In wake of a disappointing end to their 2012-2013 season, the Portland Trail Blazers retooled in the off-season and bounced back in a big way. They acquired Robin Lopez, who has made a tremendous difference to their front-court, and signed a few free agents that have helped catapult them into one of the biggest surprises this season. However, since LaMarcus Aldridge sustained a back injury two weeks ago, they've been free falling through the Western Conference standings, and while it looks like they'll make the playoffs, the possibility of them falling out is a little too close for comfort.
Nevertheless, they are certainly on the right track. With a core of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as a nice mix of shooters and perimeter defenders like Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, they have an exciting future ahead of them. However, if there is one place they are lacking firepower, it's their bench. While they have improved in that area since last season, they still rank dead last in the NBA, which is a worrying sign in a league where long-term success is predicated on depth.
Without a ton of cap room to work with, the Blazers may not be able to woo any big free agents this summer to give their bench a much needed facelift, yet they do have a pair of rookies who could help turn that around. One of them is their 10th pick in the 2013 Draft, C.J. McCollum, and the other is their second-rounder out of California, Allen Crabbe. McCollum missed most of the season after he sustained a broken foot in practice before the regular season kicked off. Now that he is healthy again, McCollum is working his way into the rotation and appears as though he could be a good replacement for Mo Williams if the team decides not to re-sign him this off-season. Crabbe, on the other hand, is a work in progress. He's only seen 71 minutes of court time with the Blazers this season and has been assigned a pair of times to their D-League affiliate, the Idaho Stampede, to work on his game.
Crabbe hasn't taken to his two assignments too well, yet he understands that it's an opportunity to work on his game - something he can't do watching the Blazers play from the sideline, per Idaho Statesman:
I don't think it's anyone's dream to make it to the NBA, then get sent down a few times to the D-League. I take it as a positive when I get sent here, to get out there, play a lot and work hard on the things I'm trying to improve
Crabbe's first D-League stint didn't go too well. In three games, he scored a total of 50 points on 20-for-47 shooting from the field. Not only that, he converted on just 27.7 percent of his threes, which, for a shooter like himself, wasn't a good sign. He struggled again in the first game of his second stint, which came in an 11-point loss to the Bakersfield Jam on March 26th. But last night, he broke out of his slump, scoring a career-high 26 points in a loss to the Reno Bighorns.
The Stampede dug themselves into a hole in the first quarter by giving up 35 points and as a result, found themselves playing catch up the rest of the night. Crabbe got off to a slow start, missing two of his first three attempts from the field, and finished the first-half with just seven points. He started to find his groove in the third quarter and the Stampede cut into the Bighorns' deficit, which put them within striking distance of pulling off a comeback in the closing 12 minutes. While they went on to lose by eight, Crabbe hit some huge shots down the stretch and he finished the final quarter with 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field.
The Blazers' bench issues certainly won't be solved overnight and it's too much to expect McCollum and Crabbe to pick up all that slack anyway, yet there is certainly reason to be excited about the pair's future. While Crabbe hasn't done much this season, it's easy to see why the Blazers used their second-round pick on him - at six foot six, he has great size for a two-guard and possesses a nice shooting stroke, which could make him a nice fit somewhere down the road. While his time with the Stampede has been very up-and-down, it's a good opportunity to show what he's capable of.