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The Blazers vs. the bench

I could’ve written this column as a letter to the Portland Trail Blazers general manager, or in the style of a blog post, or from the perspective of fan that desperately wants Blaze, the official canine mascot, to make an appearance at my birthday party. by: SUBMITTED - Eleanor Van Buren

I could’ve garnered attention, made an obscene amount of overly stated quips, and relished in my title as a guru. I’m not a guru. I’m a fan who watches almost every televised game and attends two games a year in the Rose Garden. I’m the kind of fan who makes the place loud, but also the kind that looks at the game analytically. Let’s talk facts.

As of Dec. 1, the Blazers have compiled a 7-10 regular season record and currently sit in fifth place out of five teams in the Northwest Division. In the seven games played at home, the Blazers compiled a 4-3 record, compared to the 10 games on the road, with a 3-7 record.

The best way to see what the Blazers are missing and what the team could improve upon is by studying what is working for the best teams in the NBA. The Los Angeles Clippers lead the Northwest Division with only six losses and an impressive 10 wins, including one by 13 points over the Blazers on Nov. 8 at the Rose Garden.

In those 16 games, the Clippers beat San Antonio twice, Miami once and took Oklahoma City to overtime. I believe the Blazers can compete with the tougher teams in the league as well, but the differences in the depth of the Blazers roster between the Clippers roster hint at the Clippers’ ability to close out games, while the Blazers have lost by double-digits in six of their 10 losses.

Blazer fans know all too well not to think about what could’ve been. Yet, it’s a painfully necessary exercise to assess where the franchise has gone wrong and improve the situation by making good decisions for its future. Best decision the Blazers have made so far? Drafting Damian Lillard. Forget centers. (Sorry, Meyers Leonard, though your frame matching up with Dwight Howard’s shoulders makes me shudder.)

Along with Lillard, the Blazers have been blessed. J.J. Hickson rebounds like he is possessed; LaMarcus Aldridge consistently hits his numbers; Nicolas Batum is explosive when his threes fall; Wesley Matthews is the spark plug of the team. Cannot say enough about the starting five. But that’s not the issue.

Where is the Blazers’ sixth man? Two of the best sixth men in the league were former Blazers in the past two seasons. Andre Miller (8.4 points and 5.1 assists per game for the Denver Nuggets) and Jamal Crawford (17.6 points per game in 28.9 minutes for the Clippers) were two high-caliber veterans who entered the Blazers squad as role players. After leaving, they have blossomed into anchors of experience and expertise, exactly what is missing from the Blazers struggling bench.

So far, the Blazers bench has contributed less than 22 points per game. Not to rub salt in the wound, but the Blazers’ most bemusing losses have come from the Blazers bench being outplayed. In a Nov. 10 loss at home, the San Antonio bench outscored the Blazers bench 63-4, despite the Blazers’ superior effort on the boards, ability to force turnovers and victory in all major offensive statistics (game high points, rebounds, and assists).

In the worst loss of November, the Blazers became the first team the Washington Wizards beat after 12 straight losses. The Wizards’ bench outscored the Blazers’ bench 46-4. It cannot be ignored that, though Batum and Lillard combined for 40 points, and Hickson put forth his best effort to date, 15 points and 19 rebounds, the win is not guaranteed.

Simply, the franchise has not invested in the second string. Comparing the eight most experienced players off the bench, the Clippers have 69 years of experience between them (mostly because of Grant Hill), while the Blazers have 33 years, an average of four years per player. We know that one player can make a difference, yet it will be three or four years until that player steps up, which means once again, the Blazer fans will have to be a patient bunch (we’re good at that).

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not knocking the Blazers. The starting five for this year’s squad is the best since the 2008-09 roster, with Brandon Roy in his prime. The sole reason Blazer fans fill the Rose Garden night in and night out or listen and watch broadcasts: we believe in our team.

As Blazer fans, we take pride in our title of Rip City’s Sixth Man. Yet, we’d be willing to give up the honorary title and flattery if it meant having a true sixth man on the court.

Eleanor Van Buren is a senior at Riverdale High School. She writes a monthly column for the Review. To contact her, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .