How Should Portland Trail Blazers Manage Minutes in the Season's Final Weeks?
The Portland Trail Blazers are mostly out of playoff contention and now face the task of managing minutes to figure out what they have on their roster. This team has sped up the rebuilding process, in large part because of Damian Lillard, and now needs to solidify its bench to take it to the next level.
The Blazers have a good amount of youth on their bench. The challenge is getting those players minutes, while also keeping their best players on the floor for most of the game. The team will likely look to bring in some role players, but evaluating its bench will give it a better idea of how much to spend.
Here is a look at how the Blazers should manage minutes throughout the rest of the season.
Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum
Lillard: 35 minutes
Matthews: 32 minutes
Batum: 35 minutes
Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum should continue to roughly see their normal minutes with minor decreases. They have continued to play hard, despite knowing the season will be coming to an end without the playoffs in their plans.
While Portland is still in rebuilding mode with regard to the roster, they need to keep a competitive, never-give-up attitude.
These three players are certainly in the Blazers' plans going forward. By keeping them in the lineup and fighting, it shows the younger or developmental players the team's focus on winning games while also figuring out who should be in the plans heading into the offseason.
Aldridge: 32 minutes (if he plays)
After spraining his ankle on March 28, LaMarcus Aldridge is still out of the lineup for the Blazers (updates here). Unless Aldridge is completely healed, there is no need to rush him back into the lineup. With little to nothing to play for, the Blazers can afford to be cautious with their star big man.
On the other hand, if Aldridge gets the green light with no added risk, the Blazers should insert him back into the lineup and give him his regular minutes.
As mentioned in the previous slide, the Blazers need to be craft a new winning mentality in this group. Playing the majority of their starters with normal minutes will help to do that.
J.J. Hickson: 15-25 minutes
Hickson's minutes largely depend on the health of LaMarcus Aldridge. If the injured power forward can't play, Hickson should get the start at power forward with Meyers Leonard getting the go at the center position. If Aldridge is healthy and in the lineup, the Blazers should start Aldridge and Leonard with Hickson sliding to the bench.
The Blazers know what they are going to get with Hickson. The double-double machine has been one of the most consistent producers for the team.
Whether or not he has a future with the team depends on how the team spends its money and what kind of market there is for Hickson. Sliding him to the bench allows them to figure out what else they have and assess Hickson's value.
Meyers Leonard: 35 minutes
The Blazers need to know whether or not Leonard is a capable starting center for the future. If so, it will save the team money while Leonard completes his first contract in the league. Giving him more minutes down the stretch will give Leonard a chance to prove he can contribute on a nightly basis.
Leonard should get a ton of minutes regardless of whether or not LaMarcus Aldridge is healthy. In his three recent games, Leonard has played 32, 41 and 38 minutes. He's averaged 15.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. While he's used his strength to score, he needs to be more physical on the glass.
More minutes will give him the chance to improve his confidence heading into next year.
Victor Claver: 15 minutes
Joel Freeland: 10 minutes
Eric Maynor: 13 minutes
Will Barton: 7 minutes
Luke Babbitt: 6 minutes
The problem with trying to implement a winning mentality is that the team has to sacrifice giving big minutes to developmental players. Reducing the starters' playing time by roughly five minutes per game will give the bench about 25 extra minutes to go around.
The Blazers need to get looks at Victor Claver, Joel Freeland and Will Barton especially.
They know what they have in Eric Maynor and his status is fairly safe after the team decided to bring him in at the trade deadline. Luke Babbitt is somewhat in the same boat. He needs to develop, but the Blazers have to be thinking upgrade if not Claver.
At shooting guard, Will Barton should see an increase of minutes, but that's another position where the Blazers could look to bring somebody in rather than wait for Barton.