*** Stats taken from realgm.com and hoopdata.com ***
A few short years ago our squad was extremely close to becoming one of the top teams in the NBA. Obviously, injuries played a huge role in our undoing but what's done is done. Now we need a plan for getting back on track.
Rather than going around and around about specific players we should draft or sign and getting no where, I wanna focus on undeniable areas that the PTB need to improve if they wish to get back in the hunt. If you, as the reader, wanna throw in some names of coaches, or players that you think may help improve the team in some of these areas then feel free.
The first area is rebounding. It's kind of a no brainer to anybody who watched the team play this past year. The PTB were one of the worst in the league. According to hoopdata.com we ranked 22nd in the league for Total Rebound Rate. It's a huge area of concern. I'm pretty sure the majority of the readers understand the importance of rebounding but just in case there are doubters try this on: 9 of the top 10 rebounding teams are in the playoffs. The Chicago Bulls led the league in rebounding rate and they also tied the Spurs for the best record in the league and they did it without their star player for a large part of the year. That's how important rebounding can be.
In the 2008-2009 season, with 54 wins, the PTB posted the best record of Nate's tenure here. During that season we led the league in rebounding.(pace adjusted) There's no doubt in my mind that if the Blazers wish to return to the league's elite then this is the most important area they will have to address.
What led to the decline is obvious. The injury(ies) to Oden, the trading of Camby and GW etc. What I'm interested in is how to get back the level of success we once had. Do we need a traditional big man? A high motor guy? How about a PG that contributes on the glass. Maybe we already have the pieces to be a good rebounding team and just need the right coaching. What are your thoughts
The 2nd area of needed improvement would have to be free throws. As a team we shot free throws extremely well but we didn't do a good enough job getting to line. I was never a huge McMillan fan but I think he was right in preaching rebounds, free throws, and turnovers as mini battles within the game that we need to win in order to be successful. I would also throw field goal percentage in there as well. As far as free throw rate goes we ranked 19th in league in terms of getting to the line. 8 of the top 10 teams in free throw rates are in the playoffs. OKC, who has a real shot at winning the west this year, is first in the league. Miami, the eastern conference is favorite is 5th.
In the 08-09 season the PTB weren't much better at getting to the line then we are now. We only ranked 15th, However, the following year after B. Roy had emerged as a legit star and household name the Blazers shot up to 10th in the league at FTR. Even though we had four less wins then the season before I thought the victories were more solid start to finish and we still won down the stretch with Roy sitting out.
It's worth noting that a high free throw rate isn't an absolute necessity if a team wants to be successful the way rebounding is. The Spurs, Celtics, and Mavs all finished behind the PTB in free throw rate. The difference is those teams all have good offensive systems with guys who can knock down shots. They aren't as reliant on free throws the way the Blazers are to win games. If we are gonna keep this team in tact for the most part and live with the streaky shooting then we are gonna have to get to the free throw line at a higher rate otherwise we can forget about making the post season.
So, how do we get back to the free throw line? Obvious answer would be to draft/sign a superstar. If a superstar isn't available then the only other way is to get more aggressive offensively. Attack the rim and don't settle for jumpers. J.J. Hickson would be one example. Another option would be to bring in a coach who wouldn't allow his team to be so passive.
Any other thoughts on how we can improve our free throw rate?
Lastly, no surprise here, the next area of improvement is defense. The defense here has been absolutely atrocious over the past several seasons. I've seen many comments on BE that go something like "I'd rather have Player X over Player Y because Player X is a better defender". Well, I don't see one on one defense as the problem. LaMarcus is pretty good man to man. Same can be said for Nic and even Wes when he wants to be. IMO, the team is seriously lacking team defensive intelligence and communication. For years we tried to make up for substance with energy and effort. I think a good coach could turn the personnel on this team into a defensive power house and we can put this problem to rest. Thoughts?
On a side note: One last thing. Before the wheels fell off this team had a pretty strong front office with Pritchard, Penn, Miller Buchanon, etc. They didn't always make the right decisions, but right or wrong they always had a plan and a direction that they were trying to take the team. Regardless of who we draft, sign as a free agent, or hire as a coach this team will never get back to an elite level as long as the front office is in disarray.