If Nate McMillan's message Tuesday night was his team's lack of effort, his message Thursday was something like: we're going to practice and run until you're doubled-over with exhaustion.
By the time the media was let in -- more than two hours after practice began -- the guys were still lined up shooting free throws and running sprints. Almost the entire team was doubled over, hands on knees, sucking wind. More than one Blazer yelled out an audible profanity after missing a free throw during the session, as that meant more running.
Gone were the laughs, giggles and most of the smiles that we saw through much of training camp; both players and coaching staff were quite serious and straightforward during their interactions with the media.
I'm not sure the feeling in the gym was a sense of urgency and it definitely didn't feel like panic. But it did feel like hatches had been buttoned down. One characteristic that I've long admired about this group is their disdain for losing. Nate McMillan obviously hates to lose, Roy takes losses to heart and most everyone falls in line behind that. Good to see that hasn't changed this season.
We saw a few interesting post-practice drills that I can't remember seeing so far this year.
First, we saw Roy, Miller and Blake working on lob passes to both Aldridge and Oden under McMillan's personal instruction. The big men were being fronted and were instructed to spin and seal their defender away from the basket. The pass was then thrown right next to the rim, designed to be caught for an alley oop or quick catch and power-up move. I can't say these passes found their mark with much regularity. But at least the focus is on developing that wing/post relationship and it was good to see Roy included in this group.
Who wasn't included in the group? Jerryd Bayless. Rex was getting a ton of shots up with assistant coach Caleb Canales, working on pull up jumpers from various spots and also his catch-and-shoot jumpers. Bayless was in full scowl mode. His five straight DNP-CDs have certainly not affected his work ethic, which remains exceptional.
The Blazers wings -- Webster, Outlaw and Fernandez -- worked on rotating the ball around the perimeter and sticking their shots off the swing pass. All three shot the ball quite well and Fernandez drew particular praise from assistant coach Monty Williams for his quick, accurate passing. At one point, Outlaw attempted to swing the ball with left-handed bounce passes which drew raised eyebrows and a "what was that?" look from Martell Webster, the pass's recipient. The ball was travelling at roughly 1/3 the speed it would need to travel during a game and Williams stepped in to ask Outlaw to throw a simple chest pass.
The wings also worked on receiving kick-out passes from the post with Williams' emphasis being on sliding into space to get the best shot possible. For instance, if Greg Oden was on the left block and double-teamed and Outlaw was on the top of the key, Williams instructed the wings to take full advantage of the space around the top of the key rather than setting up outside the three point line. In practice, this involved Outlaw shuffling towards the ball side for a few steps, receiving the kick-out pass on the move towards the hoop rather than with his feet still. The end result: a 17-18 foot rhythm jumper with some momentum (or, alternatively, the potential to put the ball on the deck and go to the rim if the defense was slow to rotate) rather than a stand still 3 pointer. Loved watching the potential for this to play out with all three wings. Both Webster and Fernandez especially need to add that attacking, aggressive element to their game.
Roy's Thoughts on 4th Quarter Execution
A quick follow-up on some recent discussion. As I wrote Tuesday, Brandon Roy was a little bit confused down the stretch about why he struggled offensively during the fourth quarter. As I charted yesterday, it was clear that Roy definitely had the ball in his hands and that Atlanta did a good job of playing team defense. The Hawks didn't foul him yet still managed to prevent him from scoring in close to the basket.
On Tuesday, Roy had promised to look at the tape to see what happened and we talked today about what he saw on tape.
Blazersedge: What did you see on the tape and what adjustments do you think are needed?
The biggest thing is I just gotta be more of a playmaker down the stretch of games.
Me and Coach talked about maybe to look to get guys to knock down shots and that will open up the floor for me. Don't feel the pressure that you have to try to take every shot. You've got to get back to getting my teammates involved. I thought that was right.
My biggest thing is to continue to make plays, get that floor spread out, so that way I'm able to make some shots and get some easier baskets.
Blazersedge: It seems like you were able to get by Joe Johnson without too much trouble but the rest of the Atlanta defense was helping and paying you a lot of attention.
Yeah, I feel like I've matured enough to where I can get around that first guy. Now the biggest thing is making good reads when I get to the paint. I made some but there were others that maybe I forced it.
The biggest thing is to take the play they give you every time.
Blazersedge: When you made passes in the paint, were guys ready for those passes?
Um... a couple of them I think there were some loose balls. That's going to happen. If I keep passing, they'll be ready.
Roy's line that McMillan instructed him not to force shots or feel the pressure is interesting given that Roy attempted only 3 field goals in nearly 11 minutes of fourth quarter action. Despite the lack of shots, Roy was definitely pressing and turnovers/wasted possessions (blocked shots, carrying, some deflected passes) were the result.
A fundamental question that arises: are the high screens helping Roy or complicating things for him? Given how often the Blazers go to those high screen and rolls, and Roy's tendency to eschew the picks or not pass to the player that's rolling, are they accomplishing what they are supposed to? Do you lose anything if you turn some of those possessions into isolations for Aldridge or simply allow Roy to work his man one-on-one with no screen?
Or, perhaps, do you find ways to increase Miller's involvement in the late-game offense, turning over more of the ball-handling to him and perhaps running Roy off more screens off the ball to get him looks that way?
Living and dying by Roy's reads, in the end, isn't a bad strategy at all. He has delivered consistently enough in the past -- and he is adept at drawing enough contact and getting calls -- that it is a great default strategy, especially if things are bogging down. But that doesn't mean slightly more variety is a bad thing. More Aldridge, More Miller, More Oden when he's comfortable, would all accomplish what Brandon identified as the problem -- getting the floor spread out.
-- Ben Golliver | (firstname.lastname@example.org) | Twitter