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After a hot start to open the season, the Blazers went ice cold, taking 3 straight losses before a bounce back win against the Magic. The last 8 games have been a struggle, due in large part to bench production. Though the first 12 games, the second unit had been a massive asset for the team, but the positive output is no longer present. What have been the reasons for the recent struggle? In the 2018 off-season, Neil Olshey and Terry Stotts wanted to take pressure off of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum by surrounding them with players who could create off the dribble. The second unit of Evan Turner, Seth Curry, Nik Stauskas, Zach Collins, and Meyers Leonard did just that, with Turner serving as a point guard, and the other four serving as shooters, with Curry and Stauskas having the ability to create their own shot if necessary. The unit also contains plus defenders in Turner and Collins, with Leonard being the only defensive “liability”, and even he had benefits on the less glamorous end. The first issue, and arguably the biggest one, is that the team as a whole has strayed a little bit from their ball movement. As players are starting to have shooting slumps, the team is reverting back to isolation. Within the second unit, this means more Evan Turner dribbling into post ups or Collins and Meyers reluctantly taking threes, which simply does not work for extended periods of time. Another component of the second unit issues is dealing with Zach Collins’ growing pains. We have seen flashes of how good he might become, but he has had periods where he seems to resort to fouling once he gets slightly beat. This constant foul trouble has not only limited his ability to stay on the court, but has also hurt his effectiveness while he was playing. So what can fix the issue? I believe the return of Moe Harkless will be beneficial. His return should mean that Turner can shift his focus back to the second unit, where I feel that he has been most effective. Additionally, Curry and Stauskas coming out of their slumps will be invaluable. Collins being able to stay on the court would also be beneficial for our defense. Finally, the return to early season ball movement should lead to more open shots, which the Blazers have been struggling with recently. Overall, the bench still is a strength to the team. While they are going through a rough stretch, I see it more as a blip rather than as a trend. Adding three new players to the rotation will lead to some early issues, but as long as Terry Stotts nips the issue in the bud and gets this unit together, expect the bench to return to form soon.
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