Gametape Breakdown: Offensive Interplay Between Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge

Following the Blazers' big win over Toronto last night, Nate McMillan praised his team and noted...

We've adjusted some of our sets as far as where Brandon and LaMarcus and Miller are getting the ball. The continuity with these guys being together for the last few games, that's important.

Those adjustments and that continuity were especially evident in the first half, when the Blazers took advantage of some lackluster Toronto defense to the tune of 60 points before the break.

Let's explore McMillan's statement about adjusting the team's sets.  Reviewing the tape from last night showed that the adjustments were relatively subtle yet incredibly effective.  The biggest beneficiary, especially early, was LaMarcus Aldridge, who enjoyed a monster first quarter.  The biggest cause for his success, I would argue, was his developing chemistry with new Center Marcus Camby.  

Before we look at the tape, let's review the scouting report on Marcus Camby, offensive player.  His face up jumper isn't great and he shoots it awkwardly.  He doesn't have a true back-to-the-basket game so you're not going to dump it down to him and clear out.  He is coordinated and capable of putting the ball on the floor for a dribble or two.  He makes up for his slight frame with long arms and excellent activity, getting to more than his fair share of offensive rebounds and tipping out others in Rodman-esque fashion.  His hands are adequate and he can finish around the rim when open.  His understanding of floor spacing -- both when he has the ball and when he's off the ball on the weakside -- is very good. His passing touch, when he is focused, is better than any Blazers big man in recent memory.

Taking all of that together, Camby is capable of being a more potent offensive weapon than you might expect at first glance.  Maximizing his offensive effectiveness is completely a matter of implementation, picking and choosing spots and situations where he can be successful.   

Complicating this implementation process for Nate McMillan is the fact that Camby's game does not share many similarities with the games of either Greg Oden or Joel Przybilla, his two previous 5s. Camby is able to cover far more ground far more quickly than either Oden or Przybilla but he isn't the same low block behemoth.  Camby is more confident with the ball out on the perimeter and his range is much larger but he doesn't attract double teams like Oden and he doesn't set the same kind of rock hard picks that Przybilla does. Camby gives you extra possessions through hustle plays but he doesn't always get the cheap points on putbacks that Oden and Przybilla provide. They're just different types of 5s.  

The challenge for Nate McMillan over the past few weeks has been findings ways to employ Camby's greatest offensive strengths (versatility, vision, activity) while minimizing his weaknesses (lack of touch, lack of back-to-basket post moves).  It hasn't necessarily been an easy go: Camby has made an immediate impact on defense but has struggled with his outside shot, committed a ton of turnovers and has failed to score a single point in multiple games as a Blazer.

That changed last night, when Blazers fans were treated to a virtual clinic in implementing Camby effectively.  It paid off to the tune of 12 points for Camby himself but, more importantly, led to tons of easy looks for his teammates, especially Aldridge.  

Click through to continue reading as I break down tape from five first quarter plays that show Camby at his offensive best, making Aldridge's life easier.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

Play 1: Camby up top, Aldridge Re-Post

Right out of the gate the Blazers looked to establish Aldridge, as they often do. 

First, note how high Camby is above the three point line and how comfortable he is facing the basket with the ball in his hands.  Also note how far Chris Bosh follows him: well above the free throw line.  Camby feeds Brandon Roy as he comes off a pick and Roy looks to feed Aldridge in the post.  Andrea Bargnani, no post defense stalwart, denies the pass aggressively.  Roy catches Bosh cheating down into the paint so he swings it back to Camby.  

Aldridge smartly uses this time to quickly re-post on Bargnani, establishing much better position in the paint than he would have had if Roy had dumped the ball to him.  I recommend you run the tape back a few times to see how well Aldridge times his post-establishing cut.  Camby finds Aldridge and then intelligently pulls Bosh away to the weakside, Roy escapes to the corner dragging his man with him and Aldridge is able to go to work on Bargnani one-on-one from inside the paint.  Aldridge can freely turn over either shoulder and dribble move both left and right.  Bargnani finds himself in a rare position defensively -- on an island just 8 feet from the hoop -- and Aldridge beats him easily, although he misses the layup finish.   

Despite the miss, McMillan has to love everything about this possession.  The key protagonists (Roy, Camby and Aldridge) are working well together, spaced evenly and synched up perfectly.  It's the type of easy look that requires immediate defensive adjustments.

Play 2: Double Comes on Aldridge, Dish to Camby for a Dunk

If you had to guess how Toronto might adjust to the previous play, the most obvious choice would be to pay more attention to Aldridge in the paint so that he is forced to work harder for his points.  Less than a minute later that's exactly what happens.

