Opinions on this draft vary widely, as would be expected. Regardless of the outcome, however, we now have a few new toys for a future coach to play with. I, for one, am excited about the possibilities they provide.
With Nate gone, I'm assuming the slow and plodding offense is going with him. If the Suns taught the NBA one thing it's that if you play up-tempo and win home games you'll pack the house. Portland may not be winning a lot over the next couple years, but they have a chance to remake their image into one more appealing to the local fans and basketball fans around the world.
First, establish a system that accentuates the strengths and covers/limits the weaknesses in the players. With an assumed line-up of Leonard, LMA, Batum, Matthews, and Lillard the pieces are in place to be more open offensively in transition and the in the half-court. Taking advantage of the length and speed of these players on the defensive end would also be beneficial. Clearly defining roles for the coming season should allow the players to develop at a faster rate. Until another Autobot rises from our ranks to light our darkest hour, LMA is THE MAN. Get behind it and push. I, personally have high hopes for Lillard taking the reigns in the future with LMA becoming a great lieutenant. Until that day, these are the roles:
Leonard: Rebound, Rebound, Rebound, Set picks, Set picks, Set picks. You'll get a few pick and roll plays to keep the defense honest, but you must convert them in order to get anything more. Defense will need to be your primary focus. Garbage man points will need to carry your ego until that part of your game is firmly established. Remember, DEFENSE. You are #16 in the offense.
LMA: Focal point for the offense. Demand a double team or make them pay. If they double, find the open man. A more determined effort to get to the rim rather than settling for the jump shot would make you a more efficient player. Simply make your offensive move BEFORE the double can come and you'll be fouled more often. Drawing fouls should be the main area of development. Your ability to dominate will make things easier on everyone. You are #1 in the offense.
Batum: You'll be expected to do more offensively this season and be consistent doing it. Three point shooting, mid-range, and slashing drives. You need to have a handle that will let you take more than two dribbles before going airborne. If your man is playing off, hit the 3pt shot. If he's on you, drive by him. If you need a screen to get free, CALL FOR IT! Leonard needs the practice. This is your time to shine as a #2 option, don't let us down.
Matthews: Spot-up shooting and defense. You are now the corner pocket man. Any dribble drive without prior written authorization will result in your immediate benching. We have other players to do that. You are the emergency outlet pass. Learn to love the 3 ball. Embrace the hot potato and hit the dagger shot. Develop a handle during practice and maybe you'll get limited clearance to experiment later. Be a willing screen setter for the others. Focus on defense, you'll be needed there. You are #4 in the offense.
Lillard: Triple-threat. Pick and Roll with LMA and Leonard. The offense should be basic, but that doesn't mean easy. Feed LMA in the post. If he's doubled, be ready to make them pay. If he's not doubled, he'll take care of it. Sprinkle in a few PnR plays and some drives of your own to collapse the defense and kick out to Matthews. A few jab steps to draw the defenses' attention so Batum can sneak backdoor for a lob pass. You're playing with capable offensive players that only need a little help to be really effective. Run the offense. Practice DEFENSE. You are #3 in the offense.
That's the basic gist of the half-court offense. Nothing ground breaking. It's basic team offense where players are using the strengths of their teammates to make themselves better. All it takes to succeed is one player that requires a double-team to create a crack in the defense, and four players smart enough to take advantage of it. It revolves around quick passing and quick strikes with at least one emergency outlet. The goal is to get the defense to move and commit to an action and then go where they're not, forcing them to conform to your movements. AKA dictate the tempo.
Defensive styles vary, but I'm a believer in the man-to-man w/hedging as a base defense. This style allows for players to stay between their player and the basket, but allows the on-ball defender to hedge their player by overplaying to one side or the other.
For example, if a PG is known to favor shots going to the right, hedge to the right taking away their strength. If they go left, they'll be met by a help defender and be forced to decide on shooting or passing. If it's a shot, their chance of success was already reduced by going left, and now they're being closed out by a taller opponent which reduces the chance of success even further. If they try to pass, the chance of the ball getting intercepted increases due to the already rotating defense disrupting passing lanes. It's not exactly smothering defense, but it makes an opponent take a lower percentage shot and also allows for more steals and easy transition points. The downside is that if the pass gets through, it's typically for a high percentage shot unless the defense shifted quickly to deny the layup/dunk.
You always hear the line, "I just took what the defense offered." This philosophy plays on that by giving the offensive player the worst statistical chance of success. If they're statistically bad as a 3point shooter, that's what you give them. If they can't hit a mid-range jumper with a hand in their face, that's what you give them. When used effectively, hedging can actually dictate to another team's offense, allowing you to know what's coming before they do. Thinking 3-5 steps ahead is the difference between mediocre and elite.
Like the offense, the defense requires a team effort from smart players to see what is happening and react accordingly. It forces the opponent to play team basketball under duress by taking away the ISO plays and forcing contested shots or risky passes. Many teams are not comfortable enough with that style to succeed.
This is a team undergoing construction. The starters that I mentioned may not be around to see the completion, let alone the bench players. The overall goal for the coming season should be to reinvent themselves with a new (or existing) head coach, develop as players and as a unit within the new system, compete hard in practice and in games, and become students of the game. If the dust settles and we find ourselves once again in the lottery, hopefully we'll have a chance to build on a team that has already developed a strong foundation with high expectations of future success.