Blazers’ Plays of the Week

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Welcome to Plays of the Week, where we take a look at Blazers’ sets from the past 7 days that caught our eye. If you see a play call or a trend that intrigues you, hit us up on twitter or leave a message in the comments section below.

The No Dribble Offense

While the majority of the Blazers offense is created through pick and roll action and post ups, some of the best looks that the team generates come when all five players are moving and screening for each other.

Here’s a play from early in the Rockets game that features a ton movement, multiple screens, and results in a number of good shooting options. 

The play really starts when Will Barton finds Wes Matthews coming off a JJ Hickson down screen. Barton immediately flares off a LaMarcus Aldridge screen as Hickson sets another down screen, this time for Damian Lillard (whose path is shown in grey). 

As Lillard hits the screen, Matthews has Aldridge open at the top of the key, and has a slightly less favorable pass to Will Barton, either at the rim or in the corner. Matthews opts to find Lillard and it results in a good look at a three. 

It’s a nice wrinkle on the standard horns set, and the Blazers managed to generate open looks with just ball and player movement.  

Welcome Back LaMarcus Aldridge

One of the reasons the first play that we looked at worked so well, is that the Blazers often use the same action to isolate Aldridge on the left block.

Instead of using an Aldridge screen, the strong side wing player (Victor Claver in this case) sets a back screen for Aldridge allowing him to establish decent post position.

We all know LaMarcus prefers to turn over his right shoulder to shoot when posted up on the left block, but Asik does a good job of overplaying that, so Aldridge drives to the middle and converts a tough shot while getting fouled. 

This clip shows the same action — with Wes Matthews setting the back screen this time — and Aldridge facing up Asik and driving baseline for fadeaway jumper. 

The final clip has elements of everything we’ve looked at so far – namely ball and player movement from the horns set – and ends in a favorable matchup with LA isolated against Dirk Nowitzki. 

Eric Maynor Lobs

As Eric Maynor gets comfortable with his teammates, these alley-oop plays – both in transition and in the half court – are becoming more common.

Maynor’s ball handling has obviously allowed Damian Lillard to play off the ball in the half court, but’s it’s also allowed him the opportunity to run the wings in transition. 

In the second clip, Maynor turns the corner after using a very high screen and finds a cutting Will Barton with a perfectly timed lob for an easy finish.  If the Blazers are unable to re-sign Maynor this summer, here’s hoping they are able to find someone that combines steady play with a flair for the dramatic. 

 

BLAZERS’ PLAYS OF THE WEEK

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Welcome to Plays of the Week, where every Wednesday we’ll take a look at Blazers’ sets from the past 7 days that caught our eye. If you see a play call or a trend that intrigues you, hit us up on twitter or leave a message in the comments section below.

Aldridge-less Offense

With LaMarcus Aldridge out we’ve seen even more pick and roll than usual, and the following action has become commonplace. Damian Lillard initiates the offense by using a JJ Hickson screen – in this case a very solid baseline pick – while Batum and Matthews space the court on the weak side. Myers Leonard joins them on the weak side, ducking behind his defender.

As Lillard navigates the screen, Leonard tip toes the baseline waiting for a dump off. Hickson, meanwhile, trails Lillard looking for a possible offensive rebound.

Throw in the two screens that started the play: Matthews coming off a down screen to accept the pass at the top, and Lillard flaring off a Leonard screen to get to the corner, and it’s a nice variation that keeps all five defenders moving and forces them to make quick decisions. 

Here’s the same action, but with Leonard and Hickson switching places

Nic Batum Moving Without the Ball

Poor Klay Thompson.

In this halfcourt set Nic Batum runs the Warriors guard through a gauntlet of screens before threading the needle to JJ Hickson for the and-one. Watch how Nic hesitates off the Myers Leonard screen and then fakes setting a high pick for Lillard before flaring off a JJ Hickson screen. Beautiful stuff. 

Myers Leonard First Plays

In Leonard’s first two starts, Terry Stotts did a great job of getting the rookie centre easy looks to open the game. The play calls are very similar, with Leonard spotting up after setting an off ball screen for Nic Batum. It’s simple but effective action, and it’s great to see Leonard catch and shoot with confidence. 

