Last night the Portland Trail Blazers bench collectively scored 68 points against the Brooklyn Nets en route to the Trail Bazers’ biggest blowout of the season (124-80). These figures represent a jaw-dropping outlier in production, but then again, so did the amount of time the 2nd unit spent on the floor. With a healthy lineup, Head Coach Terry Stotts has a strong tendency to avoid exercising Portland’s depth, thereby limiting development and overall progress of the team as a whole. But without LaMarcus Aldridge (groin), Thomas Robinson (knee), Joel Freeland (knee), and Meyers Leonard (ankle), Stotts was forced to dig more deeply into his bag of tricks.
The unexpected results beg the question: Does Stotts distrust the bench because they are generally sub-par, or is the bench sub-par because Stotts distrusts them? There is absolutely a talent drop from starter to bench that one big game does not erase, but could it be that the crag is steepened by a sheer lack of opportunities to polish it down? We saw what Thomas Robinson is capable of against Minnesota, and we saw what Will Barton and, to a lesser extent, Victor Claver are capable of last night. Yet in previously limited minutes, none of them had truly impressed. Keeping the bench in for longer stretches would boost their growth and provide the starters with much needed rest.
If possible, this needs to happen even after Aldridge and others return to action. However; that “if possible” qualifier is of utmost importance. For the most part, I trust Stotts to make the right call on who to play and when to play them (though I’ve had qualms here and there). If he prefers to stay the course with heavy doses of the starting five, there is a good reason. It’s uncommon for the Portland bench to build or even hold a lead, but they will learn best from experience. Stotts is left with an unenviable dichotomy; win now (favor starters) or risk the present for the future (favor bench). There is no guarantee that a little more trust will go the long way we want it to.
Would it be worth some growing pains to see what we have in Robinson, Barton, Claver, etc? Does pain indeed equal gain?