The Portland Trail Blazers advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2000, but they find themselves in a dogfight with the cream of the crop in the San Antonio Spurs. They'll enter Saturday night's game three down 0-2, after two convincing victories for the Fighting Pops.
An area of concern all season has been Portland's lack of depth, as they rely heavily on their starters. In fact, the Blazers were the only team in the NBA to have at least four starters start and play in all 82 games -- LaMarcus Aldridge missed 13 games due to injury.
For context, the Blazers were last in bench points during the regular season, producing only 24.7 points per game. They also came in last regarding bench minutes played per game at a dismal 14.2 minutes -- the Spurs led the league in both categories raking in 45.1 bench points in 21.3 minutes per game.
How could their affiliation with the D-League's Idaho Stampede have helped this? They could have (and should have) been using their affiliation to develop their bench players like C.J. McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Victor Claver and even Will Barton for their playoff run. The Blazers' General Manager, Neil Olshey, believes in development from within and trusts the coaching staff to handle that portion of a young player's work.
Real game speed is impossible to simulate in practice or individual workouts, so the fact that something like the D-League was readily available for these players' use and was ultimately neglected by the Blazers front office and staff is mind boggling -- and now they are paying the price.
Mo Williams, the only real productive player coming off of the bench for Portland, sustained a groin injury in game one against the Spurs. He tried to give it a go in game two, but could only muster nine minutes before he had to exit the game, and he has since been ruled out of game three due to the injury as well.
There are two lottery picks, McCollum and Leonard, just wasting away on the Portland bench instead of playing meaningful minutes in an NBA playoff run. I'm not guaranteeing that had they played in the D-League they would be producing for this team, but the sheer benefit of playing in the same system, gaining confidence in your game, and then bringing that back to the big club cannot be overlooked.
The days of the D-League not having use for NBA clubs have come and gone a long time ago, but the Trail Blazers seem to have held onto the prehistoric ways of thinking regarding player development. And if you are going to develop your young talent in house, then at least get them some real game time, so that when the time comes they are ready to contribute.
I'm sure a day will come when Portland realizes that this single affiliation trend isn't a trend at all -- it's a tool to be used for the benefit of all involved, and until that day comes I'm afraid they will always be one step behind.