 

Victor Claver

Anytime a 6’10” rookie picks off a pass then calmly Rondo’s someone for an and-one in transition, it’s making the list. Thank you for being you Victor Claver. 

Blazers’ Plays of the Week

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Welcome to Plays of the Week, where every Wednesday we’ll take a look Blazers’ sets from the past 7 days that caught our eye. If you see a play call or a trend that intrigues you, hit us up on twitter or leave a message in the comments section below.

Damian Lillard Drag Screen

We’ve seen this action a lot recently from the Blazers and it’s had a number of benefits. Firstly, it alleviates some of the ball pressure that Damian Lillard has seen. In last Monday’s loss to the Sixers we saw Jrue Holliday picking up Lillard almost at half court. The early screen allows Lillard to keep his momentum and operate in what is basically a transition opportunity. Another benefit is that the big man defending the screen is usually in terrible position, allowing Lillard to attack or set up his teammates as the defense scrambles.

In the first clip, notice how high Aldridge sets the screen, and how Spencer Hawes is in no position to defend it as he is already on his heels as Lillard attacks the basket. 

The second clip shows the same action, but starting slightly lower—just above the three point line. Again, the big man defending the play is in no position to help with either the ball handler or the roll man, and it results in a decent look for LaMarcus. 

This action has become a staple of Portland’s offence and has been quite effective so far. Keep an eye on how teams defend this going forward, at this point it looks to be catching teams by surprise. 

Pick and Roll Options

In Friday night’s win against Atlanta, the Hawks did a great job of hitting the roll man from different areas on the floor. Portland runs a ton of pick and roll and late in the game they took a page out of the Hawks’ book: 

The Blazers have at least three capable ballhandlers/passers (Batum, Lillard, Maynor), so if this action is something that we’re going to see regularly, we certainly have the personnel to run it. 

 The Versatility of Nic Batum

 Batum’s emergence as an effective passer and pick and roll ballhandler has given Terry Stotts a number of new options on how to deploy the versatile wing. Batum also effectively straddles the line between aggression and setting up his teammates, and more often than not makes good reads.

Here are three plays from the past week that showcase Nic as a passer, as a pick and roll ballhandler, and as the primary scoring option: 

The action here is simple enough, Nic flares off a LaMarcus screen and, without taking a dribble, makes the correct read delivering the ball to a wide open LA for a good look. 

From Sunday night’s loss in OKC, Nic is the inbounder and the primary scoring option. As soon as he throws the ball in he comes off the screen hard and is ready to shoot. Also, any play that features a big man setting multiple screens will always be a favorite.

The last clip is a beautifully designed sideline out of bounds play from late in the Sixers game. Batum is tasked with the ballhandling duties and makes the correct read in finding Wes Matthews for a good look at a three.

Credit Philadelphia’s defence on this play, they did a great job of defending the screen, picking up the roll man and staying with the corner shooters. There was one man open on the play and Batum found him. 

Mixed Results in the Crunch

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Simply put, Terry Stotts designs a beautiful offence.

The Trail Blazers head coach is known around the league as an innovative offensive mind who finds creative ways to put his players in situations that favor them. Stotts also, to a degree, allows his players the freedom to operate within the offence and empowers them to make decisions and find the right shots.

When you think of a Terry Stotts’ offence, you think of movement, subtlety and misdirection. However, the play we are going to look at today is almost the complete opposite; it’s a brute force attack on one specific area of the court, and the Blazers have gone to it again and again in late game situations. 

Here’s the play in real time from last night’s game: 

Stotts has called this sideline out of bounds play on numerous occasions, most memorably in last month’s loss to the Lakers (Nic Batum stepped on the line and it was ruled a two), in last week’s loss to the Grizzlies (Tony Allen blocked Nic Batum’s three point attempt, and then did some sort of interpretive dance), and as the last play Sunday’s loss to New Orleans:

The first option is clear enough, to get Batum or Matthews a decent look at a corner three, and it’s a shot that Stotts evidently trusts either of those two to take, and the play is effective in terms of creating that specific shot.

