Trail Blazers

Blazers need to rest Damian Lillard & CJ McCollum more this season

Trail Blazers

An issue that merits some thought as the Trail Blazers hit the halfway point of a brief exhibition schedule:

The real meaning of the kind of depth the team is expected to have this season isn’t confined to random bench scoring. Sure, Portland ought to be able to handle injuries to starters easier this season, too, with talent on the bench that is capable of starting for other teams in the league.

Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter, Gary Trent Jr., Rodney Hood and, when healthy, Zach Collins, all fit into that category. Others might, too.

But perhaps more important than that, the depth provides Coach Terry Stotts the opportunity to lighten the load on his starting lineup. There is no reason for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to be among the league leaders in minutes played this season if the roster is healthy. Same with Jusuf Nurkic -- who must be rested and ready for the postseason for this team to have its best chance to win.

I know, the words "load management" send some people into a frenzy.

But one of the biggest barriers to playoff success for the Trail Blazers over the last several years has been that the team has had to work so hard to either make the playoffs or to get the seeding it wants that players are not fully rested for a long playoff run.

 

That must change if the vision is a trip to the conference finals or even the NBA Finals.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Henry Abbott, who for years authored the True Hoop column on ESPN, now does the True Hoop newsletter and it’s the same outstanding content it has always been,

Recently he took a look at this issue head-on, as it pertains to the Trail Blazers and Lillard:

“Coaching a good team, an NBA coach once told me, is about “delivering the team to April” in the best possible shape. An approach like this gives a body a chance to get fitter as the season progresses, as opposed to more worn down.

“The last time we saw Damian Lillard in games that counted he was the unanimous MVP of the bubble. He played his brains out willing the Blazers into the playoffs. 

“But don’t forget what happened: as the Lakers’ defense clamped down in the playoffs, Lillard, who had made 17 of 30 against the Lakers in January (he finished with 48 points, 10 assists, and 9 rebounds) was, by Game 2 struggling to find 14 decent looks at the basket, and sank just six. Everything was cooked: timing, strength, decision-making. The Blazers were minus-29 with Lillard on the floor in that game, his worst mark of the season. When you’re that exhausted all kinds of things go wrong. Lillard dislocated a finger first, and then a few games later his right knee. He was on a plane home before the Blazers were even eliminated.

“This is no way to deliver a star to the playoffs. And nice though it may be to get him an extra few minutes to sit in games, the real difference is in getting stars like LeBron, Butler, Tatum, and Lillard stronger. Bonus points if they can skip flights, with their taxing effects on health and sleep.

“Looking at the Blazers schedule, it’s easy to see some games a starter could sit with minimal impact and maximum rest effect.

 

 
 

“Lillard could sit four games in January and create weeks without a single flight, back-to-back, national TV game missed, or period with more than the maximum-recommended five games in 14 days. Think about what this does for Lillard as a father and husband. Would it be the worst thing if he had a day at the beach now and again? Think about what it does for mental health, and staying sharp. 

“A team that did this all year, with its three or four best players, would arrive at the playoffs ready to destroy.”

It makes a lot of sense. Lillard is obviously a gamer and I’m not even sure he would want to do something like this. But sometimes coaches know best. In the long run, I think he could even add a season or two on the end of his career with this kind of rest schedule. It worked for Tim Duncan,

And I think for McCollum and Nurkic, it would also be a wise choice.