First of all, it’s good to be back. I know the collective Internet was worrying its pretty little head about where I went, but worry no more (ed. note: I cried every night.). Now, on to business. To get back into gear for the season I’m going to bring you some posts about the workings of last season’s offense and defense. This will be a refresher course of what the Blazers looked like a year ago (good and bad) and how that might translate to this season. This isn’t necessarily meant to be absolutely comprehensive. These were just some of the notable highlights.
1. LaMarcus and the left block
Assuming you didn’t just start caring about the Blazers yesterday, you know that LaMarcus Aldridge functions as a hub of activity for the Blazers’ offense. And his favorite spot? The left block. Almost 15 percent of all Aldridge’s shots come from the left side, 8-16 feet from the basket. From there, he shoots 44.7 percent, which is 5.6 percent better than the league average.
However, Aldridge doesn’t simply run to the block on every possession. To get there, he uses screens to create misdirection before receiving the entry pass.
Here, Aldridge is going to get a cross screen from Wes Matthews in order to get into position.
The screen helps Aldridge gain a clean seal and space around him for Lillard to enter the ball. A couple of dribbles, and the seemingly effortless turnaround over his right shoulder results in an easy bucket. There’s no doubt that this will continue to be a go-to set for the Blazers throughout the upcoming season.
2. Lillard, the attacker
Reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard impressed a lot of people in his first season in the league. He was a prolific 3-point shooter with a polished game and rare poise for a young player. But what I liked most was how fearless he was in attacking the basket. Lillard was able to use his strong frame and hesitation dribbles to make his way to the hoop a lot last season. In fact, his 4.2 shots per game at the rim placed him in the top 15 for point guards last year. Though he only converted those attempts at an average rate, his close-range ability with both hands is a good sign going forward.
But Lillard didn’t just wantonly crash towards the hoop. Employing that aforementioned polish and poise, he often used his penetration to kick the ball out or dish inside at the last second.
The following play starts late in the shot clock after Lillard has shown patience in not forcing offense that wasn’t there. Fellow rookie Meyers Leonard then sets a high screen in order to get something going with 9 seconds to shoot.
The Jazz fumble with the pick and roll defense and the lane opens up for Lillard. Utah’s weakside defenders rotate into the paint enough that Lillard would either be forced into a mid-range pull-up or a contested attempt at the rim. But Lillard sees J.J. Hickson creeping along the baseline for an alley-oop finish. Bigs trolling the baseline, or even out of bounds, will likely be something the Blazers do more frequently this season, after George Karl effectively utilized the tactic like a mad man last year in Denver. With an ideal pick-and-pop partner like LaMarcus Aldridge and a big roll-man like Robin Lopez, these high screen looks will continue to allow Lillard to use his precocious savvy to create good shots for himself or his teammates.
3. Batum in the “Flow”
Of course, we can’t talk about Portland’s offense without discussing Stotts’ “Flow” system. The constant motion of wings around off-ball screens from bigs leads to a lot of beautiful cuts and open shots, as defenders lose their marks in the perpetual movement.
Here, Nicolas Batum will take two elbow screens off the ball from J.J. Hickson and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Batum takes the pass from Lillard, but immediately flips it back, shifting the defense’s focus off of him. But as he takes the second screen, Jared Dudley (who is already trailing too far behind Batum) gets caught up. Luis Scola makes a lazy hedge and Batum ends up wide open for a dunk. Variations of these sets can include crashing down the lane after the first screen or fading along the three-point line, all depending on how the defense reacts.
While the Blazers’ glaring issues last season on defense became more of a lightning rod for conversation, their versatility and varied skill-sets should have led to more than just league average production on offense. Now entering the second year under Stotts, the players’ greater familiarity with the “flow” system and their ability to better utilize and streamline the actions outlined above should go a long way to create a more dynamic, efficient attack.