Blazers at the Turn, Via Hollinger

I did a little stats work over the weekend, using Hollinger's ratings. Some interesting comparisons, how the Blazers do vs the best and worst in the major categories...

I started looking at the Hollinger stats before the Golden State game, because I thought it was a curiosity to see the fastest-paced team take on the slowest-paced one. As you can see, the range of possessions per game (what pace is) is only 11 from top to bottom. But there's still a noticeable relative difference between fastest and slowest, and those kinds of matchups are always interesting--run n shoot vs the 4-6, Earl Weaver's three-bloops-and-a-blast vs the immortal speed and D of the Big Red Machine, the fiery Connors vs the implacable Borg.

Well, we all know who won the actual matchup; Portland let GSW play at their pace and couldn't make up a game-long deficit fast or completely enough to win in Oakland (again). But is that the problem? Can Portland just not contain the Warriors fast pace, or is that just a two-game example of an otherwise unrelated problem?

What I did was to count the pace score for each team Portland has played, as either "winning pace" or "losing pace." For GSW, for instance, I put 100.3 (their pace rating) into the Wins column, and 200.6 into the Loss column (since Portland has lost to them twice now). Repeating that all the way down the list until there are 32 win scores and 20 loss scores, you then get a total pace score for each that you simply average based on wins and losses. If you want to follow along, here is the spreadsheet (MS Excel). Start with "pace."

In games the Blazers won, the other team averages a 94.1 pace. (Note this does NOT directly mean that the Blazers won by playing games at that pace; it means the teams they have beaten generally run their teams at that pace).

In games they lost, the team averaged a 94. 8 pace. Out of a range of 11, seven-tenths is a 6% difference. So you can suggest that the teams Portland loses to, indeed play a slightly more uptempo game. (Using medians rather than means, the difference is a smaller .35, both medians in the 96-possession range). But you can also say the difference is minimal, and roughly speaking the Blazers can play either style with equal aplomb.

One other way to look at it before we move on, is to simply compare wins and losses against the league, tiered by pace. Against the nine slowest-paced teams, Portland is 9-4 (.692). Against the middle 10, they are 11-7 (.611), and against the 10 fastest teams by possession? Just 12-9, or .571. Also note that they've played the most games against that group. I think the deeper analysis on pace shows the variation is minimal, but anecdotally speaking you'd have to say they do better when the pace is slower, the slower the better.

That led me to play around with their performance using some of Hollinger's other stats, but first I have to tell you: have you looked at how Portland ranks in the league on these metrics? It may shock you:

•  Offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 poss): 2nd
•  Turnover percentage: 9th
•  ORR (Offensive reeb %) 1st, by a mile
•  DRR (same, D-reebs) 8th
•  RR (overall reeb efficiency) 2nd, .2 behind Boston
•  EffFG% 8th
•  TS% (factors in 3pters and FT): 8th

They're 15th in assist ratio and 18th in defensive efficiency, and that tells you a lot about the team--individually-based offense, porous D. But even those are just low-middle ratings. It tells you the Blazers are totally legit. They are essentially tied for the best rebounding team in the NBA, are roughly speaking the 2nd best offense, and protect the ball and shoot well. If you're talking about the elite third of the Association this year, over the first 50 games the Blazers belong in that discussion.

So, a quick look at some other stats; they're pretty much what you'd expect:

•  True shooting pct of opp: 54% in wins, 55.1% in losses
•  Off efficiency of opp: 104.1 in wins, 106.3 in losses
•  Deff efficiency of opp: 105.9 in wins, 103.9 in losses

But again, viewed in the context of wins and losses by tier, you notice a pattern. One really sticks out: offensive efficiency. Against the 10 least efficient offenses in the league, the Blazers are a mighty 13-4. Against the middle 10, they are also 13-4...which means they must be shaky against the top 9 (Blazers are #2, remember), and they are: just 6-12 vs the usual suspects plus teams like Phoenix, Utah and Atlanta. The difference? All but Phoenix have a better defensive efficiency, most a LOT better.

Comparing defensive efficiency, the Blazers are 7-8 against the top 10, 10-8 against the middle (where Portland is) and 15-4 against the bottom. Interesting that with three fewer games against "the best" on defense, the Blazers have one more win than they do against the better offenses. I guess when they get outgunned, Portland's lesser defense can't save them--but they can outgun other teams despite good defense. Lesson: ATTACK!

And looking over their performance based on opponent's TS%, we see equal dominance over the bottom 20 of the NBA; 12-4 against each tier for a total of 24-8. If you can't shoot, you're not likely to beat Portland, apparently. Against the sharpshooting best 9 (Portland being among the top 10, as we said), however, the team is 8-12. Phoenix is the #1 deadeye shooting team currently; you see where that's gotten them I guess.

Which is a good way to close, with a disclaimer: none of these individual comparisons means anything in a vacuum. You can't necessarily say "Ah, Memphis is a terrible offensive efficiency team; we'll kill 'em!"...but toss in their middling defEff and poor TS%, and then maybe you've got a stronger case to make, beyond just wins and losses. It can perhaps explain why Phoenix and Golden State give the Blazers so much trouble, but why Boston, Orlando and San Antonio were beatable. And I'll close the closure by pointing you back at those rankings: Blazers are legit, baby!

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