The Trail Blazers have rushed out to a stellar 9-3 record to start the season. Damian Lillard is putting together a MVP-like resume, and Portland’s bench is providing coach Terry Stotts with potent scoring. We are still in the early stages of the NBA’s 82-game schedule, but it is never too early to look at the potential postseason impact of the Blazers’ improved depth.
Context Through 12 Games
Portland’s non-starters are currently combining for 40.9 points per game, a massive improvement over last year’s combined total of 27.7 points per game. Led by Zach Collins and Evan Turner, the Blazers currently sit at No. 8 in bench points per game — a shocking improvement over last year’s No. 28 ranking.
But wins aren’t the only thing the Blazers have gained: the bench’s improved play has provided some much-needed rest for Portland’s dynamic backcourt duo. For the first time in two seasons, Lillard and CJ McCollum are individually averaging below 35 minutes per game. Even a slight reduction in the tandem’s workload will provide an added advantage in the final stretch of the regular season and beyond.
Stotts’ Limited Postseason Rotations
Once again, this is an early projection of what Portland’s bench could provide in the future. The Western Conference is loaded with talent, but the Blazers appear to be well on their way to another postseason bid. If they do return to the playoffs, this roster has the potential to be the deepest group in Stotts’ tenure with the team.
Not counting Caleb Swanigan or Maurice Harkless, Portland currently has 10 players who are averaging at least 10 minutes of playing time. That rotation would obviously shrink in the postseason, but it will likely provide Stotts with more options than he is used to.
Thomas Robinson and Mo Williams rounded out a seven-man rotation for Stotts in the 2014 playoffs, and a litany of injuries led to a equally shallow rotation in 2015. Portland’s post-Aldridge squad expanded its playoff roster to eight players for the next two years. The late-season emergence of Collins led to a nine-man rotation, the deepest bench of Stotts’ tenure, in the Blazers’ brief four-game series against the Pelicans in 2018.
If Portland’s reserves continue to play at a high level, Stotts will get an opportunity to craft a matchup-friendly rotation in the playoffs. In previous seasons the Blazers have entered the postseason with the majority of their cards on the table. Increased flexibility will provide Stotts with a chance to lay a Beno-Udrih-like trap of his own.
Points and win totals aside, Portland’s re-tooled bench has added versatility on both ends of the court. Defensively, Collins has been effective covering multiple positions in several different areas. Jusuf Nurkic was played off the court for long stretches in last season’s series against the Pelicans. Collins will be better equipped to answer Stotts’ call with another season under his belt.
On offense, Nik Stauskas has been better-than-advertised off the dribble. Through 12 games, Stauskas has effectively created for himself and others. If he continues his current level of play, he will join Turner as a crucial safety valve on the offensive end.
It is early, but these are all promising things to monitor as the Blazers continue to develop chemistry over the course of the season.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com