Three-Point Shooting and the Trail Blazers’ Identity


As the Portland Trail Blazers head into an off-season of uncertainty, there is a high chance that next year’s team will look significantly different from this past season’s. With that being said, the hope is that some continuity can be maintained, as Head Coach Terry Stotts and at least some key pieces will be back next year for certain.

Part of that ability to maintain continuity comes with having a team identity – think Memphis with grit and grind, or the early 2000s Pistons with suffocating defense. While the Trail Blazers’ recent iterations may not have had a signature feature as iconic as those, and with the current core at risk of being split up this off-season, there were still some noticeable traits on display last season.

One of these was the team’s focus on three-pointers – both on offense and defense. The Trail Blazers looked to generate much of their offense by taking (and ideally making) a large amount of threes, and on defense, it is apparent that the team tried to prevent opponents from even getting three-point attempts off. In the event that the other team did shoot a three, the Trail Blazers did their best to make sure it was a low percentage one.

The chart below shows how the Trail Blazers ranked in all six of the important team-wide three-point shooting metrics last season – three-point makes, three-point attempts, and three-point shooting percentage for both themselves and their opponents.

Portland Trail Blazers Team Three-Point Shooting Performance

In every single area, the Trail Blazers ranked top-eight in the league. In the NBA, coaches and teams must play a delicate balancing game of how to craft their strategies. In a macro example, if a team focuses on defense (spending more practice time on it or bringing in defensively oriented players) then their offense might suffer. If they decide to chase offensive rebounds, then it makes it easier for opponents to fast break. Pack the paint, and opponents will have more space on outside jumpers – etc.

That is why it is so telling to see the Trail Blazers completely in on the three-point train. Being ranked top-eight in every important category for threes doesn’t just happen. Stotts and the entire team made that a priority, and the results have borne it out.

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This is, on the whole, a great strategy. Three-pointers are becoming more and more important for the league, so a team that can maximize their effect on offense while minimizing their damage via defense is primed for success in this new age. Stotts has generally been an analytical and strategy-focused type of coach, so it makes sense that he wants to get on the right side of these new trends.

With this emphasis in mind, it may give a window into how the Trail Blazers as an organization will behave this off-season. Three-point shooting is a priority, so if, say, Wesley Matthews ultimately signs with another team, the Trail Blazers may feel the need to bring in another shooter. On the topic of Matthews, it could also mean that the team is more willing to pay top dollar to keep him.

Whatever ends up happening, as we move forward, keep in mind how important three-point shooting has been to the team’s recent success. It has been a huge part of the team’s recent identity on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, so in the event of a tumultuous off-season, it may become one key theme for the team to fall back on.

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