will have played between 10 and 15 games worth of basketball more then the Spurs starters. That difference is a huge come playoff time, which makes it no surprise that the spurs despite their age have been so successful these past few years in the playoffs.
This brings me to the idea of Stotts thinking long term. Right now we are winning which makes it easy to simply give Stotts a pass on his rotation choices. That said the games get harder over the next few weeks and It is easy to see how those minutes which are already high could even start to creep up even further. It is unsustainable to have your starters play high 30's every night. Stotts is going to have to start trusting his bench to play more minutes or he is going to start to see diminishing returns from the core 4. The Knicks game should not have been the first time we have seen 5 bench players on the court at the same time during a game. Stotts has to understand that if he doesn't trust his bench to play as a unit and give the starters rest in both halves of the game that he is going to burn out his starters before we even get to the playoffs.
Playing starters heavy minutes is a way of mortgaging your future to pay for the present and if the Blazers are thinking about playoff success this year, they have to think long term and play the bench, even if that means ending a winning streak. Contenders understand that no team wins a ring in November or December, but many teams lose them to injury, or fatigue, or by failing to develop your bench talent in case injuries do happen. I know this is sort of a downer topic during a time of great excitement for the team and for us fans, but I think its important that if we are going to change our expectations for this year we have to change our philosophy or else we are going to end up falling short of this teams potential.