With the 2014 NBA offseason almost over, the Portland Trail Blazers are beginning to look towards regular season roster. Training camp is only a couple months away, and the Blazers are in dire need of improving their bench situation. The Blazers’ reserves were promising coming into last season, with the addition of Mo Williams and a trio of young big men showing real potential. However, Joel Freeland‘s season was derailed by a knee injury and Meyers Leonard quickly found himself completely out of Terry Stott‘s rotation. Thomas Robinson proved to be adecent backup big man, but in only his second year, he showed typical signs of inexperience.
As last season came to a close, the Trail Blazer bench seemed about three players deep, with only Williams, Dorell Wright and Robinson seeing any consistent playing time. With that being said, Portland’s reserves saw limited minutes overall, as the starting unit averaged the league’s second-highest minutes per game. With the exception of Williams, who averaged almost 25 minutes, no bench player saw the floor for more than 15 minutes per night. Much of this can be attributed to the exceptional injury luck that blessed the Trail Blazers throughout the season. Lamarcus Aldridge was the only starter to miss a game, and his absence was broken up into two evenly split stretches during the second half of the season.
The additions of Chris Kaman and Steve Blake this offseason are a welcomed dose of veteran experience for the Trail Blazers’ young bench, and there is still a possibility that Williams will return as well. Yet, if Williams returns, the Trail Blazers will find themselves with an overabundance of backcourt players. CJ McCollum and Will Barton showed improvement during the NBA Summer League, suggesting that Portland may have four viable backup options for Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews. Luckily, the two starters are young and may have yet to be affected by the heavy minutes they logged throughout the season. Lillard, 23, and Matthews, 27, both finished in the top 50 in minutes per game last year, with each averaging over 33 minutes a contest.
Still, the possibility of injury is always looming, and if either player misses significant time, coach Stotts will need to choose among his options. If Williams lands somewhere else, Stotts will most likely insert the veteran Blake into the primary backup point guard role, with either McCollum or Barton coming off the bench in place of Matthews. However, we could also see Stotts resort to a two-PG lineup, similar to the one he occasionally employed last year with Williams and Lillard. Blake saw extended minutes in that role last season for the Golden State Warriors, playing off-ball alongside Stephen Curry while Klay Thompson either rested of slid down to the small forward position.
Similarly, The Trail Blazers will need to incorporate newly acquired Kaman into the frontcourt as well. Kaman, 32, saw sporadic minutes with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, often failing to crack Mike D’Antoni‘s rotation. In Portland, Kaman will be competing with the aforementioned Robinson, Freeland and Leonard for minutes behind Aldridge and Robin Lopez. Kaman, a skilled passer with ambidextrous touch at the rim, is clearly past his prime but can still be an effective post option off the bench.
If Kaman sees consistent minutes, that leaves only a handful of minutes for the rest of the Blazers’ big men. Robinson’s impact was consistent last season and handful of highlight plays showcased his athletic upside. Freeland showed promise but was limited by injury while Leonard effectively played himself out of the rotation. With a number of unproven options and veteran additions across positions, the Trail Blazers will have a lot of experimenting to do as the team rounds into form.