The Trail Blazers Bench

The Pine

Some may call them glorified fans with the best seats in the house. Others look at them as the best towel wavers in the league.

But for those who truly follow the game, they will know how important the bench unit is to the success of a team in search of a championship.

Many of these guys were THE MAN at some point in their basketball careers, but now they play second fiddle, if that, to their teammates who get all the glory.

As the Portland Trail Blazers training camp for the 2014-15 NBA season opens in a matter of days, free agency, trades, draft day and health have brought together a group that’s expected, at the snap of a finger, to leap off the pine and be able to produce. All that despite sitting for an unknown period of time following the pre-game warmups.

Steve Blake

Welcome back, Steve Blake!

In order for the Blazers to take the next step and become a legit contender, the team will need a few key members of its second unit to put up numbers for coach Terry Stotts.  Often having to rely on his starters to play heavy minutes, due to lack of experience and productivity off the bench, Stotts found the team running on fumes late in winnable games last season.

Steve Blake

This is Steve Blake‘s third tour of duty with Portland, most recently following time with the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers.  Statistically, Blake had his best years during his first stint with the Blazers (2008-09), averaging 11.0 points per game and shooting 43 percent from downtown, while dropping 413 dimes in 2007-08.

Blake will spell Damian Lillard off the bench, providing a veteran presence that was left void when Mo Williams left in the summer.

CJ McCollum

Following a rookie season in which a foot injury took the young guard out of action for 44 games, CJ McCollum is looking to prove to the coaches that he can provide the scoring spark off the bench this season.

The former Lehigh University guard will be motivated to earn his minutes, as Blake and third-year combo guard Will Barton will also be looking for floor time.

Chris Kaman

The Blazers will be in trouble if they think that Chris Kaman is going to be their answer to a big man off the bench.  Defensive presence, low post moves, mid-range jumper and rebounding ability: all qualities that Kaman once presented to his team.

Now, in his twelfth year and at 32 years old, Kaman’s stats have started to hit the downward slide.  The only time he appeared in all 82 games was his rookie year, and the last time he topped 70 was in 2009-10 with 76 games.

To be fair, playing for the Lakers last year with Mike D’Antoni was a mess, but at no point should a professional basketball player be caught doing what he was caught doing in the video below. The Blazers could have done much better than Kaman.

Thomas Robinson

When LaMarcus Aldridge heads to the bench, the Blazers replace him with a guy who can fill the lane, crash the boards, block shots and basically do a whole lot of blue collar work.  Entering his third year, Thomas Robinson has slowly shown the signs that had him highly ranked coming out of Kansas.

Unfortunately, it has taken the past two years and two stops for these traits to come out.  With LA grabbing the majority of minutes at the four spot, it will be hard for Robinson to continue to improve; however, he has started to make the most of his limited time on the floor.

Dorell Wright should be better from 3 this season. (Photo: Chris Szagola/AP)

Dorell Wright should be better from 3 this season. (Photo: Chris Szagola/AP)

If the Blazers want to get out and run, teaming the two forwards together is not a bad option.

Dorell Wright

The great thing about being Dorell Wright is that there really isn’t many other options to back up Nicolas Batum at small forward.  The unfortunate thing about being Wright is that after his two most productive seasons in Golden State (2010-12) — not to mention a 2012-13 campaign that saw him shoot 37.4 percent from downtown with the Philadelphia 76ers —  his numbers across the board have dropped.

A career 42 percent shooter from within the arc and 36 percent from downtown, Wright has the ability to extend the defense, allowing Aldridge to work inside, or Damian Lillard to drive, kick, shoot or basically anything he feels like doing.

Let’s face it, at this point the only other option is Victor Claver and it was a struggle for Stotts to call his name last season.  If Wright can find a way to run the wing and hit the outside shot, he should see more than 14 minutes a game this year.

Unfortunately, Allen Crabbe is stuck behind the logjam at the backup guard spot, but like Wright, if he can get some minutes, his outside shooting ability can be a valued asset to the Blazers.  

Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard haven’t panned out as planned, but out of the two, it seems like Freeland may have the edge when it comes to getting some meaningful minutes.

Regardless of who comes off the bench and when this season, if the Blazers are going to have any chance at improving their playoff success, the second unit is going to have to play a major role.


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About Steve Lee

Steve is a 12 year writing vet, and writes for a number of sports sites, offering a unique and abstract look at the games we love. He still hopes the Grizz + Sonics return to the Northwest, and has been a Lakers fan since "Showtime".
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