It’s amazing what a good bench can do for a basketball team. It’s all well and good to want to talk about stars on a basketball team but often it’s the bench players, role players, hustle players that add that missing link that can turn an average team into a good one.
The Portland Trail Blazers have gotten off to a phenomenal start this season and whilst it’s early days the improvement that their new bench additions have provided is proof that there is more to winning than just having a good starting five.
Portland does have a good starting five, Damian Lillard is a future star, LaMarcus Aldridge is one of better shooting big men in the league, he can play the four and the five as well. Nic Batum is as versatile a player as you’ll find, they have a genuine centre in Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews is a solid shooting guard who can create his own shot.
Their starting line-up was never the problem though last season; it was the complete lack of depth and talent in the second five that was the biggest issue for them. This season though, the Trail Blazers are off to a 9-2 start and lead the Northwest Division over the more fancied Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves and their bench has been a major factor in the hot start.
The off season additions of C.J. McCollum, Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Mo Williams, Thomas Robinson, Allen Crabbe and Earl Watson have given the Trail Blazers much needed depth to take the next step.
Portland’s new look roster is one with a huge offensive presence. They are averaging 104.6 points per game this season which is good for eighth in the league right now and is an extra 7.1 points per game compared with last season. Their offensive rating, courtesy of basketball reference, is 110.6 which is third in the league, again this is a big step up from last season’s 105.8 (15th).
The Trail Blazers offense is so successful, in part, because of their three point shooting prowess. They are currently shooting 42% from behind the arc as a team, fourth in the NBA and have connected on 100 treys so far this season, third in the NBA. Some of the aforementioned bench players are responsible for such a high percentage of threes being made. Dorell Wright is currently 12 for 27, 44.4% and Mo Williams has added nine treys to start the season.
The Trail Blazers still have C.J. McCollum to return to the line-up and considering he shot an amazing 51.6% from long range as a senior in college it’s safe to say the Blazers can only get better offensively from long range.
Portland are proving to be a great three point shooting team thus far but it’s also their perimeter defense that is playing a part in their early success. They lead the NBA in opponents three point field goal percentage, at 29%. This kind of perimeter defense combined with such hot long range shooting and overall depth is proving to be the catalyst for winning ball games for the Trail Blazers.
The season is young and Portland are yet to face some of the upper tier teams in the NBA so there is no certainty of them making that next step and playing post season basketball but the phenomenal start could very well be the beginning of something for this youthful, talented team. Whatever does happen, it’s been an exciting and memorable start to the season and I for one have enjoyed the ride so far.