The Portland Trail Blazers have been redesigned to depend on three point shooting. In 2011-2012 they had three players that shot over 35% from the perimeter (Babbitt, Batum, Matthews), in 2012-2013 they had four (Matthews, Maynor, Batum, Lillard), and this season they have an unprecedented seven players to meet that benchmark as a career average (Lillard, Williams, Matthews, McCollum, Crabbe, Batum, Wright).
But the three point shot is a fickle mistress. Last night, in their preseason premiere against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Blazers made just 5/24 three-pointers (20.8%). I will give McCollum, Williams, and Wright a pass for the night, since all of them missed the game due to injury. However, it is on the remaining players to keep the offense functioning. Portland lost, 81-89.
Here’s why the deep game fell apart:
- 1) Poor ball movement. The Blazers were often shiftless, letting one or two players squirrel about while the others waited to receive the ball (i.e. the Stotts offense of last season). The cutting was lethargic, the interior passing was sloppy, and the shot selection suffered. It’s difficult to expect threes to drop when they are being hoisted to spite the shotclock’s final second.
- 2) Transparency. Insert undersized guard’s name here is charging into a collapsing hoard of opposing forwards—might this be a drive and kick? Doc Rivers is smart and his players are ready to cover the corners. At no time did the Blazers get an open look off the kick. In fact, the only truly open three point attempts came from either too far out or Meyers Leonard.
- 3) Inadequate spacing. With the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan covering the key like a welcome mat, and no LaMarcus Aldridge to draw the double, LAC had an easy time defending every Blazer. Swinging the ball is ineffective when the defenders face no ramifications for popping out; and since the biggest healthy threats were Lillard, Matthews, and Batum, the defense knew just who to cling to.
- 4) Bad luck. Not the analyst’s favorite ingredient in failure’s amalgam, but it has to be accounted for. Portland’s marquee backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews combined for 0/9 from the arc. While the previously catalogued factors helped spawn that number, this simply won’t happen every night.
Overall, Portland’s offense was rather unimpressive. The Clippers were able to decimate the Blazers with intricate rotations, backdoor cuts, and active motion from five players at a time—all missing from the Blazers’ display. When the whole team is healthy I expect Portland to make improvements, but simply having more options does not fix their first two problems. They need to play more creatively in order to be effective with their long-ranged assets. Only three weeks until it has to matter.