Blazers had a shot to tie a game where their bench was outscored 63-4.
— KJ_NBA (@KJ_NBA) November 11, 2012
That above statistic, the one that says Portland’s reserve unit was outscored by their San Antonio counterparts by 59 points, is probably the only one anybody will remember from Saturday night’s game. And here’s the thing: it is the only thing we should remember.
Last week it felt like the Blazers’ bench was an issue. This week, they’ve become a liability. A very compelling case can be made for San Antonio as the best team in the West. They’re deep, they’re talented, and they have basically the perfect combination of super talented veterans and “triumph against the odds” young guys who are hungry to make whatever kind of impact they can regardless of what it means for their person stature within the league or their individual stats or anything that could negatively impact the success of their team.
And Portland’s starting five hung with them. In fact, the Blazers lost Saturday night by three while their first five outscored San Antonio’s starters 105-49. Take away both benches, and the home team wins in a blowout. And to be fair, that’s why Portland’s bench is killing this team right now. Sure, they can’t score the ball to save their lives, but at the same time they can’t stop anybody. A bench that can’t score is one thing, as is bench that can’t make stops. Put the two things together, and you’ve got a team that will compete for 35 to 40 minutes a night and get absolutely destroyed for those remaining five to 12 minutes. Against some of the low level teams that won’t be a problem, but against contenders, Playoff teams, and NBA elites it means a lot of frustrating nights.
I know it’s only six games in, so it’s a bit early to be repeating myself, but because of Saturday night, I think it might be better to address the bench problem sooner rather than later. The reasons for that go beyond just the clear drop-off in talent from the top five to the next three off the bench. Through six games, Portland’s starters minutes per look like this: Nicolas Batum 39.5, LaMarcus Aldridge 38.7, Damian Lillard 37.8, Wesley Matthews 37.7, J.J. Hickson 28.2. Hickson’s minutes are a bit low since he was down around the 20 minute mark against the Clippers due to some good play from Meyers Leonard. Saturday, J.J. logged 34 minutes, the least among the starters, but still above his season average.
So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Portland’s starters are hitting between 35 and 40 minutes a night, every night. Is that sustainable? If it’s not sustainable, what does this team look like when either a starter goes down with an injury or they inevitably have to rest? In two words: NOT GOOD. As is the Blazers can win between 25 and 30 games. One, even one, of Portland’s starters goes out for any extended period of time and you’re looking at a team that has a ceiling of 15 wins.
Certainly some will argue that 15 wins is better than 30. Thirty wins puts Portland in no-man’s land. Not a high enough win total to make the Playoffs; not a low enough win total to have a real chance at pulling a top-four draft pick. I agree that if you’re going to lose for draft position, you go all out. I disagree that losing for draft position should be Portland’s goal this season. Given what the Blazers’ starters are capable of, it seems logical to play to win, shooting for the bottom rung of the Playoffs in an effort to entice off-season acquisitions with a winning record, a couple All-Star level players, and a phenom PG in the making.
Taking that route might mean giving up a few potential unknown and unknowable pieces (draft picks), but when you have a team that’s at the most two solid players away from competing on some level, I think figuring out a way to lose games doesn’t make any sense.
Portland closes this win-less home-stand Monday against the Hawks. In my November preview, I had the Blazers getting two wins over their first three at home. So far they have none. A win against Atlanta is imperative if I hope to maintain my totally overblown reputation for making good predictions.
Couple of things:
- Patty Mills got the start for Tony Parker who was scratched pregame. For the most part Damian Lillard dominated Patty. However, Patty played better than expected. Considering that at one point Mills was little more than a cheerleader in Portland, it’s really cool to see him being successful with a great team like the Spurs.
- Tim Duncan pulled a critical and one against Damian Lillard in the final minutes of the fourth quarter Saturday night. It was a controversial decision to say the least. Post game, Terry Stotts disagreed with the call, saying that at best it should have been a no-call (implying that it could have also been called a charge). I totally agree that it was the wrong call, but anybody who is surprised that Tim Duncan gets the benefit of a foul call against Damian Lillard hasn’t watched very much NBA basketball.
- Post game I asked Terry Stotts if he’d talked at all with Damian about posting up against a smaller player like Patty Mills when the opposing team runs ball denial defense. He said no, and left it at that. Maybe it wasn’t the best time to ask. However, I think it will be beneficial to Damian to add a low-post element to his game at some point. Damian doesn’t have size on a lot of guards, but when he’s being checked by Patty Mills, who can be a bit of a ball hawk, and having trouble getting the ball into his hands to initiate the offense, getting post position can be a good way to contribute offensively without having to burn half the shot clock.
- Immediately after Saturday’s game ended, and the bench scoring numbers had been tabulated, the below video came to mind. Probably because it’s the first thing I think of when I hear somebody say “B Squad.”