Portland Trail Blazers inconsistent bench keeps them 13th in NBA Power Rankings

The Portland Trail Blazers placed 13th in the NBA’s most recent Power Rankings.

For the third week in a row, the Portland Trail Blazers placed 13th in John Schuhmann’s most recent NBA Power Rankings. The club went 1-2 for week 10, including frustrating losses to the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies and a triumphant victory over the Toronto Raptors. Portland’s second-unit played major roles in all three of these games, for better or worse.

Schuhmann begins his blurb on the ranking with this:

“After his bench got destroyed again in Houston on Monday, coach Terry Stotts finally went back to having Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum on the floor at all times (S.O.P. the last three seasons). But that didn’t help, as the Blazers were outscored 17-2 to start the second quarter in Memphis on Wednesday in what turned out to be their worst offensive game of the season (despite 40 points from McCollum)…”

These losses to the Rockets and Grizzlies could’ve been easy wins with how the team came out swinging. High energy on both sides of the ball, the starters played well enough to put it away early. But then a five-man second-unit came stumbling in and couldn’t maintain the lead.

The bench redeemed themselves against the top-of-the-East Toronto Raptors this past Friday, though. Schuhmann writes:

“Stotts went back to sitting Lillard and McCollum together on Friday, and his bench responded with a huge game (they were a plus-16 in 21 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor) in a win over Toronto on Friday, the team’s best offensive game since October (with McCollum scoring only 14 points).”

In fact, the bench was so good that Head Coach Terry Stotts awarded all five of them (Seth Curry, Zach Collins, Nik Stauskas, Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner) a game ball following their 128-122 victory over the Raptors.

At one point, the Blazers’ bench was good enough to propel the club to a 10-3 record. They’ve now become inconsistent. Their play mirrors Portland’s 6-10 record since.

Although their game against the Raptors was reminiscent of their early production, until they can reliably retain leads, the second-unit will be a major issue for the Blazers. They won’t know what to expect from these five guys. Will they push leads or will they squander 15-point ones in three minutes?

And the answer to this question begins to have bigger implications on the rotation, most notably: should you stagger Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum? But if a five-man alternate unit cannot sustain production, other questions arise too. Ones, like: Who gets cut out? or, Would a trade be more likely?

One player who should be safe on the Blazers roster is Zach Collins. Though he’s had a tough stretch these last few weeks, he remains a major part of Portland’s success. As Schuhmann points out:

“The Blazers are 11-0 when Zach Collins has registered a positive plus-minus and 5-13 when he hasn’t.”

When Collins is playing well, anchoring a defense, the Blazers are undoubtedly stronger. His defensive effort around the rim is critical to a unit that contains all sub-par defenders. It’s likely that if he has a good plus-minus, it’s because the second-unit isn’t leaking points.

Let’s hope Collins’s play becomes more consistent, because it seems the bench’s play has a high chance of following suit.

With the LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Utah Jazz coming up this week, the Blazers have opportunities to climb the rankings. They get chances to redeem themselves against the Clippers and Grizzlies, teams they lost big leads to, and they meet a talented, yet underperforming Jazz team.

Watch to see how the rotations continue shifting and if the Blazers find the correct mix.