Strengthening The Blazers' Bench From Within

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

How can the Portland Trail Blazers' existing bench players improve for the 2014-15 season?

It is a well-known fact that the Portland Trail Blazers' bench has been at the bottom of the league for the last two years straight. However, with minimal cap flexibility available this summer, help might not be on the way. With that in mind, each Portland returning reserve must dedicate himself to improving individual flaws in his game.

Here's an outline of areas for improvement that each of the Blazers' major reserves should focus on.

Will Barton: He might be fun to watch, but "the Thrill," in all his reckless glory, can be detrimental to the team. He sometimes takes ill-advised shots, wasting possessions.

Victor Claver: The biggest knock on Claver has been his shooting, and rightfully so. In coach Terry Stotts's offensive system, shooting is one of the most important skills to have. Having a small forward that can't shoot allows teams to sag off him when he stands outside.

During his two seasons in Portland, Claver has shot 39% from the field but just 27% from three-point range. To make matters worse, he only shoots 59% from the free throw line. If Claver expects to get any run next season outside of garbage time, he must improve his shooting from all distances.

Joel Freeland: Freeland has the ability to shoot a mid-range shot and can anchor the defense while starting center Robin Lopez rests, but he has one flaw in his game: he is quick to foul. In fact, he committed four fouls in just two minutes during a playoff game against Houston. The Blazers can't afford to give up that many free throws to an opponent, and the hacking can turn Freeland into a liability. He needs to work on cleaning up his defense and learning how to defend the post without fouling so much.

Meyers Leonard: Leonard didn't get much playing time last season due to the team's "depth" at the center position (see: Thomas Robinson, Joel Freeland), but during the time he did play, there were multiple visible flaws in his game.

Although Leonard stands at 7'1", he is not the defensive presence most fans hoped he would be when he was taken with a lottery pick. He needs to work with the Blazers' training staff to learn how to effectively defend the post.

Also, while there is no stat that directly monitors it, he often appears lost on the floor. He often lets rebounds bounce right by him. Last season, he averaged less than three rebounds per game in nine minutes of playing time. That is sub-par for a player that stands as tall as he does. He needs to improve his rebounding in practice if he wants playing time.

CJ McCollum: For a player that prides himself being a perimeter scoring threat, McCollum wasn't overwhelmingly lethal as a rookie, shooting just 42% from the field. Like Claver, he also needs to improve his free throw shooting, as he shot just 68% on free throws. Getting to the line more would make him more dangerous too.

McCollum played less than 500 minutes as a rookie due to his foot injury. If he's healthy for all of next season and gets back to shooting like he did at Lehigh, teams will have to respect his shot, opening the paint for himself and others to drive to the basket.

Thomas Robinson: Robinson is a guy that brings energy off the bench and rebounds well for the team. While it isn't absolutely vital to the team's success, it would be nice to get extra scoring off the bench from him.

He already has the ability to score from around the basket, so to expand his offensive arsenal, he needs to improve his mid-range shooting. Also, he only shot 57% from the free throw line, something that should be improved.

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