Bench depth is an obvious issue for the Blazers, which is why the Portland starters have played the third most minutes out of any first line in the NBA. Perhaps most glaring an issue for the substitutions, besides minutes, is the lack of a true shot creator on offense. What Portland needs more than anything else at the end of the first three quarters is a little offense. The Blazers need to take a page from any high school coach with a shallow talent pool. When basketball players aren’t good enough to shoot, they run.
Looking at the roster, the Blazers aren’t actually very big. Joel Freeland is the heaviest player at 250lbs, but he’s lanky. More importantly, the Blazers are athletic. Will Barton is Jamal Crawford quick, Luke Babbitt and Sasha Pavlovic are reasonably in shape, and Meyers Leonard is… well, have you seen Meyers Leonard?
Athletically, the Blazers look similar to the Phoenix Suns teams of 2002-2008. In each of those seasons, the Suns never had a player who broke the top 8 in minutes played who weighed more than 245lbs. Indeed, from 2004-2007 no one weighing over 245lbs ever got into the top 10 in minutes played.
That comparison is academic, frankly, and is more an examination of the Blazers lack of size than anything else. But if the Blazers are small, play mediocre to bad defense, and have no natural shot creators on the bench, what else are you going to do?
Synergy puts the Blazers with the best PPP of their entire offense in transition, and the highest overall scoring percentage, FG%, and 3PT%. It even seeps into the Blazers starting core, in which Wes Matthews has the best numbers to date on the break.
It’s not like the Blazers aren’t built for it. A lineup of Price, Barton, Pavlovic, Babbitt, and Leonard has most of the pieces you need. Leonard can rebound and trail, Luke and Sasha can float the wings and shoot, and both Price and Barton have shown aggressiveness in filling the lane.
Would this strategy be a guarantee? No. The Blazers bench still lacks the depth to do real damage. But what Portland fans are seeing now is a stagnant bench offense, one in which Sasha Pavlovic is handling the ball off screens and Ronnie Price is taking contested layups late in the shot clock. Leonard is an offensive non-factor except when rebounding, cutting, or in transition.
Again, here, it seems the Blazers roster is a weakness. What’s hurting them even more is how they’re using it.