After seven games in the 2013-2014 season, the Blazers are surprisingly 5-2. Only one team in the East – undefeated Indiana – and two teams in the West – San Antonio and Oklahoma City – have better records. How have they accomplished this? What are they really good at? What are they really bad at?
Let’s give grades for where they stand among the 30 NBA teams. Each grade represents 20% of the teams in the league. For example, if the Blazers rank 15th in the league, they receive a C grade. An A+ shows the top 10% of the league, and an F- shows the bottom 10% of the league. These are areas where the Blazers stand out the most, either great or terrible. The grading scale is as follows:
A+ Top 3
F- Bottom 3
On this grading scale, the Blazers win-loss record, 4th in the league, earns them an A.
On offense, we are high scoring (B), but even more efficient (points per possession, A+). We shoot well, especially from deep (2P% = C, 3P% = A, EFG% = A, TS% = A). Our scoring is focused on the 3-pointer (% of point from 3P = A, % of points from 2P = D, % of points from FT = D). We are efficient at scoring points off of the fast break (A+), but don’t score lots of fast break points (D). A big part of why our offense is so efficient is that we don’t turn the ball over (A) and get lots of second chances (ORB% = A). We assist well (AST/FGM = B), and our AST/TO ratio is an A. One area where we rank quite poorly is points in the paint (F-, dead last).
Defense is somewhat of a mirror of the offense. Defensive efficiency is low (F-). Our opponents score a high % of their points on 2P (F-), but low percentages from 3P (A+) and FT (A). However, opponents EFG% gets a C. We don’t foul a lot (A), and opponents TS% gets a B. We let opponents maintain possessions: DRB% = F, opponent TO/possession = F- (dead last), opponent AST/TO ratio = F, and STL/GM = F- (dead last). But we do some things on defense really well. Opponents AST/FGM = A+ (first in league). We defend the three point line well: opponent 3PA/GM = A and opponent 3P% = A+ (tops in league).
The key to interpreting this is the three point shot. League-wide, shooters are hitting 35.1% of their three pointers. Since a 3-pointer is worth 1.5 times a 2-pointer, the EFG% of a three point shot is 52.65%. Compare this to the 47.85% FG% for 2-pointers. Each 3-pointer has a 10% edge over a two pointer in the likelihood of scoring a point. So as a strategy, it makes sense to focus your offense on taking threes and on forcing your opponent to take fewer threes.
This is precisely what the Blazers are doing. On offense, we focus on shooting the three, and do it well, especially in transition. We possess the ball well, with few turnovers, lots of assists, and lots of offensive rebounds. On defense, we focus on defending the three. We don’t let opponents take many threes, and they shoot them poorly. The tradeoff is that opponents score in the paint. But their EFG% is only fair, because of the lack of threes. We let opponents maintain their possessions, because we don’t create a lot of turnovers and allow them lots of defensive rebounds. But we don’t foul much (avoiding opponent free throws at a 74.55% rate) and don’t let the opponent get many assists.
Certainly, we would like to see improved defense, but it appears that we are focused on 1) defending the three and 2) minimizing assists, both of which are sound approaches for minimizing opponent point production.
The "We shoot the three and get lots of assists and offensive rebounds" offense and the "We don’t let you shoot threes or get many assists, while giving up points in the paint and defensive rebounds" approach currently seems to be working work well for the Blazers in today’s three-pointer-centric NBA.