Portland Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts is currently in a position where he is making substitution decisions based on match-ups and situations.
Stotts feels as though it is a luxury to have different players on the court, even if the decision to make situational substitutions could be looked at as a negative.
“That’s one of the things I learned from Rick Carlisle is that he was not afraid to go to anybody at any time,” Stotts said. “By nature of that, guys on the bench were always ready to play.”
Stotts knows that the team’s performance, whether they win or lose, will determine whether the strategy of going game-to-game will be deemed a success. However, he’s not afraid to do so because of how much trust he has in his reserves, young and old.
Dorell Wright is a veteran and Stotts trusts that he’ll be ready, as a “valuable” player on the team when his name is called.
What’s stood out from this young Blazers team, aside from their fantastic offense, is how their young players come to work every day without knowing how or if they will be used.
“They work as hard as any young group I’ve ever been around,” said 12-year veteran Earl Watson, the team’s elder statesman.
Watson’s role on this team was to be a presence for the young players to follow and, when needed, to come in and play as he has a few times this year.
Watson has stayed in the league by being the consummate professional, approaching each day and each game with the same routine.
“He’s getting his lifts in on game days, he’s getting his shots up at 4, 4:15,” C.J. McCollum said of Watson.
For young player, the itch to play is one that never goes away.
Last season, Jared Jeffries was the ranking veteran on the squad.
Now retired, Jeffries said that the biggest key for young players is to realize that winning is the most important thing.
Watson said that this young Blazers group that he is often working out with before games already has that.
“Being selfless sounds easy, but when you’re competing within a competition of a team it’s like the most mature thing you can do,” Watson said.
“Earl gets his name called every blue moon, but when he gets his name called, he’s ready,” said Thomas Robinson.
The Blazers are winning, and a lack of playing time is harder to accept when you’re not. All of the young players who have found themselves with playing time this season — from Meyers Leonard to Will Barton — have talked about how important Watson’s example, presence and guidance has been.
Stotts, too, believes that his group of young players is special because of their professionalism.
The Blazers’ roster structure is by design, and they believe that character helps you win.
But Watson’s teaching and example is not only is important for the eight players in their first or second year for their time in Portland, but for the rest of their NBA careers.
“I’m a firm believer in how young players come in this league make a lasting impression on their career,” said Stotts. “Those eight guys are very fortunate to have a guy like Earl.”