The only reason the Portland Trail Blazers are still in contention for the final spot in the playoffs, with also that hope slowly fading away, is three names – LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard, almost making magic happen without the presence of an actual bench.
Just how bad it that second unit for the Blazers? According to Hoopstats.com, their bench unit is last in the NBA in field goal percentage (37.6%), three-point shooting (27.3%), scoring (16.7), efficiency (19.5) and the point differential during their time on the floor, losing by an average of 19.9 points. The best bench unit in the NBA is probably the deep group the Los Angeles Clippers have, usually beating their rivals by 12.6 points when their replacements are on the floor.
There’s a very clear line between the starters and the bench, with very few changes in between. LaMarcus Aldridge is the star of this team, starting 53 games so far this season, averaging 21 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Damian Lillard, probably the rookie of the year, is averaging 18.4 points and 6.5 assists per game. Nicolas Batum, continuing to improve but still quite inconsistent in his contribution on offense, is averaging 15.3 points per game. Wesley Matthews and J.J. Hickson are also full-time starters, both scoring in double digits.
But beyond them? No consistency, nothing to rely on. Not even a half-decent sixth-man. The player getting the most minutes per game off the bench is Meyers Leonard, playing only 14.6 minutes a night, averaging 4.1 points per game. And that’s the highest scoring player on the bench, next to Luke Babbitt.
Some have suggested the Blazers do what many in the league do – start with one player who isn’t in the team’s top 5 to have a stronger player to lead the second unit. Usually they refer to Hickson starting on the bench while Leonard, a 7’1 rookie center, gets a few more minutes each game. The problem is that Hickson isn’t that much of a game changer, or at least not the kind you expect from you big man. With no tradeable assets and time running out to make a chance in the rotation, the Blazers have fallen to 10th in the West with a 25-29 record, four games behind the red hot Houston Rockets.