The first thing you should know about the +/- stat is that is says as much about the person who replaces a player as it does the player himself.
Which makes sense when you look at a fantastic bit of work by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, a list of the NBA’s biggest difference makers — a statistical list of players whose teams have the most offensive drop off when they leave the court. It’s not just that these players are having good years, it’s that the guy replacing them is a huge step down. Like Kobe Bryant to Jodie Meeks down (hence Kobe makes Schuhmann’s list).
But the biggest drop off is in Portland — the Blazers offense is 13.3 points per 100 possessions better when Damian Lillard is on the floor, the highest number in the league. Fourth highest is LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers are 12.4 points per 100 better when he is on the floor. Schuhmann explains:
Breaking news: The Portland Trail Blazers have an awful, awful bench. Their starting lineup is good offensively, but not great, scoring 104.3 points per 100 possessions. They have lineups with three or four starters on the floor that are better. But they have no suitable back-ups for either Lillard or Aldridge. When both have been off the floor (just 127 minutes), Portland has scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions.
What they needed were guys like Jamal Crawford, except he’s with the Clippers and playing well after a terrible season last year in Portland. Same with Raymond Felton. It is maddening to Blazers fans to watch them succeed elsewhere this season.
Portland is building a team, right now they are a fringe playoff team (at 16-15 they are the eight seed as you reed this) but they are a long way from where they want to be. They have good players like Nicolas Batum and the energized J.J. Hickson, but they are a long way from competing with the best in the West. It’s a process. One that includes building a bench (if you don’t think the bench matters watch a Clippers game).
But with Lillard and Aldridge the Blazers have cornerstone guys to build around. They just have a lot of building to do, and the numbers show it.