Dane Carbaugh, who edits the Blazers blog AYoungSabonis.com, will be providing the occasional column for Blazersedge this season. Carbaugh will put together playbook-style video breakdowns to accompany his written observations. Please welcome him. -- Ben
Portland, once again, is a top-ten three point shooting team and they're wreaking havoc on opposing defenses. Whether it's running on the break, the pick-and-roll, or offensive rebounds, the Blazers are getting open looks and teams aren't quite sure how to stop them.
One of the keys for Portland is the threat of penetration. Adding Mo Williams this summer allowed Portland to keep a significant dribbling threat on the floor at the point position while Lillard is either on the bench or off-ball. In fact, every player in the backcourt rotation for Portland can drive enough to draw defenders to them. On drives to the hoop, help defenders are forced to rotate on picks, and this is leaving off-guards open at the arc.
Because of their ability to penetrate, Portland is shooting 41.8% on spot up three point attempts. Defenses are having to choose between help defense on the drive, and staying close enough to Portland's shooters to close out.
This threat of penetration has led to both Damian Lillard and Nic Batum being in the top 20 players for points created by assists per 48 minutes according to SportVU. Lillard in particular is such a dangerous threat off the dribble, and Portland puts him in so many pick-and-roll situations, that 35% of his assists are resulting in three pointers for teammates.
Because Portland is passing so well, many of their shots on their favorite play types are open or lightly-contested. Wes Matthews in particular has been a benefactor, sliding to the wing on penetration to the lane or running to the corner on baseline drives. Matthews has been a knock-down shooter this year, and he's ninth in the league in catch-and-shoot 3P% at 56.5% (1.5+ 3PA/G).
What might be surprising to Blazers fans is that the fast break is where Portland is attempting almost 20% of their three pointers.
On the break, most defending guards are riding opposing post players through the lane until help arrives. Defenders pack the paint and focus on the ball-handler in order to stop easy layups. This means that even if Blazers opponents are getting back to defend the break, they're usually out of position until the switches can be made. This is leaving open Portland shooters, who are spaced nicely around the arc instead of trying to jam the lane.
Unlike many other teams, Portland's strategy is to take quick, open threes on the break if they present themselves. They've shot 49% of their FGAs from three while on the break this year, the highest amount in the league and more than even sharp-shooting Golden State. It's resulted in the Blazers shooting a sky-high 46.4% from three in transition. For the time being, the strategy is working and it almost makes you wonder if Portland shouldn't try to get out on the break more often since it causes so many issues for opposing defenses.
This quick-trigger response is also paying benefits on the offensive glass. Portland wings appear to have the green light from Terry Stotts this year if a shot is open. Blazer bigs -- Joel Freeland in particular -- are doing a great job of kicking back out on offensive rebounds. Where most teams would set up the offense, Portland is simply taking their open shots and they're knocking them down. This makes for a difficult decision for opposing coaches; do they have their guards commit to defensive rebounding, or do they have them stick to their man as shots go up and hope their post player can wrestle boards away from Lopez, Freeland, and Aldridge?
The three-point shooting of Portland is an offensive weapon that alters the decision-making for many other aspects of the game. At this juncture, opposing teams are having to pick their poison when defending the pick-and-roll, fast break, and handoff plays that net the Blazers so many three point opportunities.
Video via MySynergySports.com