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Which Young Bench Player For The Portland Trail Blazers Will Step Up?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

 

Trail Blazers at the Moda Center, via Wikimedia Commons

After a very successful 12 win and 3 loss month of November, the Portland Trail Blazers move into a tough December. Ten out of the sixteen games in the month are on the road. This will be a very telling month for the team.

The early success is very similar to last season, but how the team is winning is a little different. Last season was a definite case of living and dying by the jump shot. It just so happened that early in the season, those shots were falling. The early success faded as the team struggled with a weak bench and lackluster defense.

An off-season of improvement, a couple key signing of veterans, and a renewed coaching emphasis have turned this team around in the right direction. Early on in this season we have seen this team win games with defense. Especially in the fourth quarter of games, the defense really has risen to the occasion. We have also seen the bench players step up when called upon.

The statistics are there to show this team is much improved in those two areas:

  • Last year the Blazers gave up 102.8 points per game (22nd in the league).
  • This year the Blazers are only allowing 96.2 points per game (6th in the league).
  • Last year the Blazer bench scored 23.6 points per game (Last in the league).
  • This year the Blazer bench is scoring 27.5 points per game (25th in the league).

 

There has certainly been improvements, but the team is still a long way from raising a championship banner into the rafters of the Moda Center. 

There is a lot of concentration on next summer’s free agency period. A lot of Marc Gasol-to-Portland rumors. A lot of questions about whether or not the team should resign Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, and even the best power forward in the league, LaMarcus Aldridge.

Personally, I think this team has all the ingredients to be a championship team. The key is going to be which of the young guys on the bench can step their games up and become real contributors to this team.

CJ McCollum is hurt and out for the next few weeks, which is unfortunate, as he was just getting his rhythm into the NBA game. Allen Crabbe has shown flashes of greatness beyond the arc and has shown that he can be more than a competent role player. Meyers Leonard started a game and has looked much more comfortable on the floor this season.

The thing that may determine the future success of this team isn’t who the team can bring in, but may just be how well the team can develop these talented, young players already on the roster. 

Two years ago, during the lockout shortened season, Matthews came under fire for looking out of shape and just not playing to his potential. Fast forward to today and the Iron Man is playing at an All-Star level. In the last three games, Matthews has made at least 6 three-pointers in each game. He is the first Blazer to ever accomplish that and only the fourth to ever do that in league history!

Matthews has transformed his game and has gone from an undrafted free agent rookie to a potential All-Star in one of the toughest conferences in NBA history. 

If Portland can be fortunate enough to have one or two of these young player make a similar transformation, this scary team will become even more dangerous. The Blazers have had the luxury of having high draft picks in the past few years and are now waiting for those investments to pay off. The nice part is that the team is still winning games while they wait for these young players to break out.

Personally, I think it is going to be McCollum. His injuries have been unfortunate but they have been incidental injuries, not chronic injuries. When healthy, McCollum moves on the court as well as anyone. Especially away from the ball, he can always find the open spots on the floor, combine that with his deadly outside jumper and he has the potential to be dominant shooting guard in this league.

Who do you think is the next to step up from the Blazer bench?

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

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