Nate McMillan’s legacy in Portland is surprisingly easy to sum up in one word: pace. Or rather, his teams’ complete lack thereof. If I were to sum up his legacy with six numbers, they would be: 30, 30, 30, 29, 29, and 28. Those were the ranks of pace (out of 30 teams) that his teams in Portland played at during his six full seasons.
Seeing how pace is just a fancy term for the number of possessions that a team has per game, a simpler way to put it would be: slow. McMillan’s Blazer teams played at roughly snail’s pace, and that might be shortchanging the snails.
To be clear, this is not inherently a bad thing by any stretch. As you can surmise, if there are fewer possessions in a game, there are fewer opportunities for the other team to score. This is generally a great thing for elite defensive teams – they trust themselves to come up with enough stops to see them through to a win.
There was a flaw in this plan, though. A chink in the armor if you will: the Blazers were never a great defensive team under McMillan. While at first glance the points allowed per game may have looked gaudy (remember this is skewed by the lack of possessions), the far more important points allowed per possession stat during McMillan’s tenure was downright awful at its worst (third worst in the league in 05-06) and dead average (13th in 08-09) at its best.
Offense, which was never considered McMillan’s forte, was actually a strength during the latter part of his tenure – his final three full-season teams in Portland were all top ten offensive units. In fact, in 08-09, Portland led the league in offensive rating, scoring at a blistering 1.139 points per possession. (Brandon Roy, we miss you dearly).
We all know what happened soon after. The basketball fates decided to rob Portland of The Natural, the lockout happened, throw in a little Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford mutiny, and next thing you know McMillan was out of a job and Terry Stotts was introduced as the new head coach.
One thing immediately stands out when comparing the two hires: McMillan came in with some sort of winning pedigree (three winning seasons out of five in Seattle), while Stotts had never actually had a winning record with a team as a head coach (before the Blazers he was in Atlanta and Milwaukie).
That’s in the past, though. What matters is production now. And in his first season, Stotts didn’t do much to assuage my worries about his lack of past success. He led the team to the fifth worst defensive rating in the league (26th out of 30) and the 15th best offensive rating. The average positions under McMillan were 13.6th in the league for offensive rating and 17.2nd for defensive rating.
I need to pull myself back and not get caught too far up in the numbers, though. The man has only had one season to prove himself, and I fully expect things to pick up. In addition to being new, he also inherited a team that had quite a tumultuous previous season (the aforementioned mutiny and mid-season coaching change).
Stotts has thankfully shedded McMillan’s plodding pace. This is a most welcome change. The Blazers were only the 13th slowest team in the league this year, which is absolutely a move in the right direction. With a burgeoning young star at point guard, and a legitimate stretch four who could swing to the five, this is only logical. Another facet to this is the Blazers’ age – no two websites could agree, but by my best calculations the Blazers were the 6th youngest team in the league this season. Running is not a problem, and I am happy to see Stotts loosen the reins.
On the other hand, some areas must unquestionably be improved under Stotts. This starts with opponents’ field goal percentage. As David detailed here, the Blazers were second worst in the league in this respect this season. Opponents shot a scathing 47.4% from the field against the Blazers, a number that is higher than any Blazers team under McMillan allowed, and not even remotely sustainable if the team wants to have any lasting success.
Believe me – no one is happy with this number. I am sure players and coaches alike are well-aware of where they ranked, and I expect to see a concerted effort to tighten up the D next season. With one full Blazer season under his belt, I look forward to seeing what Stotts can accomplish next year.