Trail Blazers: The Bench Problem in Portland

How can the Trail Blazers solve their early season bench problems?

Amid vastly higher expectations, Portland has had an up and down start to the season. As the season rolls along, we can only expect to see the Trail Blazers settle into a regular rhythm. Much of the hopes of stabilization rest on the ability of the Blazers’ bench unit learning how to be as effective as possible. Evan Turner is still trying to find is place in the rotation, and scoring in general from the bench unit has been worse than anticipated. Luckily the season is still young and there is plenty of time to address these issues.

Much of the second unit woes stem from the team figuring out how to include Turner into the mix. Last season when C.J. McCollum played with the second unit he was essentially the only ball handler. The unit belonged to McCollum and everyone knew it – if something was going to happen you could bet that it would be through the hands of the backup point guard.

Coming to a new team can be difficult. Coming to a new team where every rotation player is returning from last year can be even more difficult. Handling play-making responsibilities on that team will only complicate the first two hurdles. It is easy to point at Turner for being the problem, he is the only thing that is different from last year. The reality is that Portland will have to hope that time and experience solves the problems for the veteran forward.

Damian Lillard has been playing at an MVP-level, and McCollum is starting to turn it on himself. However, beyond Portland’s star guards, reliable scoring has been difficult to come by. Allen Crabbe is the obvious choice to step up and carry the load offensively for the bench unit, but his production has taken a step back from what we have come to expect. He has shown improvement in his game by making more of an effort to put the ball on the court and create offensively for himself – rather than just wait for catch-and-shoot opportunities. While it is great to see Crabbe add tools to his offensive arsenal, the Trail Blazers need production from their fourth year wing. 

Another thing to consider is that Portland is essentially returning the same team that the league saw last year. Perhaps the struggles the Trail Blazers are facing is related to the fact that the book is out on them. With complete scouting reports, opposing  teams will have a better idea of how to prepare for them.

The Blazer bench is scoring dismal 26.5 ppg, which lands them 27th in the NBA in bench scoring (via If Portland is going to continue to build on the successful 2015-16 campaign, they will need more from their reserves. Fans can rest in the fact that the team’s biggest problems are not too great for the team to overcome. McCollum and Turner will figure out how to share the playmaking in the second unit, Crabbe will get into a rhythm at some point, and the kind of foul trouble we’ve seen early on will not last all season. Look for the Trail Blazers to improve overall on these issues as the season progresses.

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