Style of Play

With most of the season behind us and the iconic Phoenix Suns coming to town this seems a good time to address a general question that has gotten several mentions this year:  How do you feel about our current style of offensive play?

It's no secret that the Blazers have been at or near the bottom of the league in fast break points for the last couple of years and this year is no exception.  We just don't run it.

This has been a sore spot with many fans, but to counterbalance the frustration we do have a 35-32 record and are doing far better than most experts would have predicted at the beginning of the season.  Having seen the inconsistencies in the game of every player in our lineup not named Roy it's hard to imagine this being a 50-win team.  Playing .500 ball or a little above is likely maxing out our potential this year.  Whatever you want to say about the style of game, it has certainly produced wins.

When fast break discussions come up the finger usually points at one of two sources:  the coach and the point guards.  Let's look at those in turn.

Much has been made of Coach McMillan's philosophy not being compatible with the running game.  I wonder how much of this is true.  Is Nate truly running-averse or is Nate averse to running with this squad, knowing that our best opportunity to win consistently may lie with a more measured attack?  At the beginning of the year we adopted a faster tempo.  We tended to turn the ball over and we still only topped 100 three times in our first seventeen games.  After the pace slowed and our turnovers got under control our winning percentage went up.  It is possible we're not capable of running yet?  Are the defensive, rebounding, and court-savvy underpinnings just not present with this group?  And if so, is it correct for the coach to demand more of a control game or should he let the squad loose no matter what?  By what measure should the coach be judged most strongly, tempo or victories?

As for the point guards, I really don't think they're the problem.  One of the basic premises of the running game is it depends on numeric advantages.  The classic, high-percentage fast breaks are 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 with the third guy being a trailer.  If you don't have the numbers a breakout isn't all that much different than a normal drive (which, by the way, is something we're not great at either).  Just going from anecdotal observation, the vast majority of Portland "breaks" this year (as opposed to controlled possessions) have been 1-on-many or 2-on-2 with the third person down the court being an opponent.  And here's the rub:  the point guards are almost always the 1 or part of the 2.  They are getting down the court!  How many times have you seen Sergio as the first guy down the floor but nobody is with him except a couple of defenders?  How many times have you seen Jarrett have to make a pass on the run while covered to a guy who is also covered?  How many times have you seen that shot missed and wondered where the rest of our team was when the opponent scooped it up?  Yes, we've had some ugly 3-on-2 situations as well, but those have been rare compared to the above.

You may not need five guys to run in order to be a breaking team but you do need a team-wide commitment that people are going to put in the effort to get up and down the court, hustling both ways.  I have not seen that effort from the Blazers non-point guard players.  In its absence I'm not sure how much the point guards can really do.

I guess the question has three parts then:

  1.  Are you satisfied with how this season has gone offensively?  Do you think we could run more without sacrificing wins or do you think missing out on a couple wins would be worth it?
  2.  Do you think this year's team has the capability and commitment to run?
  3.  Do you see this changing in the near future?  Does it need to?  If it turns out to be better for the Oden-Roy-Aldridge trio to play a more controlled game are you willing to go with that?
--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)
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