Last season the Portland Trail Blazers were an offensive juggernaut. They were second in the league in offensive rating, fourth in points per game, and largely rode their offensive firepower to the second round of the playoffs.
A core factor in the team’s blistering offensive prowess was the team’s success from beyond the three point line. The focus on threes was readily apparent from just the eye test, but the stats drive home the point even further: the team was third in the league in three-pointers attempted, fourth in three-pointers made, seventh in three-point shooting percentage, and tenth in percent of shots that were threes.
The old adage says “live by the three, die by the three,” but with the advent of advanced stats, this train of thought is largely going toward the wayside. At their root, three-pointers are worth a full fifty percent more than a normal two-pointer. NBA players are phenomenal shooters. The writing’s on the wall – if you have the players with the skills to do so, it is highly beneficial to take more and more threes.
The Blazers most definitely had the players necessary to unleash a barrage from deep. Beside the aforementioned Lillard, Matthews, and Batum, Mo Williams shot nearly 37.0% from beyond the three-point line. Dorell Wright, who I personally think never received enough playing time to get into a groove, only shot 34.2% from three last season, but just four seasons ago, he led the league in threes made.
Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey made his intent clear – he wanted shooting, and in his second year on the job, he made sure to get it. That is all well and good, but the onus to actually utilize said talent falls squarely on Head Coach Terry Stotts’ shoulders. If the offense’s success last season is any indicator, Stotts seemed up to the task.
While I think he has a ways to go on the defensive side of things (the team’s inability to defend a pick and roll remains frustrating), being second in the league in offense is no easy task. Stotts had a vision of a fluidly moving, “flow” offense, and it was largely executed to perfection. There were points last season where, when everything was clicking, the Trail Blazers’ offense seemed unstoppable.
Logistically, when you have a power forward like LaMarcus Aldridge who can both post up and hit an elbow jumper, there isn’t much for a defense to do. If they leave Aldridge single covered, he can go to work, but if the defense starts to slide towards him, he’s a smart enough player to kick it out to the open shooter.
It is quite a synergistic relationship – Aldridge gets easier looks when he’s surrounded by sharp shooters, and the perimeter players on the team get more open looks when Aldridge draws defenders in. This general game plan would all fall apart, though, if the Blazers weren’t so stacked with legitimate three-point threats.
So, where can the Blazers go from here? It’s pretty hard to top being the second best offense in the league, but the scary thing is, I genuinely believe the Blazers have the potential to improve next season. To start with, all five starters will be returning next year, somewhat of a rarity in today’s age of short contracts and frequent player movement. This teammate familiarity will help boost chemistry on the court.
Additionally, take a look at the team’s shot chart:
For having the second best offense in the entire league, you might be surprised to see that among the six basic scoring zones defined by the NBA, the Blazers shot above average in only one area – left corner threes. Those particular looks are enhanced by Aldridge posting up on the left block sucking in the defense. The team’s shooting on both right corner threes and threes from above the break has lots of room for improvement.
If the team can raise its shooting by even a few percentage points in either or both zones, the result could be devastating for opposing defenses. Once again, the greater value of a three shines, and any small improvement will have large effects.
Hypotheticals have to meet reality at some point, though, and to actually improve, the Blazers will have to make some tweaks. There were still bouts of stagnation that could be addressed, and at the end of the season against the Spurs’ disciplined defense the Blazers’ offense completely faltered. Figuring out how to maintain their rhythm no matter who their opponent is will be paramount for the Blazers to experience continued success.
While not exactly young guns, the Blazers starters are still on the younger side and absolutely have room to improve through experience as well. If the Blazers can actually put it all together, and manage to top last season’s incredible offensive display, it could go a long way toward making some more noise in the playoffs.