Let’s take a closer look at the play, and also at a secondary option. 

The eventual shooter, Nic Batum in this case, starts out high and will sprint off two staggered flare screens to the short corner. Damian Lilliard sets the first screen, which will become important when we look at the second option. 

If you watch the way Memphis defends this, it looks as if they know what’s coming. As Batum sets up, watch how Tayshaun Prince angles himself to avoid both screens, and basically puts himself in a foot race to the corner with Batum. At the same time Tony Allen is guarding the inbounder and is set up to make the pass to the corner as difficult as possible. 

Contrast this with the way New Orleans defends the play: guarding the inbounder tight; chasing the shooter through both screens; and eventually forcing Anthony Davis switch out onto Wes to defend the shot. Now even though both of the shots missed, you can see the difference that preparation and scouting can make, and perhaps gain some insight into why Memphis and New Orleans are at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to the strength of their defence.

As alluded to earlier, the second option of this play is for Damian Lillard, who is responsible for setting the initial screen.

Lilliard has two screen options, and on this play it looks like either could have resulted in a better look than Nic got in the corner.

 

Full credit to the Memphis Grizzlies, they defended the play extremely well. It will be interesting to see how the Blazers adjust to this kind of defensive coverage going forward. 

Co-Opting Marc Gasol

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Yesterday, our own Grady O’Brien dissected some action the Blazers like to run to free LaMarcus Aldridge up to create from his favorite area: the left block. As Grady showed, however, even when Portland’s action was crisp in their 91-85 loss to Memphis, good looks were hard to come by. It was hard not to notice one bearded seven-foot reason why that was the case.

The havoc Marc Gasol wreaked on Wednesday is the kind of thing that hoops nerds live for and is the exact reason analytics gurus are up nights attempting to quantify defensive impact. 

Marc Gasol Shot Chart (Courtesy nba.com/stats)On the offensive end, Gasol put together an efficient night, finishing with 23 points on 10-of-17 from the field. This was made all the more impressive considering the Grizzlies were playing without Zach Randolph, causing Gasol to set up on the low block far more often than his favored location at the elbow. While Gasol finished with only 3 assists, he routinely found cutters and spot up shooters with passes that many other centres can not make.

On the defensive end, Gasol blew up pick and rolls, forced bigs off the block, and generally made life miserable for every Blazer on the court. 

LaMarcus Aldridge Shot Chart (Courtesy nba.com/stats)LaMarcus Aldridge had a terrible shooting night, finishing with 10 points on 2-of-13 from the field, for his third lowest scoring output of the season. While Aldridge certainly missed some shots that he routinely makes, Gasol forced him to set up further and further from the hoop, and—on this night at least—Aldridge seemed willing to give up that territory.

Aldridge did finish the game with 6 assists, and as Grady’s post demonstrated, he did a great job of setting up on the left side and finding teammates. However, notice how far from the hoop LaMarus is in those situations. 

Let’s take a look at two possessions from the fourth quarter that illustrate how differently the two big men operate on the block. 

First, here is Aldridge fighting for position after an offensive rebound. Notice how he starts at the elbow and by the time he accepts the entry pass he is closer to the three-point line. Aldridge does a good job of regaining this position as he backs down, but Gasol crowds him and makes it impossible to get a shot off. Aldridge, to his credit, out hustles Gasol for the offensive rebound and is rewarded with free throws.

 

This is the kind of defence Aldridge had to deal with the entire game, and it clearly forced him out of his comfort zone. At the same time Gasol was able to move around the court and establish deep post position on many occasions. 

In the following clip, Gasol starts on the weak side and walks JJ Hickson into the post for an easy look. At this point Hickson is at least battling, on a subsequent possession JJ gave up deep position to Gasol on the left block and it resulted in free throws—simply inexcusable.

Gasol accomplishes all of this by knowing where he is on the court at all times and using his body—rather than his athleticism—to create opportunities on both ends.

While Gasol plays physically, he doesn’t chase rebounds without first boxing his man out, he defends the pick and roll masterfully and rarely gambles for steals or blocks. 

The Blazers’ bigs should all steal a page from Marc Gasol’s playbook, the team would be better off for it.