The Portland Trail Blazers had a phenomenal year by any metric: 54 wins for the just the second time in 14 seasons (and a second-round berth for the first in the same span), career years from their two best players, an 11-game winning streak and more 4-game or better winning streaks than in any year in franchise history, an indefatigable offense, and the most late-game resilience that you could hope for.
All of this was with a coach at the helm who had never won more than 40 games in his previous two stops, and while he had proven himself as an assistant, he had yet to take the next step as a head coach (or, possibly, didn’t have the tools to succeed).
So what’s different this time around? What can we expect from head coach Terry Stotts moving forward?
Things to stay the same
- An offense first approach doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon, and that’s just fine. After all, the team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
- Stotts presents a respectful demeanor: he doesn’t scream or stomp around or call his players out publicly. He understands that, to get the most from your players, there has to be mutual respect, especially at the pro level.
- Substitution flexibility. One of the biggest differences between Stotts and his predecessor, Nate McMillan, is that McMillan was very rigid in when his subs went it. It didn’t seem to matter who had the hot hand or who was flailing… his subs would come in like clockwork. Even with limited players to trust, Stotts has shown to be adaptable in letting players ride their momentum to impact the game even if it doesn’t fit the schedule.
Things that could change
- Rotation rigidity. Part of this is a function of weaponry: if you don’t have many reliable players, you can’t be expected to be creative with your lineups. You work with what you have. However, as the bench develops and as the Blazers (possibly) add a piece or two over the summer, look for Stotts to trust more players and have more looks to his rotations.
- Handling picks on defense. The Blazers started the season going over the top of screens, and chasing the ball handler from behind. However, other teams picked (no pun intended) up on this, and the Blazers’ pick-and-roll defense looked pretty woeful later on. Part of it is personal shortcomings (looking at you, Dame), but Stotts would be wise to have his team focus solely on how to handle picks, and have a few different ways to manage them based on what their opponents are giving.
- Young player development. Once again, a big part of this comes down to the weapons you have at your disposal, and it’s tough to argue with a second-round berth… but at some point, Stotts will have to let young guys hit the floor more consistently. You never know when an injury or two will force someone unexpected into the lineup for 15 or even 20 minutes a game for a few weeks, and its best that they be prepared for that possibility.
Are there other ways that Stotts could get better? Things he already does that you don’t want to see change? Feel free to leave them in the comments.