A complete overhaul is on the way for the Blazers’ bench this offseason, and frankly, it’s a much-needed restart for what was arguably the worst bench crew in the NBA last season.
Last season, the Blazers’ bench finished in the bottom three of almost every conceivable stat. They averaged 18.5 points (30th), 10.5 rebounds (30th), 4.7 assists (29th), 1.8 steals (28th), and 1.0 blocks (28th). They shot 39.9% from the field (29th), 29.8% from beyond the arc (30th), and 68.8% from the line (29th).
Unlike the 2011-12 season when they had Jamal Crawford, Portland didn’t have a single reliable bench player they could go to this season. Rookies Meyers Leonard, Will Barton and Victor Claver all had their moments, but proved to be inexperienced and inconsistent at the NBA level. Eric Maynor was helpful after the team picked him up at the trade deadline, but he was far from the go-to scorer they desperately needed. As a group, the second unit that Portland played was largely ineffective throughout the season.
The Blazers have an opportunity to strengthen their bench this offseason, and they will take advantage of it. They have five expiring contracts (J.J. Hickson, Luke Babbitt, Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams, and Maynor) and one non-guaranteed contract (Sasha Pavlovic). None of them are particularly likely to return to Portland for next season with the exception of Maynor, who is a restricted free agent. That said, the Blazers will probably end up with somewhere close to $12-$14 million of cap space, minus what they use to sign their J.J. Hickson replacement and their draft picks (four in this year’s draft, although any of those could be dealt for New Hickson).
The Blazers will primarily be looking to sign established impact players for their bench. The most notable positional needs for them are at the wing positions, where they could lose Babbitt, Pavlovic and Williams, and also at power forward where tweener Victor Claver is the only backup behind LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers will most likely put most of their cap space into signing a wing and a forward, and use their holdovers (Leonard, probably Maynor, their first round pick if they keep it, Claver and Barton) as a supporting cast.
The remaining bench from last season will contribute as developing young players, but to lead the way, the Blazers will need impact players in their prime. Judging from last season’s bench stats, the team could use help in just about every area. However, the most important needs will be scoring and energy. Nothing breathes life into a team like that sixth man scorer (J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams) and that scrappy big man (Carl Landry, Taj Gibson, Nick Collison).
Portland’s second unit has a capable ball-handler in Maynor and a big center in Leonard, but lacks a scorer or a gritty big. The Blazers had a lifeless bench last year playing disjointed and disinterested basketball, and that group failed to do much of anything on the court. However, insert a hustle player like the long gone Gerald Wallace to go with Leonard’s size and a scorer that can get the offense going for Maynor at the point, and that’s instantly a much more potent bench lineup.
This year’s group of free agents isn’t great, but there are available options. The Blazers could go with Kevin Martin or Jerryd Bayless, and then Marreese Speights or Andray Blatche. Picture K-Mart curling off screens for Maynor, or Speights pumping some energy down in the paint for the Blazers. The Rose Garden Arena didn’t see players doing those things for its team last year. Other players on the market worth giving a look include J.J. Redick, Nick Young, Brandan Wright, and Antawn Jamison.
Regardless of exactly how the offseason unfolds, the bottom line for the Blazers is that they will need impact players sitting on their bench and contributing when they get called in. Portland has a strong starting lineup, but they will need role players to support them. If they want to reach the playoffs, it’ll take more than just the existing core.
Expect big changes in the coming months to the Blazers’ roster. If Portland can get the right guys, they could be right back in the playoffs.