The Portland Trail Blazers are enjoying a successful start into the 2013-14 NBA season and earned their 23-5 record.
In the upcoming slides, we will illuminate three important reasons and take a closer look at the impact and consequences of each.
You will learn why Robin Lopez is such a huge part of Portland's success, why the seemingly minor additions of Dorell Wright and Mo Williams help give the team the edge and how Portland plays basketball the way it is supposed to from a coach's point of view.
Robin Lopez is a valuabe addition to Portland. He brings offensive rebounds and tough defense, allowing LaMarcus Aldridge to do his thing.
Admittedly, Robin Lopez can hardly be considered a dominating offensive player.
But with so many capable scorers on this team already, his presence is mostly needed at the defensive end. And this is where he shines. He is always a threat to reject shots, averaging 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes.
And the ones he doesn't block, he alters.
Even slightly changed shots have a drastically lower percentage of dropping.
Everyone who ever faced a decent shot-blocker knows the floater has to be higher, the jump shot needs more arc and the layup needs to be very high off the glass in order to avoid the big guy.
Last season, J.J. Hickson played as severely undersized center at 6'9”. This, in turn, forced LaMarcus Aldridge to play more of an inside game. Two inches taller and with a freakish wingspan of nearly 7'5”, he often needed to guard opposing centers who could shoot the ball.
This season, Lopez is protecting the paint, allowing Aldridge to focus on rebounding rather than going for blocked shots. Attempting a block often puts the player out of position for the defensive rebound. Also, as the player comes down, the ball hits the rim, which means that others are already jumping for it.
The stats support this fact.
While having fewer blocks, Aldridge averages 0.1 more offensive rebounds this season, while his defensive rebounds have increased by 1.9. Lopez “only” averages 9.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, collecting nearly as many offensive as defensive boards.
Lillard, Matthews and Batum don't hesitate to take the three whenever they feel confident—and they feel confident a lot.
The fact that Lopez is such a beast going for the offensive board plays a big part in Portland's most important offensive weapon.
The Blazers rank first in offense with 108.4 points per game and 23rd in defense, allowing 102.1 points. Their fast pace, of course, means higher scores for everyone involved. But their approach has a method.
A league-best 30.4 points each game come from beyond the arc.
The two veterans actually are more important than their numbers show. Especially Williams is a key bench player, averaging 9.1 points and 4.5 assists in fewer than 25 minutes per game.
It is vital to have bench players who can contribute.
More often than not, the most efficient bench players are veterans who can read what's happening on the court while they are on the bench. When entering, they can react accordingly to what they saw and analyzed from the sideline.
Having many legitimate threats from deep not only stretches the floor for some easy baskets at the rim, but it also means they can cut into an opponent's lead in a hurry. Getting a couple of stops and scoring a three each time helps your team gain momentum.
And with Lopez down low collecting several misses each game, there is no reason not to take open threes, even early in the shot clock.
The team shoots a league-high 40.5 percent from downtown, while ranking 29th in points in the paint. Terry Stotts' approach is obvious: A bucket from downtown counts as three, so as long as the shots go in at an acceptable rate, keep shooting.
Do some of you have flashbacks of the Golden State Warriors during the last playoffs?
Portland's version seems more organized. The team ranks fourth in assists per possession, indicating that the ball keeps moving until it finds the open shooter, and it has the third-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league.
Terry Stotts seems to have full control over his team, and his players play with a newfound confidence.
Basketball is a game of numbers and percentages.
There is no lucky champion.
You may be lucky in a situation, maybe even a game. But over the course of several games—over the course of the season and postseason—luck doesn't decide the outcome.
Smart basketball does.
Terry Stotts understands the game. He and his staff are well aware of what kind of players they have. They crunch numbers and statistics and devise a game plan that will work most of the time.
What may be more important: Stotts has his players believe in his system.
The obvious advantage of the three-point-heavy approach is that the team can rack up points in no time. If the shots fall at a high percentage, we look at lopsided routes like Portland's easy victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
If they don't fall—like the very next day—we will see the Blazers struggling.
They kept shooting threes despite not being able to connect. They didn't change their approach. One was tempted to say they wouldn't learn from their mistakes.
However, Stotts had his reasons not to deviate from his plan.
Eventually, the shots started falling and the Blazers came storming back in the fourth quarter. Paired with a stellar defensive effort, they managed to come back from a 13-point deficit to force overtime and—eventually—win the game on a jump shot by Lillard.
He won the next game with a three-point shot.
Business as usual.
With head coach Stotts giving his players the green light to shoot the ball when open, the team likes to rain down threes on its opponents. It is a great feeling to know your coach trusts you, as long as you follow his plan.
With that individual sense of security comes a lot of confidence for each player.
And wins—especially close ones, where your tactics didn't seem to work in your favor early on—give the whole team confidence. Confidence can be the difference maker. Everything seems easier, there is less self-doubt, less fear of criticism by media and fans.
That is huge.
Just ask Carmelo Anthony.
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