Grading Terry Stotts' Season for the Portland Trail Blazers so Far
Heading into this season, literally nobody saw this coming.
A team that was bringing back basically the entire same starting lineup and ended last season losing their final 13 games would suddenly find themselves as a sure bet to make the playoffs a year later.
Sure, they upgraded their bench and obviously Robin Lopez has been a revelation as their new starting center, but the real focus of why this team has been so successful this year has to be coach Terry Stotts.
Obviously the players are the ones putting in the work, but it is important to explore just what role Stotts has played in this Rose City revival.
Grades obviously are subjective and should welcome discussion.
Here is my take on Terry Stotts' season so far.
Game Management: B+
Stotts struggled mightily with this last season. He really didn't have a good feel for what his players could do.
But heading into this season, Stotts seemed committed to doing a better job in this area. He said all the right things to the media about accountability and a new dedication to defense.
The defense has been slow to come around but the accountability is there.
Where you really can see this is in this team has been in the fourth quarter. The Blazers have figured out how to slow the game down when they need to, feeding the post and getting high percentage shots.
The first three quarters seem to be much more dedicated to letting the horses loose, so to speak, and building up a lead. But once the fourth quarter rolls around they fall into place. This needs to be explored further in order for this team to be successful in the playoffs.
However, Stotts has struggled mightily in figuring out exactly when to make switches defensively and when to alternate looks. Sometimes a player just has another player's number. In those instances, Stotts needs to make defensive switches. If Damian Lillard is getting torched by an opposing point guard, Stotts must find ways to shield his young point guard.
He tends to take too long recognizing mismatches, although he is nowhere near as bad as former coach Nate McMillan.
Overall, he is doing a good job of managing the game.
Player Development: C
Okay, so this is where some folks might disagree with me. On Stotts' watch, LaMarcus Aldridge is turning in an otherworldly season and Damian Lillard is developing into a stud.
But especially in the case of Aldridge, that seems to be more of a mark of his determination rather than coaching.
Sure, Aldridge is being put in a position to succeed, but aside from benching him could any coach really get in the way of his development?
Wesley Matthews and Lopez are also both putting up amazing numbers but those seem to follow more with the trajectories of their respective careers.
The real beef that I have with Stotts in player development is his lack of trust in his bench. He is riding his starters like Seabiscuit and they are starting to show signs of wear and tear. Aldridge has certainly seen his numbers come back down to Earth over the past month.
What has been most alarming has been the fact that he has essentially given up on Meyers Leonard. A lottery pick two years ago, Leonard has become the human victory cigar, ala Darko Milicic in 2004.
C.J. McCollum is another player that has struggled to get consistent minutes and with a scorer like that, he needs to find his rhythm.
But what has been really difficult to watch has been Stotts' refusal to give consistent minutes to Thomas Robinson.
Obviously the last few games he has been absent because of an injury, but before that he really had to beg his way onto the court.
When Aldridge was hurt, Robinson stepped up, even recording a 14 point, 18 rebound performance in one game.
Yet even with a few games of additional minutes, he is still only averaging 11 minutes per game on the season.
For a player with Robinson's potential, the Blazers need to find additional minutes. An added benefit will be to cut down on the minutes of the other big men, in particular Aldridge who is top 10 in the league in minutes per game with 36.6.
For this team to continue to be successful, Stotts has got to find a way to get more out of his young guys.
Now this slide goes hand in hand with the last two.
It's hard to fault a coach whose team is so successful this year, but he doesn't seem to want to utilize a more regular rotation that goes deeper into his bench.
Dorell Wright was a big pickup this offseason but he's been placed in some odd groupings. Stotts has been trotting him out as a stretch four even though he lacks to strength to matchup on defense against typical power forwards.
Wright seems to be the classic small forward, kind of a Dennis Scott type that likes to park outside and launch triples. But he also has great length that makes him a good defensive player against the three position.
He also is only averaging just over 13 minutes per game despite having the ability to play effectively at both the small forward and shooting guard spots.
Obviously, Robinson has been under utilized. It strikes me as odd that Stotts refuses to give him meaningful minutes next to Aldridge when the Blazers are up against teams with small, athletic centers.
And then there is McCollum. Just what exactly does Stotts envision McCollum as? He seems to have the ability to play both guard spots, yet he rarely sees time with the ball in his hands. Obviously Mo Williams has been more consistent this year, but Williams isn't important to the future of this team while McCollum is.
It would be interesting to see McCollum not only play alongside Lillard but also alongside Matthews.
Overall, Stotts has been somewhat tone deaf in his rotations.
The one thing you truly can say about Stotts this season is that his players play hard for him.
They came into camp committed to play tougher defense and while the numbers don't really show it, the effort is there.
This just so happens to be a team comprised of offensive-minded players, with the exception of Lopez. But the effort has been there.
This team also doesn't typically play down to their opponents' level. They give the same amount of effort regardless of who they play and their record shows that.
But they also aren't quite ready for the next step as currently comprised. So what you have is your classic overachieving group of players that will likely hit a roadblock in the playoffs when everybody else tries just as hard. You can't fake talent and this team just doesn't have the talent defensively to keep up with the powerhouses out West.
But Stotts is not to blame in that. Sure, he needs to develop his young guys and take some pressure off his starters, but he is getting every ounce of their best effort and that is evident in the fact that all of his starters are having career seasons.
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