Monday, April 5, 2010

Where's The Bench?

Over the last 19 games, not much has gone wrong for the Trail Blazers, sporting a 15-4 record and even showing signs home dominance again, winning six in a row at the Rose Garden. Andre and Brandon seem to be playing off one another better than ever, their chemistry growing with each passing game. Batum keeps setting then breaking career highs on a nightly basis. Marcus and LaMarcus are forming a formidable due down low; Aldridge providing the offensive punch, Camby the defense. Not many NBA teams can say they have a better starting unit than Portland, but that's where it stops for the Trail Blazers. While most head coaches are shortening up their rotations for the playoffs, Coach Nate has had to do so out of necessity to keep his ship from sinking. Lately, Trail Blazer fans everywhere have been yelling, "Where's the bench?" Last season at this time, the lone worry for Portland was their lack of playoff experience, only 35 total games combined from the 15-man roster and 19 of those coming from Michael Ruffin, and if it would be their eventual downfall. The question was answered abruptly after a Game 1 thrashing by the Rockets put the Blazers behind the 8-ball the entire series, ultimately getting knocked out of the first round. While they didn't have experience on their side, lead by Travis Outlaw, Greg Oden, and Rudy Fernandez, the second unit and overall depth was a strength of the 2009 Trail Blazers squad. According to 82games.com, Portland's reserves were 2nd in scoring at 35.3 points a night, grabbed 15.6 rebounds which was good enough for 3rd, ranks 7th in the league in assists at 6.9, and tallied the 6th highest +/- of all reserves, +311. My how the tables have turned. Seeing how his team crumbled under the limelight, GM Kevin Pritchard made it a priority to bring in veteran leadership to guide his youthful core. Andre Miller and Juwan Howard were brought in as free agents and Marcus Camby was acquired at the trading deadline, adding an additional 114 games of playoff experience alone, more than three times the amount the '09 Blazers accrued. Adding Camby was a no-brainer with both Oden and Przybilla shelved for the season with injuries, but as it is with any transaction, there is a give and a take. For Portland, they gave up the heart of their bench. No longer a starter, Steve Blake was one of the top reserve lead guards in the game, known for his steady, calming presence and ability to knock down dagger trifectas now gone, replaced by second year prospect, Jerryd Bayless. Along with Blake, the Trail Blazers had to send away versatile forward Travis Outlaw, undoubtedly second on the totem pole only to Roy when it comes to clutch shots and one of the only members of the team able to create for himself when the shot clock winds down. Out of necessity Portland bolstered their starting 5 into elite territory, but now the question for the '10 Trail Blazers will be how will the reserves hold up down the stretch? For the first 12 games of this current 19 game stretch, everything was running smoothly, seemingly no major chinks in the red and black armor. Portland went 10-2 and the bench was producing near their elite 2009 level. Averages of 31.1 points, 10.5 field goals made in 25.2 attempts, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.8 assists compared to only 2.8 turnovers. Digging a little deeper, the second stringers were shooting the three well and efficient by netting 3.4 in a modest 7.8 attempts. They also were aggressive in getting to the free throw line 8.2 times a night, making 6.8. For whatever reason, the wheels have completely fallen off for the reserves since the scare against Washington. A lot of people point out that was the night Rudy Fernandez accumulated yet another nagging injury this season, this time his left quadricep was the recipient. Others could mention the law of averages were bound to bring Webster and Bayless back down to earth after each providing their own offensive firepower, Webster from downtown and Bayless at the foul line.
No one knows the root of the problem in regards to the productivity of the bench, whether it be nagging injuries or just a simple lack of talent, but something needs to be done soon, as the season ends next Wednesday. The past seven games have been downright appalling strictly from a statistical point of view, maybe worse watching it live. Numbers have dropped all across the board which can be seen by averages of only 21.4 points on less than stellar 8.1 field goals made in 22.7 attempts, a .357 shooting percentage. Rebounds and assists are down to 10 and 5 per game respectively while turnovers have increased slightly to 3. While the prior 12 game sample saw more trips to the foul line than three-point attempts, recently the trend has flip-flopped. Trail blazer reserves are shooting a comical .254 percentage from downtown, 1.6 hits in 6.3 tries, and only finding the charity stripe 4.3 times, making 3.7 of them. What these statistics say is the 2nd unit rotation, sans Juwan Howard, are in a historically bad shooting slump but they are only compounding their problems by settling for outside jumpers instead of trying to make something happen in the interior.
Conventional wisdom says if Bayless, Webster, and Rudy were on point at different times during the season, they are still capable of heating up once again, even in this dry spell. On the other side of the coin, if you've seen the play of the reserves with your own two eyes, the only way they start clicking is through divine intervention. Unfortunately for Portland, their only two consistent performers off the pine play the same position, Dante and Juwan, making it difficult to get each their needed minutes. Personally, I don't think the bench will return to top form but it shouldn't be this rough either. When the 2010 playoffs are all said and done, whether or not Portland gets out of the first round will be heavily influenced by the bench play.

4 comments:

  1. Great post Dustin, hopefully Marty Party and Rudy bring back the firepower for the playoffs, we'll need it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Anna!
    Marty Party definitely needs to make another appearance and Bayless needs to get busy in the paint.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Houston was a really bad matchup last year. Yao killed Prezbo and Brooks ran right by Blake. Hopefully we get a better matchup this time around (Dallas, Denver).

    ReplyDelete