Portland Trail Blazers: NBA Instant Replay, Bench Depth, and Andrew Bynum

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

This edition of the Blazer's Edge Mailbag looks at the integrity of the NBA's instant replay system, Portland's bench depth, and the validity of calling Andrew Bynum an NBA player.

The Mailbag questions are stacking up, so let's get to them.

Dave,

Major League Baseball has finally gotten on board with instant replay.  That put a question in my mind.  How do you feel about the NBA instant replay?  Love it or hate it?  What would you change?

Nim

Whenever somebody uses an unusual name for a signature I always have fun trying to guess what it is.  I know yours is probably a nickname or acronym but it makes me happy to imagine that it's short for Nimrodel, a river to the west of Lothlorien and/or a heartbroken female elf of the same name.  Naming you that would make your parents really cool!

As far as instant replay, it's a necessity nowadays to keep down accusations of conspiracy and favoritism if nothing else.  Instant replay is the observer's check and balance, helping to ensure that the integrity of the game is upheld by the officials.  So whether I love it or hate it, I acknowledge the need for it.

I support the use of instant replay in calls that require measurement.  Out of bounds calls, timing, seeing whether the ball has touched the rim or is on its way down...calls that rely on vision more than judgment.  I like how the NBA marks calls for review at the next dead ball instead of stopping the game.  I do wonder if they can take a cue from other sports and review at a central location, establishing a clearing house for all controversial calls.  It'd be easier to have a bank of referees making those judgments, deciding what evidence is clear and conclusive and when a call should be reviewed.  The refs on site seem to be doing a decent job but this would standardize the system.  It'd be a great way for aging refs to semi-retire, still making calls but cutting out the travel.  You might feel more secure bringing along younger referees with a cushion against their mistakes.

I don't support expanding instant replay into realms of judgment.  Baseball won't review balls and strikes.  The NBA shouldn't review charges and blocks.  I think that's pretty clear.

Changing the replay rules in the last couple minutes of a game is a gray area for me.  I get why those calls are more important to get right.  A team has 40+ minutes to compensate for the effects of a missed call midway through the first period.  You might have 40+ seconds to make up for it at the end of the game...much less probable.  But the system also has an Achilles heel.   Instant replay can't account for custom versus the letter of the law.  The game gets called by the former for 46 minutes then changes to the latter for the final 2.

A rebound knocked out of bounds by two players at virtually the same time provides a nice example.  The letter of the law says that whichever player touched the ball last is responsible for the out of bounds infraction.  This is difficult to determine when two players contest the same rebound.  Often a player on the inside gains (or nearly gains) possession of the ball but an opposing player comes from behind to tip it just before the first player can bring it down.  The player in front has two hands on the ball, both of which follow momentum when the ball gets hit. The back player's hand makes contact with the ball then slides off of it.  Therefore the front player technically touches the ball last in most cases.

At full speed, though, the difference between the first and second player's fingertips leaving the ball is a fraction of a second.  No referee could be expected to gauge that gap.  Therefore custom has decreed that the player who came from behind forced the ball out of the grasp of the front player and thus caused the out-of-bounds infraction even if the front player technically had his fingers on the ball for two tenths of a second longer.  That interpretation has worked well.  Everybody understands and accepts it.

Instant replay allows us to break the action down into tiny intervals.  When an out of bounds play gets reviewed (by mandate) in the final two minutes of the game the refs aren't free to go by custom anymore.  They're forced to make the call based on the letter of the law, determining who touched it last.  The inside player will usually lose that battle...the opposite of what's normally called.

So now, if this call has been made a certain way 5 times in a game but instant replay mandates that it's made the opposite way on the 6th--in a critical situation that may heavily influence the outcome of the game--has instant replay really made the game fairer or given it more integrity?   We're not talking about measuring more accurately here.  We're talking about a call that has to be measured by a certain standard for most of the game to avoid stopping the action multiple times, then changing the standard--measuring in a wholly different way--when the game's on the line.

No amount of instant replay will ever solve that problem...at least not without slowing the game to a crawl.  Personally I'd prefer a standardized review system  for the entire game.  If a call needs to be reviewed it needs to be reviewed.  If it doesn't, it doesn't.  If you're going to live with custom and human judgment for 46 minutes you should be fine living with them for 48, refusing to review those plays.  If you're not willing to do that then review that type of play throughout the game and get it right by the letter of the law.  But I can understand why they do it the way they do.

My bigger point is that the capacity to review a play and get it right does not automatically equate to being more fair.  Instant replay is a tool but not a catch-all solution.  I hear too many fans of all sports claiming that instant replay will resolve all officiating issues.  It doesn't.  The best you can hope for is to fix the injustices you're trying to eliminate and live with the different brand of injustice the new system will eventually invoke.

Dave,

A lot has been discussed about the monumentally poor play of the bench against Dallas leading the starters to get in. How worried should us Blazer fans be about this? Does this make trading Mo Williams more unlikely? It seemed that McCollum did not have control over the offense as of yet. I just wanted your thoughts on what transpired in Dallas as it has been heavily discussed in the comments.

Daniel

First on the Mo Williams thing: I don't think he's being traded anyway.  C.J. McCollum shows signs of being able to replace him but I don't think that happens this year.  If Mo were part of a package to bring in a coveted player at a position of less depth I assume that would be a go, but his value in such a situation seems marginal.  McCollum would draw far more interest.  Unless they make a clear improvement, probably at a frontcourt position, the Blazers would be crazy to trade Mo.  Who else scores off the bench?  Who else even knows how to play night in and night out?

