The 2013-2014 Portland Trail Blazers finished the season with an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 111.5. This was good for a downright impressive second in the league, and a huge part of why this season’s team was so fun to watch. Good defense can certainly be appreciated, but there is nothing like watching some of the best athletes in the world work together to create a symphony of beautiful offense.
It was apparent during the season that the Trail Blazers were one of the best in the league at offense, as they fell short to only the Clippers. However, I was curious to see how they stacked up to teams of the past. It is always interesting to see where your favorite team stacks up historically, and I had a feeling that this Blazers team represented well.
Comparing present teams with past teams becomes very hard, though, as play styles, mindsets, and even the rules of the game evolve. At some point you have to make a distinction, so I looked at every season that a team played since 2004-2005. I chose this cutoff point because it was during this season that the new hand checking rules went into effect, which had a profound change on how the game was played.
It also conveniently left ten seasons to look at, and with 30 teams in the league since then, it was an even 300 teams (on a side note: that sortable table is a lot of fun to play with). Out of these 300 team seasons since 2004, the Blazers ranked 22nd in offensive rating.
This ranking places them in the top eight percent of offenses during the last ten seasons of the NBA. That is a lot of teams that the Trail Blazers surpassed, and offers a far wider frame of reference with which to understand how successful the Blazers were on the offensive side of the ball this year. There have been a multitude of great teams during the past decade, so for the Blazers to rank as highly as they did is commendable.
As much as I knock him for the team’s frequent lack of discipline and mediocre defense, much of this credit has to go to Head Coach Terry Stotts and his coaching staff. He coaxed this offense out of a fairly nondescript team. Sure, he had two All-Stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard at his disposal, but I’d say that neither of them are truly superstars (yet).
They were complemented by a player who went undrafted (Wesley Matthews), a 25th pick (Nicolas Batum), and a center who was already on his third team after only six seasons in the league (Robin Lopez). This may not quite be the Spurs level of finding and honing talent from the scrap heap, but Stotts was able to put together quite an effective system using what he had.
That’s what good coaches do – figure out how to put their players in positions to succeed. Each of the starters I named is talented in their own right, but looking at the results holistically, I feel like the team’s offensive success well exceeded the sum of its parts. Again, this is a hallmark of successful coaches – getting as much as possible out of what they have to work with.
Coaches improve with experience just like players do. I think Stotts has quite a ways to go to really come into his own as a coach, but the team’s offensive success this season is just one example of what he can do for this team. If he can improve in other areas like he did in offense (they were only ranked 15th in the league last year), fans should be excited as they look forward to future Trail Blazers teams.