Portland Trail Blazers: All About the Bench

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Blazer's Edge Mailbag tackles a multitude of questions about the Portland Trail Blazers bench players! How good are they and what else does Portland need?

After a semi-extended break doing my "other" job it's time to get back in the saddle again.  So here I sit, Diet Cherry Pepsi in hand, keyboard at the ready, and a bunch of Mailbag questions yearning to be discussed.  It's good to be home again!

First an update on Blazer's Edge Night.  We've already had a great response to our Christmas Eve post asking Blazer's Edge readers to send 1000 underprivileged kids and chaperons to the March 20th game against Washington.  To the person who gave 150 tickets on the spot...a heartfelt thank you!  I'm sure you made our ticket agent Lisa feel like Santa Claus getting to tell me that her first caller gave that much.  You made me misty-eyed.

For anybody else who wants to purchase tickets for kids, go ahead and read that post or just call Lisa Swan at 503-963-3966.  An online mechanism to donate will be up and running soon.

Second, I made a slight mistake, mis-hearing Lisa when she gave me the info.  We have 500 tickets at $5 apiece but the other 500 are $11 each, not $10.  I hope that extra buck doesn't stop you from donating.

Now on with the show!

Dave,

I've noticed that during every game Victor Claver is always wearing a suit instead of a blazer uniform, but he is not on the inactive list. I remember reading that he was unhappy with his lack of playing time, maybe this has something to do with it. Do you know what the situation is?

Mike

He's inactive.  No matter what list you're reading, the suit speaks louder.

The situation is that Nicolas Batum is playing near the apex of his production curve, Dorell Wright could probably use a few more minutes himself, and both of those guys can hit the three while Claver has yet to show that ability.  This offense works on spreading the floor with the long ball and passing.  Anybody lacking those skills will get short shrift.

Hey Dave,

Its safe to say that the season thus far for Meyers Leonard has been a huge disappointment? Not only has he not taken a tangible step forward, but it looks like he's even regressed a little.

With that being said, Meyers' skill set has never been that of a prototypical center (big who clogs the lane, rebounds and plays defense), and certainly not the one that Alridge likes playing along side of. But is is possible that we're playing Meyers at the wrong position? Instead of playing center, could he play as a power forward a la Dirk Nowitzki or even an Andrea Bargnani? Meyers clearly has the skills to be a decent shooter and all around offensive player. Its the defensive and operating in the paint part that Meyers seems incapable of doing.

What say you?

Mike

Note: That's a different Mike.

It's fair to say Leonard's season has been disappointing.  "Huge" depends on what you were expecting.  If you wanted him to push Robin Lopez for the starting job then yes, this has been a huge disappointment.  If you were thinking he'd nestle under Robin's wing for a while learning the trade and getting decent bench minutes...well...it's still a disappointment but maybe not so huge.

I understand where you're going with the power forward comparisons but I have to interject an objection here because you've hit on one of my (not very serious, but still there) pet peeves.  When you say "like" Dirk Nowitzki or Andrea Bargnani that assumes not just a similar role but a similar skill set and capacity to fill that role.  If a guy doesn't have the latter you can't really draw a direct parallel to the former.  It's like saying, "My plain-jane girlfriend can't sing but Pamela Anderson can't sing either and she became a huge celebrity.  Maybe my girlfriend is cut out to be a celebrity too."  The comparison is true as far as it goes but there were probably a couple...errr...added assets that contributed to Pam Anderson's celebrity status that most folks don't have.

Dirk Nowitzki became a defining offensive player for his generation, a World Champion, and the league's MVP.  His abilities and accomplishments allowed him to define his role, not vice-versa.  Bargnani's achievements are more modest, as is his effect on the game, but even he was a #1 overall pick based on his offensive ability.  Meyers Leonard isn't either of those guys.  Even if you make him a power forward, he won't fill the role like they do.

Narrowing in on the Blazers, if Coach Stotts thought Leonard could do the Nowitzki thing he'd probably be the first guy to try him in that spot.  That may yet happen but the fact that it hasn't yet leads me to believe that the coach doesn't see the chances of success there as anywhere near automatic.  Also keep in mind that whichever way the defense goes, the job of the Blazer bigs is to rebound.  That's been one of the strong planks in their success story.  Lopez, Aldridge, and Joel Freeland have been rebounding their butts off this season.  Thomas Robinson can be a nightmare to his own team as much as the opponent but you can always, always depend on him to rebound the ball.  That's why he makes sense as the back-up four right now.  Meyer Leonard's rebounding is a work in progress.  He gets them, but they're mostly obvious boards.  Combine that with the lack of defensive awareness and you have plenty of reasons to shy away from Leonard at this point, even at power forward.

