Entering this season, Blazer fans are excited by the team’s revamped bench, and rightfully so. In order from positions 1-5, probable backups Mo Williams, CJ McCollum, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, and Robin Lopez appear to be better than whoever the team was able to scrounge up last year. Five legitimate backups is a blessing, and will greatly help the team through the grind of a rigorous 82 game season.
What piques my curiosity, however, is if all of these players will be used extensively. Many, if not most teams, gravitate towards essentially a nine-man lineup. Some teams have even rolled with eight-man lineups, especially in the playoffs. Full-sale, “hockey-style” substitutions in which five bench players replace all five players on the court are very rare. From memory, the only team that I can recall consistently doing this in recent times was actually this past year’s Clippers, who were notorious for subbing in the “Tribe Called Bench” all at once.
Otherwise, the norm is certainly more selective subbing, and one that I often see include less than ten players. For example, last season saw only eight Blazers average more than 14 minutes a game. Obviously, this is not set in stone, as every game presents a new scenario, and injuries rear their ugly heads. As I stated earlier, too many solid backups is a nice problem to have, but I still believe it is within reason that someone listed above will find themselves the odd man out.
I’ve run through every scenario, and the problem is that each of the aforementioned five players simply seems too good to not include in head coach Terry Stotts’ lineups. The only potential area where minutes might be in short supply would most likely come from the guard positions. Damian Lillard’s talent is so high that backups CJ McCollum and/or Mo Williams may simply not need to be called upon as much. This could become an issue, as Williams has said he envisions himself in a sixth man role, and McCollum will need minutes to develop.
The counter (and likely answer) to all of this speculation is, unfortunately, injuries. For better or worse (only worse) injuries are a part of the game, and will without a doubt factor into Portland’s season somehow. That’s just life in the league. I knew there were major injury problems last year, but when I saw the hard stats that only five Blazers appeared in at least 70 games last year, with only two of them appearing in at least 75, I cringed.
Injuries will vastly open up potential playing time for a plethora of players, and barring a miraculously healthy season, should dictate that there are enough minutes to go around. This would be especially true towards the end of the season, which is when injuries really start to mount off and take their toll. However, at the beginning of the season when everyone is healthy, I will be very interested to see how Stotts doles out minutes. As of now, it appears as if there are 10 worthy recipients of meaningful minutes, but in a 48 minute game it could be hard to fit everyone in. Luckily, that is Stotts’ problem not mine to sort out, and in fairness, I have been hearing more and more good things about him and his talents as a coach.
The final clincher to all of this is a point that David actually mentioned while we were talking earlier. I said that the only team I can recall that consistently used complete team swaps was last year’s Clippers. Well, guess who built the foundation for that team? That’s right, our very own General Manager Neil Olshey. This could certainly be a coincidence, but I suspect that he saw just how effective that beast of a Clippers bench was. Going into the offseason, everyone knew the bench needed to be improved, but Olshey didn’t just improve it. He made it deep.
Time will tell how all of the pieces fall into place, but the success of the Clippers’ bench last season should be a hopeful sign for Blazers fans.