While there are a multitude of factors contributing to the Blazers’ great start this season, the simple answer begins and ends with the team’s offense. Through 22 games, the Blazers’ offense is absolutely blistering. Their offensive rating of 112.8 (approximate number of points scored per 100 possessions) leads the league by a wide margin, with the Miami Heat a solid 2.4 points behind.
This offensive bonanza begins with LaMarcus Aldridge. An absolute sniper from the elbow, he demands that opposing defenses pay attention to him at the top of the key. Having a post player that commands this respect starts to bend the defense right from the get-go. If he catches the ball on the block, he has his go-to fadeaway, which is generally unblockable: either he makes it or he doesn’t. The defender doesn’t factor in much. As a last option, if he sees the opening, his inside spin move has been deadly this year.
Defenses have obviously started reacting to him, so he is starting to see double-teams. Double-teaming is a desperate option, as it opens many other holes – namely the defense being forced to use three players to defend four offensive players. Luckily, general manager Neil Olshey has constructed his offense to abuse this, as some combination of three 3-point shooters are usually on the floor at one time (choose from: Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Mo Williams, Damian Lillard and Dorell Wright). As soon as they have a sliver of space, they let it fly.
This beautiful offensive whirlwind is completed by Robin Lopez, who is mainly there for his rebounding and hustle, but has exhibited some passable baby hooks in recent games. He is also good for a putback or two a game, and free points are always a welcome sight.
Being the best team in the league in such a crucial statistic is certainly a boon for the team, and should be enough to see the Trail Blazers make the playoffs. Going into the season, this is what I hoped to see from them, and what I suspect most of the players themselves saw as the goal. The offense should definitely be enough to carry the team there.
The question, then, becomes how sustainable is the Blazers’ success? On a macro level, can they keep up the phenomenal win and loss totals, and on the micro level, can their offensive production remain so high? To be realistic, if not pessimistic, I expect the offense to cool down to some extent. A big part of this is the team’s 3-point shooting, which will likely dip slightly.
Right now the Blazers are second in the league in 3-point percentage, at 41.5%, just behind the Golden State Warriors (41.7%). Over the last three seasons, the second best 3-point shooting team has hovered right around 39% (a sharp drop-off from where the Blazers currently stand), but given the Blazers’ consistency through 22 games, the drop-off may not end up being that great.
However; based on the team’s amazing start, I think many Blazer fans (myself included) are wondering if the Blazers can go further. Could they maybe make it past the first round? While it may sound a little greedy to wonder about such a thing so early into the season, it is a valid question.
The biggest concern I see with a deep playoff push is the team’s defensive woes. They are currently ranked 21st in defensive efficiently, the mirror counterpart of offensive efficiency. Historically, this has not been nearly good enough for a deep playoff run. Going into the season, I think the team’s rough plan was to be a top offensive team with an average defense. As of right now, the team is a full six spots away from having an average defense, which definitely lowers their ceiling.
When the season finally settles into its rhythm, we’ll see how the Blazers shake out. The best case scenario I see is remaining a top-three offense, and clawing the defensive rating back up to about 15th. If the Blazers can reach this point, making some noise in the playoffs will not be out of the question.