Next up, a Portland Trail Blazers team that could sneak into the tough Western Conference with an improved bench.
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There were a lot of adjustments made up in the Northwest this offseason. The Portland Trail Blazers had one of the most efficient starting lineups in the league last season, which supported one of the league’s worst bench units. Additionally, Rip City was the home to the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year. So will the changes made this summer pay off with a playoff berth? Let’s look at the 5 reasons to watch the Portland Trail Blazers this season.
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A Breakthrough Season?
Are the Blazers poised for the NBA Finals? No. How about a deep playoff run? No. However, they are forecast as a bubble team in the loaded Western Conference, fighting for a playoff birth against the Mavs, Pelicans, the Lakers and even the Nuggets. By bringing in some desperately needed bench players, the Blazers are looking to regain some relevance in the Wild Wild West.
The team remains incredibly youthful and athletic, but they also added crucial veteran leadership to the mix. Remember, the Blazers seemed poised to end the season as a playoff team outside of lottery danger, then their horrid bench caught up to them and poof, their postseason hopes faded faster than Damian Lillard in the open court.
If everything falls into place for the Blazers, and everyone plays to their expectation and potential, this team could jump over the bubble and secure a playoff spot.
From Thin To Deep
To say that Portland’s bench was bad last season fits the definition of an understatement. Per HoopsStats, the Blazers’ second unit averaged a league worst 18.5 points per game with a 21.1 offensive efficiency rating and a -17.7 defensive efficiency rating (both worst in NBA). They were historically bad, yes, historically. In fact, according to ESPN, the “Blazers’ reserves combined to rate nearly 10 wins below replacement level, making them the second-worst bench of the past three decades. Since 1981-82, only the 1998-99 Chicago Bulls’ backups have collectively been less effective.”
To keep this historically bad bench off the court, the starters had to remain on the court as much as possible. The total sum of their starters’ minutes average per game of 176.8 lead the league. Despite Portland’s young starting lineup, injuries to LaMarcus Alridge, Wes Matthews, and Nicolas Batum in early April and resulted in a winless April for Portland, finishing the season with a 13-game losing streak, which tied the franchise record.
Therefore, the priority for Blazers’ GM Neil Olshey this offseason was to strengthen the team’s depth in just about every area on the court. This summer, they added Thomas Robinson, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Mo Williams, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, and Earl Watson. The Blazers seem pleased with their acquisitions, adding depth to their roster to shore up a bench that might have struggled against some D-League teams last year.
While getting to watch the best five players on a team (the starting lineup) is fun for the fans to watch, giving those five ample time to rest and therefore avoid injuries and exhaustion, allows them to play at their peak when they are on the court. That’s more entertaining for the fans.