The NBA playoffs are right around the corner and, barring the unlikely, the Portland Trail Blazers will face the Utah Jazz having home court advantage in the first round. Playoff basketball often sees teams tighten up their rotations and play their best and most consistent nine, and sometimes eight, players. But what should Portland’s bench rotation look like?
Now that CJ McCollum has returned from his knee injury, the starting lineup is clear. Without center Jusuf Nurkic available, Enes Kanter slides in to the center spot. You have to imagine that Zach Collins will continue to get minutes to make up for some of Kanter’s defensive deficiencies; and adjustment that Stotts has seen success with of late.
From there things can get tricky. The bench has played well for the most part of late. Rodney Hood has averaged 10 points per game since he joined the Blazers. Seth Curry has found his stroke over the second half of the season and has averaged nearly 15 points per game since CJ McCollum went down. Jake Layman provides more-than-sporadic energy and spark off the bench, often at times when the rest of the unit is struggling to get looks.
That leaves Evan Turner. Turner has had a trying season, but he has rounded in to form of late; playing his best basketball at the right time. Turner is averaging 12 points along with more than seven rebounds and seven assists per game this month. Not only that, but his play making ability could prove important in the playoffs, when the game grinds down and possessions are at even more of a premium.
I’m not sure any of these guys deserve to sit. So Terry Stotts is going to have his work cut out for him. The playoffs are about match ups, and it looks like Portland is going to face the Utah Jazz or, possibly, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Both teams present their own challenges, but one thing they both do is play swarming team defense (the Jazz have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA. The Thunder are fourth).
I’d expect Stotts to manage his bench rotation by feel. If Portland’s opponent is locking in on Damian Lillard and McCollum like we’ve seen in year’s past, look for Hood (and maybe Curry in limited bursts of a three-guard lineup?) to get time over E.T. If play making is the issue, Turner will likely get some extended burn. If he needs a guy to break down the defense with controlled chaos? Jake Layman is probably the guy for the job.
The Blazers don’t have the best bench in the NBA, having the 16th highest-scoring reserve unit, but what they do have are role players with very different skill sets. The bench also had the fifth highest collective field goal percentage in the NBA, at 46 percent. That’s not too shabby.
Every rotational reserve (even Zach Collins) is capable of getting hot. So aside from simply riding the hot hand, Stotts is going to have to carefully consider which players give him the best advantage in every particular scenario. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like. I’m confident that Stotts has an idea, but Portland’s best chance may be to play a full 10 man rotation, and roll with whoever has the hot hand/best match up off the bench, even if it changes from game to game.