3 Portland Trail Blazers Role Players Who Must Step It Up Down the Stretch

Michael DulkaContributor IMarch 8, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 27:  Meyers Leonard #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers fouls Lamar Odom #7 of the Los Angeles Clippers as he shoots at Staples Center on January 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The NBA playoffs are looking more and more unlikely for the Portland Trail Blazers as the season winds down. They are currently the 10th seed in the Western Conference, as they trail the 8th seed Utah Jazz by 3.5 games and the Los Angeles Lakers by two games. If the Blazers are going to make a playoff run, they need to get big contributions from their role players. 

Even if they miss out on the playoffs this year, the Blazers are in a position to be successful in the next few seasons with a core of Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. They need to get a feel for which role players deserve more opportunities and attention heading into next year. 

The Blazers average a league-worst 17.1 points from their bench. These three players off the bench need to step it up for the Blazers during the last 22 games of the season. 


Meyers Leonard

Leonard has improved his play in the last few games, giving the Blazers big minutes at the center position. Over the last ten games, he's averaging 7.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.  He's been much stronger with the basketball and moved well to find space in the Blazers offense. In addition, he's done a better job getting position and fighting for rebounds. 

While Leonard has been very timid for much of the season, he's been much more active as of late. His ball movement paid off multiple times in the following video highlight: 

It's no surprise that in the three recent games that Leonard has had success, the Blazers have played very well. They gave the Denver Nuggets all they could handle in a 111-109 loss, but then went on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Charlotte Bobcats. In their last game, a 91-85 loss the Memphis Grizzles, Leonard's run of solid games ended with only five points on 2-of-4 shooting. 

The Blazers need to see that Leonard can consistently put together good performances. He will make it much easier for the team to deal with J.J. Hickson's situation during the summer. If they are comfortable rolling with Leonard, they won't have to break the bank trying to bring back Hickson. 


Eric Maynor 

The newly acquired backup point guard needs to show that he can be a contributor off the bench. With one of the worst benches in basketball, the Blazers need to know what they have going forward so they can hopefully bring in some new talent. 

After the first two games of his Blazers career didn't go so well (combined 1-of-9 shooting for two points), Maynor has seemed to get control of the offense. He's looked much more in sync with the rest of the team and has been able to break down the defense. 

In the following video, Maynor's ability to get into the heart of the defense and his passing are showcased:

He needs to make that first shot, but the fact he's getting to the basket and finding his teammates is key. He's averaged 9.7 points and 6.3 assists per game over the last three games. The Blazers need him to get more and more comfortable, which will help take pressure off rookie Damian Lillard. 


Victor Claver

In his first year in the league, the Spaniard has shown some great athleticism and energy off the bench. The Blazers need play from their bench and if he develops, Claver could be a large piece to that puzzle. His quickness makes him attractive off the bench to give the less athletic LaMarcus Aldridge some breaks. 

He's gotten more time on the floor over the last month. Over the last 15 games, he's played more than 10 minutes in 13 games. The Blazers definitely benefit from Claver's shiftiness and ability to move around the floor. 

He definitely adds some energy to the team, as he did on this play a few months ago:

The Blazers have Claver locked up for at least the next two years, with two more years of team options after that. They need to see more of the player to make smart decisions based on this role. There is a good chance that Claver develops into a solid role player for the Blazers. They need to see it down the stretch.