Portland Trail Blazers Offense: Better or Worse?

This isn't a full mailbag but I wanted to address separately a question that's come up a few times:

Portland's offense seems better this year, particularly without Brandon Roy involved.  There's more ball movement, more people getting shots, and a faster pace.  What's not to like?  Would you agree that a Roy-less offense works better?

The assertion of a "better" offense depends on definition.  I'd agree that the eye test could support your assertion, if not exactly your Roy conclusion.  I actually remember plenty of beautiful offensive games with Roy involved before his knees went bad.  But we see more alley-oops than ever before, a quicker tempo, and more guys touching the ball.  The stats bear this out too.

  • Portland's 2010-11 Pace is 91.4, up from 90,2 a year ago.
  • Portland scores 10.7 fast break points per game compared to 9.5 in 2009-10.
  • Portland scores a very nice 41.1 points in the paint per game when compared to last year's 36.2
  • The Blazers' assists are also up to 21.1 from 20.4 a year ago.

Faster play, more score-creating passes, more easy-type shots...as you say, "What's not to like?"

Better rein in the horse a little, Kemosabe.  As it turns out, more than meets the eye.  Check out the stats that don't go in Portland's favor:

  • Points per Game down to 95.4 from 97.8
  • Field Goal Percentage down to 43.8% from 45.9%
  • Three-Point Percentage down to 33.4% from 35.6%
  • Free Throw Rate down to 20.9 from 24.5
  • Effective Field Goal Percentage down to 47.4% from 49.7%
  • Turnovers per Game up to 13.1 from 11.5
  • Offensive Efficiency down to 103.3 from 107.4

The ball may be moving more, faster, and to more people but it's not going through the hoop more often.  The Blazers get nice looks sporadically but on average, they're worse off this year than they were last.  They're not making jumpers.  They're not drawing fouls.  They're not producing points in bulk.  It's hard to gauge exactly with the personnel turnovers due to trades and injuries, but least some of this is attributable to the absence of Brandon Roy.  He draws both fouls and attention, making life easier on everyone around him.  He may not create as many alley-oop opportunities but he does allow teammates more open three-pointers and he does pour in 20+ points night in and night out.  

The distance shooting thing is huge, I believe.  Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Rudy Fernandez should form among the best three-point brigades in the league...more so since Portland's points in the paint have risen.  In theory that inside pressure should be freeing easy triples.  Instead teams are free to double-team LaMarcus Aldridge--the Blazers' only dominant solo threat--sporadically and keep their men home on most possessions.  Of Portland's Big Three shooters, only Matthews has maintained a consistent percentage from the arc (.382 last year, .381 this).  Fernandez has gone from a mostly-passable .368 to a terrible (for him) .333.  Batum has fallen off of a cliff, dropping from .409 to .330.

The lack of threes and free throws more than compensates for the extra points scored in the paint and on the break.  The Blazers sorely need another self-made point-producer to pressure the opponent and no amount of alley-oop highlights can camouflage that.  I'd actually settle for fewer people touching the ball if it meant each player got it in situations targeted to his strengths.  Right now that's not happening and the Blazers are suffering for it.  In most ways Portland's defense is better this season than it was last but the Blazers are losing games because they can't score the ball.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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