If the Trail Blazers goal is to emulate the gameplay of the neighborhood YMCA then they are thriving at mastering that design.
If you’re reading this article, you are already upset with me. The opening statement compares the way the Trail Blazers play to how fifty-five-year-old men run up and down the court on a Sunday morning, but hear me out.
The average pick-up basketball game displays three things: little to no defense, one-on-one play, and an abundance of injuries. So, let me ask, what three things define the way the Trail Blazers play this season?
First, the Trail Blazers defense has been a disaster all year long.
I actually had the opportunity to attend a recent Blazer game coming against the Los Angeles Lakers in Portland. What was most evident in seeing this game in person is how easy things looked for the Lakers. And, I understand how good the Lakers are, but I’m leaving LeBron James and Anthony Davis out of this discussion.
I watched the Blazer game with as much intensity as possible because it’s rare for me to actually be inside the arena on a game night for a change. I fell deeper and deeper into my seat with anger as I witnessed the Red Sea part for Rajon Rondo on dribble-drives possession after possession. He finished the game 6-for-6 on two-point field goals. Again, this is Rondo…Not LeBron we are talking about.
The Blazers now rank 28th in the NBA for opponent field goal percentage in the paint (60.7) and are currently 21st in the NBA in defensive rating (111.4) and 22nd in total points against (114.0). The intensity has not been there and neither has the mindset. The type of mindset where every time you get scored on your embarrassed like you’re playing your little brother one-on-one in the front yard and it’s time assert your dominance. The main thing I’m getting at is the lack of pride, but it makes sense when Carmelo Anthony is playing over thirty minutes a game.
Second, the ball movement is actually comical at this point.
The “pick-up” or “YMCA” style of play comes most into play when analyzing the Trail Blazers offense. The take-turn design where we watch as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum alternate opportunities to come off ball screens and fire no matter what. This may feel somewhat opinion-based, but when the numbers are studied correctly you’ll realize it couldn’t be farther from that.
The Trail Blazers rank dead last in passes (242.7) and assists per game (19.8). Lillard and McCollum are playing with the mindset of that guy who always thought he should’ve played college basketball, but the world was just against him. So, he decides to go to his local gym and shoot on every touch he gets. It’s not a winning way of playing basketball and it’s starting to show.
Oh yeah, it doesn’t help that when the backcourt does to decide to move the ball that it ends up in the hands of Melo.
It feels like a trust thing more than anything else. Like Lillard doesn’t believe he’ll get the ball back if he puts it into play, but that’s how you stay efficient as a scoring point guard. The trust needs to be there that if he gives it up that he will get it back in his spots where he can be the most lethal creating for himself and others as well.
Last, the Trail Blazers have had an insane amount of injuries.
This last comparison for the Trail Blazers to YMCA basketball is the number of injuries the Trail Blazers have had. Nothing is more consistent in pick-up ball then the chances of someone getting hurt.
This is obviously out of control of the Blazers, but could you imagine this team fully loaded. Jusuf Nurkic has yet to suit up this year in Portland, but it’s starting to feel like he should save his return for the 2020-21 season. Nurkic was hitting his stride at the end of the 2019 season which makes this injury so much tougher to stomach.
The Zach Collins injury is just as brutal as losing Nurkic as he was hitting his stride in the NBA and was the big man set to step up in the absence of the Bosnian Beast. He was ready to make a jump in his career and the matter of the fact is that the jump will be delayed until next season.
And on top of all of this, losing Rodney Hood is just fate letting this team know that they don’t want to see them in the playoffs again this year. Hood was one of the hottest shooters in the NBA and was really coming into his own as a complete basketball player.
The injuries have been demoralizing for the Trail Blazers and just like the Sunday morning runs at the YMCA, it’s a win just to make it through the game with no injuries.
Ultimately, the injuries are out of control for Portland, but the defensive intensity and ball movement isn’t. It’s getting harder and harder to watch opposing teams hippety-hop their way into in the paint and finish uncontested. And, after the opposing team gets an easy bucket the Trail Blazers follow it by shooting a contested no-pass three-point jump shot.
There is a low chance of success within this play style, hopefully moving forward the Blazers can look to share the ball and show trust in each other. Here’s hoping 2020 can bring less YMCA and more NBA!