The Portland Trail Blazers are off to a 10-7 start in the 2022-23 regular season. That’s not a bad mark considering the difficulty of their early schedule and preseason expectations therein. Damian Lillard, Jerami Grant, and even rookie Shaedon Sharpe get the lion’s share of the headlines and highlight reels for the team, but Portland wouldn’t be succeeding without a fair amount of interchangeable depth.
Three bench players have occupied out-sized roles during the young campaign. Though not much was expected of them, they’ve stepped up in key roles and minutes. Today we want to ask you which of the three has been the most helpful, essential, and/or valuable during the hot start.
Here are the candidates.
Forward Justise Winslow has averaged 26.1 minutes per game in 14 appearances for the Blazers this year. His 7.0 ppg scoring average doesn’t raise heartbeats, but he’s also providing 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. That assist number is second only to Lillard among all Blazers, per-minute. This indicates the position Winslow has filled. He’s become a playmaker, defender, rebounder...almost everything Portland needs, he’s provided. He’s earned critical fourth-quarter minutes as a result and remains the most trusted bench player in Head Coach Chauncey Billups’ rotation.
Winslow’s weakness has plagued him for most of his career: he’s not a good shooter. He’s hitting only 39.2% of his shots overall, 22.7% of three-pointers. This has made him less of a sure thing as the season has wound along, a potential target for opposing defenses to sag off of.
Still, if you favor “little bit of everything” players, Winslow is clearly the cream of this crop.
Reserve center Drew Eubanks is averaging 18.4 minutes per game, having appeared in all 17 contests the Blazers have played so far. 5.9 points and 4.2 rebounds don’t look impressive, but those numbers leave his per-minute production rate far higher than Winslow’s. Shooting an incredible 71.9% from the field bolsters his claim to supremacy among this group.
Eubanks plays at a position of extreme need. Center Jusuf Nurkic has been up and down. He’s missed 3 games already this season. When Nurk goes down—to injury, foul trouble, or spotty play—Eubanks steps up. His pick-setting is good, his roll timing impeccable. He knows how to get open but never forces shots or possessions. He’s also game on defense. He’s not the space-eater that Nurkic is, nor does he cover the floor like Winslow, but you can rely on Eubanks every night, every play.
Still, Eubanks gets overmatched many nights. He’s not going to be a bread-and-butter player, more side roll, begging to be dipped in gravy. Willingness does not a star make, and Eubanks may have the lowest ceiling of the three.
Like Eubanks, Nassir Little has appeared in all 17 of Portland’s games this year, averaging 15.1 minutes, 6.2 points, and 2.5 rebounds. That’s the highest per-minute scoring average of the three, plus virtually tied with Winslow for rebounding production. Little is also the only one of the trio who can hit a three-pointer. He’s averaging an amazing 40.5% from the arc so far, ahead of all three starters at the 1-3 positions. He’s also developed a fine pull-up jumper, helping him shoot 50% from the field overall.
Little came into the league via his athleticism and quickly parlayed that into opportunistic defense. He’s not lost either as he’s matured. He also has the brightest potential future of these three bench players. It’s hard to find a true weak spot in his game.
So there you have it: Portland’s trio of bench stalwarts. Some will object to leaving Shaedon Sharpe off the list, but he’s a rookie and a whole different order of player, so he doesn’t really belong in this survey.
Of the three—Winslow, Eubanks, and Little—which do you favor as the most important this season, both so far and projected for the rest of the year? Register your vote in the comment section below and debate with friends!