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Trail Blazers Mid-Season Bench Review: Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

Portland’s reserve corps sports plenty of individual success stories. That hasn’t necessarily translated into a stronger bench.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers crossed the halfway mark of the 2018-19 regular season this week. Their 26-17 record puts them fourth in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. It’s also four games better than they stood at the same time last season.

Before the Blazers head into the second half, we’re going to recap how their players have fared so far. We conclude the day with a look at their bench.

Technically we should split this up into six or seven parts to give each player their proper due. We’ll do that at the end of the season. For now, you don’t really want to dig too deeply into Portland’s reserves. They look better from a distance, in the right light. Evan Turner has finally found a comfortable role. Seth Curry can shoot the lights out from three-point range. Zach Collins is improving despite an early-season slump. But much of it feels like Three-Card Monte, playing to strengths only to open up weaknesses just as significant, leaving the net sum not much improved.

Let’s start with Turner. His assists per 36 minutes have almost doubled from 3.1 to 5.7, which is amazing. His field goal percentage has increased from .447 to .468, also great. The Blazers have achieved this by putting him in the center of the court, closer to the basket. He’s not attempting many three-pointers, nor is he hitting the ones he does attempt (.162). That’s fine, but it’s also had a ripple effect, pushing other players farther away from the bucket. Curry and Meyers Leonard have been great shooting the three-ball (.491 and .417, respectively). Nobody else has. Nik Stauskas is firing .350 from distance and CJ McCollum, who once upon a time would have had the ball with that unit instead of Turner, is shooting only .337, down from .397. Turner is doing well, but it’s not really changing things that much.

Curry has been an unabashed success story, shooting a league-leading .491 percentage from beyond the arc and shining forth as the only Portland bench player with a clear, positive on/off-court plus rating. Last year this was the dream. Yet Portland’s three-point shooting percentage of 35.6% ranks them 12th in the league, and it’s lower than last year’s percentage and ranking (36.4%, 11th).

Meyers Leonard is scoring more points and getting more rebounds per game, but his per-minute numbers in this “banner” season are either equal to, or down from, last year.

All of Zach Collins’ numbers are up—sometimes way up—but his plus-minus numbers say the Blazers lose ground with him on the floor. Probably that’s more of a commentary on the second unit he plays with than his personal development, but that’s kind of the point.

Portland’s bench has been better in some ways, worse in others, and has theoretically thrown in a couple wrinkles, but as we chronicled here just a couple weeks ago, it’s not making them that much better than last year’s bench. They’re not bad. They’re just not that good either.

Few people liked last year’s bench, and they ended up inadequate. Barring a mid-season trade, the Blazers will find reasons to celebrate individuals in their second unit (those they end up retaining, anyway), but they’ll probably need to go back to the drawing board with the secondary roster as a whole.


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—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge /