Coach McMillan has done a good job getting this team to where they are, but can he take us to the next level? This is a familiar refrain, but I continue to note some specific deficiencies in the way the Blazers play.
The biggest problem: the offense. The Blazers spend most of their offense possessions standing and watching a high screen and roll, with occasional back cuts and screens. Sometimes we feed the post, but that is a completely stagnant set. The ball stays still, the players run around and eventually they look to get the ball to Aldridge down low. Mostly I see a lot of the ball staying in one plays, players running around, then everybody stops and the ball gets passed for a one on one move. After everybody stops moving they move the ball and try to catch the defense rotating out of a double team. Usually the ball is not fast enough to catch the defense out of position, or if not we get an open jump shot that either goes in or doesn't. When it goes in that's great but as we all know the Blazers don't shoot a great percentage from outside so we don't win games that way. My opinion is that the offensive sets the Blazers run simply aren't very good. Most of the good shots we get on cuts and dishes around the basket come from creative individual plays where players are riffing and improvising out of broken sets. And we have good smart basketball players to do that kind of thing, but that does not make it "good offense." Good offense is execution of sets with a purpose and getting shots that are reproducible, high percentage. The Blazers don't execute on offense with a purpose because 90% of the time they don't really know where their next basket is coming from. To me, that is 100% on the coach not having a well developed strategy for how we are supposed to score. Coach McMillan thinks it should just happen naturally, but other teams like the Spurs and Lakers have a system on offense. The Blazers don't. That is the biggest problem with this team right now and it is 100% on the coach.
The defensive problem: Largely Portland is a good defensive team. But there is one thing they always do, that they have been doing for years, that is wrong and continues to not get fixed under Nate McMillan. Can anybody guess what this is? I'll bet 70% of you know exactly what I'm talking about before I say it. Other teams target this bad defensive practice and exploit it at end of game situations mercilessly. I don't even have to say it because you already know. It's Chris Paul, Manu Gionobli, whoever the other teams best one on one clutch scorer at the end of the game isolated one on one against LaMarcus Aldridge. He always switches on the high screens. Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb. Now, I believe Aldridge is a pretty good one on one defensive player. He can move his feet very well laterally for a man his size. But he should not be switching out onto the Gionoblis of the league all the time. There is a proper way to guard the pick and roll. The big man hedges out onto the ballhandler for an instance, pushes them away from the basket to give the other defender time to recover, then the smaller defender SWITCHES BACK and the big man goes back to his man. Often a third defense helps briefly to cover the back man to make sure he can't roll to the basket for an easy 2. This is a skill that you develop, practice and learn. It is the right way to guard the pick and roll. Nate McMillan tells reporters all the time the team has a policy of not switiching on these. And yet, ALDRIDGE DOES IT EVERY SINGLE TIME. One thing I noticed, Gerald Wallace does it right. When it's his man who is going over the screen he switches back. Aldridge stands there doing his usual "naw man I got this," but Wallace switches back. At first, Aldridge looks around like "hey why are we both guarding the same guy?" Then he gets the hint and recovers to his own man. Gerald Wallace knows how to do it right. And the thing is, switching is a lazy practice. It's easier to switch it and not switch back. But Coach McMillan hasn't coached these guys to do it right.
These are my two indictments of Coach McMillan. The biggest thing is the offense. Also how can allow your team to make the same mistake on defense for years, literally years, and not correct it? That indicates a problem to me. But he's still better than most coaches I think and he's done a good job, but I worry about the future. They need to get an offensive guru in there or something. Hopefully they will start playing better before the playoffs. Gosh I hope they advance this year.