Jamal Crawford was a polarizing player here in Portland last year. The vet came in to help fill the void that his good friend Brandon Roy left with his sudden medical retirement. Most of his career, Crawford has come off the bench as the 6th man, even winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award with the Atlanta Hawks in 2010.
Many people around Portland loved seeing Crawford shoot the ball from all over the court, make almost every free throw and take the court with some swagger. While at the same time, a lot of people here thought that he was “part of the problem” when it came to the underachieving team that seemingly quit on Coach Nate McMillan.
Whether you loved or hated Crawford, I’m sure every Blazer fan would help pay his salary to bring him back to help Portland off of the bench. Crawford averaged 13.9 points per game last season. Whereas Saturday night against the San Antonio Spurs, the Blazers bench scored only 4 points. That’s FOUR points. Two field goals in 48 minutes of an NBA game.
Coach Stotts played six bench players, including Luke Babbitt, Sasha Pavlovic, Jared Jeffries, Ronnie Price, Meyers Leonard and Will Barton. Pavlovic and Leonard each scored 2 points each. The bench shot a terrible 20% on 2-for-10 shooting. The bench combined for 3 turnovers; that’s more turnovers that field goals made. This is unacceptable as an NBA team.
Something has to change and it needs to change quickly if this team wants to win games. By the end of Saturday night’s game against the Spurs, the starting line up was so beat up, they had lost some of their fight. After scoring 105 points, the offense just didn’t seem to have the gas to finish it out against a much more experienced and deeper team.
Blazer GM Neil Olshey commented on the Blazers bench earlier this week saying that if it does not improve, he will have to use the trade deadline to add some depth to this team. In my opinion, he was just trying to scare this team a little bit by telling them they can be traded but I don’t think that the Blazers have the pieces to trade for anything of value.
My automatic thought when it comes to strengthening the bench is having J.J. Hickson come off the bench and start rookie Leonard at the center position. I think it would help some to shake it up a little but I do not think that Hickson is the long-term answer as this team’s 6th man.
Elliot Williams sure would be nice to have healthy coming off the bench to give this team a little energy and athleticism. But that isn’t going to happen anytime in the near future.
I think it comes down to Stotts figuring out a rotation that is going to be the most successful together. We all talk about how young and inexperienced this team is, only averaging 24 years old, but not many people talk about Stotts inserting himself into this team and trying to figure out how this team will work together. This is still an incredibly young season and the cause and effect game of coaching will work itself out some.
This bench is not as bad as they have shown so far this season. There is some talent, some youth and a couple veterans. There is a decent mixture of smalls and bigs. There are rebounders and scrappers … they just need to find or develop a scorer.
People’s expectations shot through the roof after the Halloween upset over the Lakers and then in the following few games, they came back down to earth. There are going to be ups and downs all along the way this season but no matter what, I believe this team will be fun to watch.
I expect to see this team be incredibly competitive throughout the season but I don’t think they can consistently close out and win many games until they figure out the bench problems. I’m sure Olshey and company are busy at work making a game plan for the trade deadline and for the off-season, looking towards the future. But while they look towards the future, Stotts needs to find a way to motivate this bench and help them get the ball in the hoop more than twice in 48 minutes.
Garrett Thornton is on Twitter. Follow him at @GTPort74