Being only two games out of the eight-seed in the Western Conference, the Portland Trailblazers definitely have NBA Playoff aspirations this season. That should be expected for a team that has a handful of players performing so well.
LaMarcus Aldridge has played like the veteran leader, posting a 20.3 Player Efficiency Rating and averaging 21.1 points and nine rebounds per game. Nicolas Batum has lived up to his new contract, averaging 15.8 points, six boards and 4.9 assists per game. J.J. Hickson has been solid in the paint as well, averaging 12.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. They’ve also enjoyed the surprise success of rookie Damian Lillard who has been terrific in averaging 18.1 points and 6.6 assist per contest.
With so many core players producing well, it would seem like the Trailblazers would be sailing smoothly this season. So why are they only 25-26 this season? The answer, quite simply, is that they have been getting next-to-nothing from their bench in terms of production.
All five Portland starters are averaging double-figure points per game and have PERs over 14. The player with the next highest points per game average on the Trailblazers is Luke Babbit at only 4.3 points per game. The highest PER on the Blazers bench belongs to Meyers Leonard with a 12.1. No one else on the bench has a double-digit PER.
That’s been the narrative for Portland this season. Their starters take the floor and play solid basketball. But as soon as they go to the bench, things become a great deal more difficult. They really have no one that has been able to come off the bench and provide a spark or even be a reliable scoring threat.
If Portland is really interested in being a playoff team this season, this has to change for them. Someone on their bench has to step up and provide them with quality minutes on the floor. Either that, or they have to look to make a trade to acquire someone that can do that.
Looking at the landscape leading up to the trade deadline, there’s one possibility that really makes sense for the Blazers. There have been reports that they have expressed interest in dealing with the San Antonio Spurs to acquire DeJaun Blair. Blair would give them a back-up post-player that could come in, provide energy and produce on the scoreboard and on the glass.
The only issue is that, to acquire Blair, the Blazers would likely have to give up Hickson in that deal. With Hickson averaging a double-double and playing so consistently well, that’s not exactly getting full value for him. In addition, that would also, essentially leave the Blazers where they are now as Blair would probably slide into the starting role.
However, if the Spurs were willing to take the $2.2 million dollar trade exception Portland has from Raymond Felton, they could, in theory, exchange Hickson for both Blair and Tiago Splitter. For the Blazers, that would give them a solid and productive starting center in Splitter and a quality man off the bench in Blair.
There’s still the question of whether the Spurs would actually consider doing that. Although their older team would benefit from Hickson’s play, they would be giving up two quality assets for Hickson.
If nothing else though, Portland has to at least pursue this trade or a trade similar to it if they want to make it into the postseason. If they end up not being able to address the issues with their bench, they’ll be sitting at home come May and June.