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Blazers Season Review: Deep Bench

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A look at the players that occupied a spot at the end of the Trail Blazers bench in the 2019-20 season.

Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers - Game One Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The dust has settled from the Trial Blazers’ exit from postseason competition. Free agency, roster construction and the NBA Draft have crept into everyday conversation in Rip City. Before we turn the page on the longest season in the Blazers’ 50-year history, let’s take another look at the players that populated the roster during that journey.

Our previous installment of this series looked at three players that spent the majority of the year in the G League. Today’s post focuses on two players that undertook a role off the end of coach Terry Stotts’ bench.

Mario Hezonja

Games: 53 (4 starts) | PTS: 4.8 | REB: 3.5 | FG%: 42.2

Of all the new additions made over the summer, Hezonja’s contributions were the most impactful to the Blazers’ bench unit. Pause. Read that first sentence again. Portland’s roster reformation over the summer did not bear sweet-tasting fruit, but Hezonja’s place in the rotation remained relatively consistent when compared to his reserve peers.

Regardless of how chaotic Hezonja’s minutes felt, he did blend a point-hungry guard’s mentality with a forward’s body. The 25-year-old wing, yes he is only 25 after five complete seasons in the NBA, was always good for a momentum-altering shift. To be clear, that momentum cut both ways. On the break, Hezonja used his ball handling skills and athleticism to create high-percentage looks. When facing a situation that involved a series of decisions, Hezonja too often missed open teammates and coughed up turnovers.

In the postseason, Hezonja secured a re-occurring role inside Stotts’ shortened rotation. He reached double-digit minutes totals in all but one game against the Lakers and managed to notch 11 points Game 4. Due to the structure of his contract (player option for the 2020-21 season), Hezonja is a favorite to return to Portland for a second season. The former Magic lottery pick is still young and there is hope that another full camp in a stable situation could unlock a bit of his previous potential. Despite his struggles, coach Stotts was not afraid to call his number deep into the season. If the Blazers whiff on their offseason targets, Hezonja could find himself tasked with a similar role in year two of his deal.

Caleb Swanigan

Games: 20 (1 start) | PTS: 3.0 | REB: 4.7 | FG%: 60.5

Swanigan, a former first-round pick of the Blazers, made his return to Portland from Sacramento just before the trade deadline. The former Purdue star was immediately handed a modest reserve role in the Blazers’ depleted frontcourt. Due to his familiarity with the system, it was an uninspiring, yet effective marriage.

No longer forced to live up to the first-round hype that followed him during his first stint with the Blazers, Swanigan settled into a traditional third-big workload. The flaws in Swanigan’s game are well-documented, but that shouldn’t detract from his sturdy work as a rebounder. At the end of the day, the big fella has a nose for the ball. His per 36 rebounding average clocked in at 12.6 during his 20-game run with the Blazers—a figure that exceeded his output from his rookie season (his only full year in Portland).

Swanigan did not rejoin the Blazers for the NBA restart in Orlando. His contract expires this offseason. At this point, barring a change, it appears that Swanigan is set to join a long list of rebound-first big men on the open market. If the Blazers pass on pursing the player that they selected with the No. 26 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Swanigan will exit the organization with 599 minutes under his belt.