On the bench performance against Dallas: the incident itself means nothing.  The Blazers had a 30-point lead.  Five reserves who don't play much, let alone together, blew enough of that lead and played poorly enough that the coach pulled them en masse.  The starters returned, the Blazers won the game.  That's that.

But neither the victory nor the inexperience change the fact that this was Portland's bench.  People are trying to whistle past the graveyard calling it a "third unit" and such.  These weren't the deepest dregs of the roster.  These were the players Coach Stotts inserted for a full quarter in order to determine what he's got on that mid-bench.  Their answer that night was a resounding, "Not much."  And that's basically accurate.  Pointing out that some of those guys don't play regular minutes is a double-edged sword, highlighting the argument.  They don't play because they can't play if Portland is to maintain the level of play to which they've become accustomed.

Everybody gets fatigued from 4 game in 5 night road trips.  Early in the year the Blazers were powering through them even on the last days.  On this recent trip we saw LaMarcus Aldridge slumping, Damian Lillard sucking wind midway through games, defenders losing containment more quickly than usual, rotations falling way short.  Nicolas Batum is playing with a broken finger and looking ragged.  Fatigue and nagging injuries will become a constant from this point onward.  And we're only halfway through the season.

The Blazers have so far enjoyed a perfect attendance record among their starters.  Mo Williams and Joel Freeland, their 6th and 7th men, have missed only a single game each.  Bench exposure has been minimized.  Even so, you can check out Williams' stats or look at Freeland's play the last couple weeks to see that even a perfectly healthy Portland bench isn't a sure bet.  The Blazers are ONE injury away from depending on Williams or Freeland extensively, backed up by those same players we saw clueless and laying an egg in Dallas.

Joel Freeland has done some nice things this season.  He's also had really poor outings.  How comfortable are you with Freeland starting and Meyers Leonard backing him up even for a week or two...especially since the Blazers, as well as they've played, are exactly 7 games north of the 8th seed as we speak?

Even if you are comfortable with the Freeland-Leonard scenario, consider that Freeland's recent foul rate would take him out of the game far before either half expired and Leonard's foul rate is much higher.  What do you do then?  Let's say you swing Aldridge to center.  Now you want to depend on Thomas Robinson for major minutes?  Move Nicolas Batum to power forward and you're going really small plus you're relying on Dorell Wright who can't even crack the rotation right now.

Mo Williams has been handy as a 6th man and the only real scorer off the bench but what would his offense and defense look like if he had to start?   And who do you play behind him?  Can McCollum carry the bench scoring load like Williams does now?  Could either unit defend if Williams replaced Matthews in the starting lineup and a youngster replaced Williams off the bench?

You can replay this scenario for every single starter plus Williams himself.  The results aren't encouraging.

There's little the Blazers could do to make up for an injury to Aldridge or Damian Lillard.  If one of those guys goes down for two weeks, let alone a month, you have to modify expectations accordingly.  No shame there.  The problem is, the Blazers are vulnerable if any of their main rotation players get injured.  Even if you like the guy replacing the injured player (which would be a matter for debate) you sure can't like the guy who's taking the minutes of the player moving up.

As we've claimed for a while now, the Blazers have to decide who they are this year.  If they plan to be contenders--as their record and performance so far would indicate--they have to be active in the market, trying to plug up some of these holes if they can.  They cannot fall off a cliff because of a single injury.  They cannot get caught in a critical playoff game having to play guys that aren't ready or trustworthy because of foul trouble, ejection, or unfortunate matchup.  If you really want to contend you have to plan to win every series, not just those that go your way.   You have to look at those guys who played the fourth quarter in Dallas and say, "If I had to depend on this player to contribute in a critical moment of a critical series, would I trust that he could do so?"  You might get half of a "yes" answer on all of those players combined plus Freeland at this point.  That's not the response you want when you're hoping for 40 more games in a brutal seeding battle in the West plus up to 2 months of all-out war against the best teams the league has to offer in the playoffs.

Dave,

I don´t know if someone has brought this before, but I want to know what´s your opinion in Andrew Bynum signing for the Blazers as big man coming of the bench.   Assuming that he´s ok with that, do you think he could mess the team chemistry? Do you see him as a missing piece for a championship run?

Sending from Florianopolis - Brazil.

Breno

HUGE shout out to our Brazilian readers!  I see your town is a long drive from Rio otherwise I'd ask if I could stay with you during the Olympics.   Since that won't work we'll do the next best thing and answer your question.

I have addressed this before.  The single best help to the Blazers right now would be a reliable, skilled center or power forward-center hybrid.  Andrew Bynum is not reliable.  Plus he's barely a center at this point.  His shooting percentage and true shooting percentage are putrid...off-the-charts bad.  His rebounding and scoring are down, his defense is poor, and he moves as fast as a dead sloth wrapped in cement.  Yet he's still using as many possessions as ever and his desire for the ball wouldn't fit in well with Portland's offensive system.

The general idea is right, but you don't need Obi Wan Kenobi to tell you that this is not the dude you're looking for.  And that's before taking chemistry into account.

A video version of the Mailbag will be along towards the end of the week.  There are plenty of questions beyond that I didn't get to, so look for more soon.  E-mail your questions to the address below.  Please put "Mailbag" somewhere in the subject line.

Don't forget to follow at @DaveDeckard for my personal musings, quips, and to help in my obsessive quest to catch up to Kim Kardashian in the race for Twitter followers.  Also follow @BlazersEdge to keep updated on everything posted at the site!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail..com)

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