Hello Dave.

My impression is that Thomas Robinson avoids all possible contact when setting screens out beyond the free throw line. I know Aldridge does that also quite a bit, but getting him open is an advantage, whereas getting Thomas Robinson open out beyond the three point line (and calling for the ball) seems more like a disadvantage. Shouldn't he set a hard screen and then take the opposing player (usually a shorter guard) down into the key toward the basket?

Thanks, Jerry

With that salutation, I'm just glad your name isn't Hal.

You're right on the surface of it.  Viewed in isolation, that move would be more productive for Thomas Robinson.  The bigger question is, how successful will your offense be if you design it around what's most productive for Thomas Robinson?

I'm not being cheeky there.  Basketball plays are filled with options, but in general they're designed for the good of the team, which may or may not be optimal for every individual player running them at every given moment.  Portland's plays are designed for the power forward to remain on the perimeter.  That's true whether the forward in question is Aldridge or Robinson.  Changing that scheme would then change what the other four guys do...in effect altering your philosophy for that one player.  You could do that, but the guy better be worth it.  Robinson isn't.

So yes, T-Rob needs to learn to set better screens and his guards need to learn to use him better.  But I'm not sure dumping the ball down to Robinson for an isolation play, even against a smaller player, is going to be any better than getting it to him on the perimeter.  In both cases the best option is to clear him out of the scoring area (likely taking a defender with him), let other people operate, and hope Robinson zooms in for an offensive rebound in case of a miss.

Dave,

You have alluded that despite our play right now you think we still need more to really be a contender. Steven A Smith yelled out at Skip Bayless we are one piece away from that level. The questions of "Are The Blazers for real" seemed to dial down and have been replaced with "How good are the Blazers really?". I tend to agree with the notion we still are "something" behind the Indiana, Miami, San Antonio's of the league. My question to you is what is that piece we are missing exactly because I can't quite pinpoint it myself even though I believe it is there (or in this case not there). The obvious sore thumb in our rotation is back up Center. Is it really just a back up Center that is keeping up from that top tier? Is it another scorer off the bench with Mo? Is it a starter being replaced with something? A big "splash" trade? I like when you play GM from time to time so I challenge you to put your GM trousers on, and decide what that missing piece (or pieces) of this team are and for extra points how are we going to acquire that?

Tyson

We need some clarification of terms here.  Right now the Blazers are winning at a level that puts them among the league elite.  That's exactly what they are.  They need nothing more to merit that status at this point.  They've earned the designation as of late December, 2013.  The list of the league's best teams this year so far should not be read without Portland's name being pronounced prominently.

"Contender" implies making a serious run at a title, at least the way I understand it.  The only way to do that is to actually do it, or at the very least to have done it a couple times recently and look like you're doing it again.  The Blazers haven't qualified in either vein yet.

In order to be a contender the Blazers have to contend.  That means extending a high level of winning for an entire season, weathering tough road trips and injuries and February blahs and vicious seeding scrambles.  Beyond that, you have to make it through at least a couple playoff series and put in a good showing in the Conference Finals.  At that point people begin thinking of you as a contender, either now or in the near future.  But none of that happens in December.

The mysterious "missing piece" may be a false notion.  Maybe all the team needs is time.  I tend to think that anything that deepens the bench and proofs against injuries will make the team more contention-ready.  You've already mentioned another center.  Power forward and point guard wouldn't be bad places to add talent either.  But those aren't missing pieces as much as final touches...making the structure more stable so it can stand up to wilder storms.

If the Blazers do need another star-level player I'm hard-pressed to guess how they'd acquire him or where they'd play him.  Combo guard would be the best bet, followed by center I suppose.  I'm thinking their best move will be to offer some of their under-utilized young players to a rebuilding team looking to dump a veteran they have no further use for.  Some declining teams will probably be looking for exactly that type of deal.

Keep those Mailbag questions coming to the address below for both the video and written versions of the column!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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