The Blazers move the ball well from strongside to weakside thanks to a brisk perimeter pass from Andre Miller. As the ball swings, Bargnani again attempts to aggressively overplay the entry pass and gets caught on the high side. Nicolas Batum simply feeds Aldridge directly from the wing, allowing him to catch and turn unmolested. Chris Bosh, who had been pulled out of the paint and basket area again by Camby, rotates over late to prevent a dunk.  Aldridge makes the easy read, a short shovel pass to a backboard-crashing Camby, who has some trouble with the catch but is still able to finish point blank with ease.

Camby's influence on this play is less obvious but still important.  His court awareness first freed the paint for Aldridge and then his agility allowed him to crash to the hoop with his hands up ready to catch and finish.  This is the power of Camby's unique versatility and quickness on display.

Play 3: Camby Pick and Pops, Then Feeds the Post

Minutes later the Blazers push the ball a little bit and try to beat the Toronto defense down the court.  

Batum decides to hold it up and swings to Miller who in turn switches the ball to Roy, who is essentially isolated against rookie DeMar DeRozan alone on the weakside.  Because Roy is able to easily beat DeRozan baseline, Chris Bosh is forced to help on the play and Camby treats the situation like a de facto pick and pop.  He settles into a spot roughly 20 feet from the hoop and Roy finds him with a quick pass.  Bosh can't be in two places at once and he desperately attempts to close out and contest a potential jump shot by Camby.  

Camby has other ideas, though, and he spots Aldridge, who, just like on play 1 above, sets up in the middle of the lane at the same moment that the ball is passed from Roy to Camby.  Camby makes the smart read instantly, feeding Aldridge who has Bargnani helplessly on his back. Aldridge's in-rhythm, smooth catch-and-turn hook shot from 8 feet goes in easily, as Bosh is again pulled away from an interior position by Camby and unable to challenge the shot attempt.  Although Aldridge isn't known as a low-post threat, he is more than capable of making that shot on a regular basis, especially when there isn't a ton of traffic in the paint.

Play 4: Camby Attacks the Center of Toronto's D, Dishes to Aldridge for a Dunk

By now, Toronto Coach Jay Triano has reached the same conclusion that you have: Bargnani doesn't stand much chance one on one against Aldridge.  In comes the athletic Amir Johnson, who matches up with Marcus Camby, and Bosh slides over to check Aldridge.

On this play, the Blazers again attack DeRozan using a high pick and roll with Camby.  Johnson, surely wary of the pull-up shooting ability that netted Roy NBA Player of the Week honors, wildly challenges Roy's shot, leaving Camby wide open. Roy finds Camby standing roughly 20 feet from the hoop.

This is where Camby's unique skillset really shines.  Had Oden or Przybilla received this pass they would likely have nervously clasped the ball with two hands and looked to the weakside where Nicolas Batum was spotting up for an open jumper. Although that's a fine look, it's not nearly as good as the one Camby produced.  Without hesitation, Camby collected Roy's pass and put the ball on the deck with his left hand, slicing into the paint and collapsing Toronto's team defense entirely.  Bosh rotates over, late again because he had to respect Aldridge. Camby instinctively recognizes Bosh's rotation and dumps cleanly to Aldridge for a can't-miss dunk. From start to finish, that's a hell of a play by an NBA 5, substandard Toronto defense of not.

Play 5: Camby at High Post, Feeds Aldridge and Andre Miller Rubs

Liking what Camby has provided from the high post so far, McMillan and the Blazers go to it again.  

Here Roy works the ball on the dribble, attracting attention while Aldridge works hard on the weakside block.  Once again, Aldridge establishes his position firmly at the same moment Roy finds Camby up top.  Camby recognizes this fact again and feeds Aldridge in the post with a clean bounce pass.  Aldridge is once again set up no more than 8 feet from the hoop with a single defender on his back.   Jarrett Jack turns his head, as if to watch the inevitable Aldridge turnaround jump hook, and Miller catches him completely off guard by darting baseline. Aldridge completes a smooth handoff to Miller and rubs a recovering Jack out of the play. Miller finishes a pretty but mostly uncontested layup and you can really feel the frustration mounting for the Raptors.

Summary

In these five plays, all from the first quarter, Blazers fans are witness to the best interplay between Camby, Aldridge and Roy this season, not to mention a nice pass from Batum and a heady veteran cut from Miller.  Except for a few early-season dominating stretches from Oden, last night's win was probably the most effective production the Blazers have received from the 5 spot all season.  

Of course, Toronto's lack of defense played a huge part in this success.  It will likely not be this easy again at any point down the stretch.  But there are plenty of positive takeaways.  

First, the developing timing between the perimeter passes and Aldridge's post position establishment.  Second, the developing high-low feel between Camby and Aldridge.  Third, Roy's willingness to trust Camby on the perimeter and actively find him on the pick and pops.  Fourth, the match-up problems that the combination of Aldridge and Camby present and the Blazers' developing ability to exploit those match-up problems.

Like I noted at the beginning, this was a clinic. One that only gets more entertaining every time you play it back.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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