Tell me if you’ve heard this one before…the Portland Trail Blazers are off to an up and down season where questions revolve around everyone not named Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Trade machines are firing up around the world and everyone is wondering if they’ve hit their ceiling.
Yeah, it’s definitely the third or fourth sequel if we’re going by the Marvel movies model. The basics are there and you’ll get some cool effects but the storyline is following a pretty standard trope. So what else can you hope to expect from this iteration of Portland Trail Blazers 4? The studio heads worked hard and came up with all sorts of taglines: “This time with more 3’s” and “The defense is for real”, plus the most important of them all, “Now with a better bench!”
It’s not exactly a secret that the Blazers have holes in the roster. However, they have shown the capacity to play with any team in the league on any given night…IF the bench shows up. I’m not talking about Nik Stauskas going for 24 points in the opener or Jake Layman going nuclear for a quarter- but the consistent production from 2-3 players whose nightly contributions end up being the difference between winning and losing.
Don’t get me wrong, those gems from Layman and Stauskas are great and make for great in-season storylines. (Give it time and we’ll see one from Seth Curry as well.) But their rarity doesn’t contribute to a consistent winning environment. The two most important bench players make nightly contributions: Evan Turner and Zach Collins.
Much has been said and written about Turner in his time in Portland, a lot of it not in a favorable light. Let’s be honest about one thing. Signing a guy to a contract and then asking him to do things he’s not good at isn’t exactly something we should be mad about. It’s also not surprising that Turner is playing much better this year in a role that he’s much more comfortable in.
If you look at surface-level numbers, the Blazers are 8-2 in games where Evan Turner has 5 or more assists. Teammates need to hit the shots the Turner sets up, but Turner is putting his teammates in the best possible position to succeed. That innate ability, at least in my opinion, makes Portland’s bench success possible.
The bench also needs scoring. Zach Collins APPEARS to be able to provide it. Again, surface level numbers here, but when Collins scores 9 points or more the Blazers are 10-3. To be fair the Blazers are 8-10 in games where Collins scores 8 or less so results are still a bit mixed- but the point is that when Collins is scoring, the Blazers look better.
If the Blazers are going to return to the playoffs as more than fodder for their first round opponent, they’ll need Turner to be effective as a playmaker while Collins grows into a multidimensional threat, scoring inside and outside without needing plays run for him. Lillard and McCollum will continue to be the most important players on the team, but they can only do so much.