With four games in the books and a short break before the weekend series against the Sacramento Kings, let's take a moment to reflect on the earliest returns of the Portland Trail Blazers 2013-14 season. Nothing gets proven in 4 games, of course, but it should be interesting to look back at a later juncture and see how these nascent trends have developed.
Three point shooting has been exquisite for the Blazers. They're averaging a shade over 40% from the arc as a team, in a virtual tie for 6th in the NBA. (To put this in perspective, an individual shooting 40% would be considered one of the best long-range marksmen in the league.) Everything you've ever dreamed of seeing in this department is coming true for the Blazers right before our eyes. The triple accounts for 29% of Portland's point total, 5th in the league. The Blazers attempt the 8th most three pointers per game.
In part because of the three, Portland's Effective Field Goal Percentage and True Shooting Percentage rank 11th out of 30 teams and Portland's overall Offensive Efficiency sits in 5th. Portland's Point Production of 105.0 per game puts them 6th in the league. The offense has been efficient and productive.
Portland gets up 88.0 Field Goal Attempts per Game, good for 2nd in the NBA just behind the Lakers at 88.2.
The Blazers rank 1st in the league in Assists per Possession, Turnovers per Possession, and Assist-to-Turnover Ratio. They're making good use of the possessions they generate.
Accolades are harder to come by on the defensive end but Portland ranks 6th in Opponent 3pt% and 4th in Opponent Assists per Possession.
LaMarcus Aldridge has had a whale of a start to the season, averaging 24.5 ppg on 52.5% shooting. His scoring rate and efficiency numbers would be career highs if they carried through the season.
Damian Lillard doesn't have the same career history behind him for comparison, so let's just say his numbers are through the frickin' roof. He's averaging 22.5 ppg on 45.5% shooting from the floor, 48.5% shooting from the arc. His true shooting and effective field goal percentage numbers have risen nearly 8 percentage points from last year.
Wesley Matthews has also shown some insane increases, shooting 51% from the floor and 50% from distance compared to 44% and 40% last year. Points, points per minute, and rebounding have also skyrocketed.
Most of the bad news comes on the defensive end but the Blazers still sport a couple of gruesome offensive stats.
Portland ranks dead last in Points in the Paint at 29.5 per game. By comparison Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, and Houston all top 50.
The Blazers sit at 24th in Fast Break Points per Game, scoring 11.2. Golden State and Minnesota top 22 per game. Phoenix scores nearly 25.
The Blazers rank 22nd in Free Throws Attempted per Game and 25th in Percentage of Points scored from Free Throws.
As we've said in game reviews, no points in the paint, no fast break points, and no points from foul shots means every point has to come the hard way. This would be easier to take if the defensive stats were better, but that's a forlorn hope at this point.
Portland ranks 25th in the league in Points Allowed at 105.8, putting them in the hole .8 points per game despite the impressive offensive efficiency and production. The Blazers are 28th in Defensive Efficiency and 27th in Field Goal Percentage Allowed, giving up a 47.6% clip.
Ranking last in points in the paint scored per game, the Blazers languished at 29th in Points in the Paint Allowed per Game. Only Washington allows more. The Blazers carry a 22.5 point deficit in the paint through each game.
The Blazers aren't making up for their overall defensive woes with opportunism. They're 28th in the league in Opponent Turnovers per Possession. They're also having trouble securing the ball, ranking 28th in Defensive Rebounding Percentage and 28th in Opponent Offensive Rebounding Percentage.
Mo Williams has gotten off to a disappointing start, shooting 37% from the floor and 8% from the three-point arc. Obviously his efficiency stats are in the toilet and his PER so far is reaching Luke Babbitt levels.
Most of the other potentially-disappointing Blazers have been disappointing only by omission, if at all. We haven't seen all that much of Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, Joel Freeland, or Victor Claver. The only player who can be legitimately dinged for his lack of playing time is Meyers Leonard. He let the backup center position spot slip away from him. Casual observation says he's stroking his jumper but not much else.
Though the Blazers are poor at field goal percentage allowed, their defense at the three-point arc combined with a relative lack of fouling makes them 16th in Opponent True Shooting Percentage and 18th in Opponent Effective Field Goal Percentage. The defensive story isn't good, but the things the Blazers do well end up balancing the bad things to some extent.
Portland sits 18th in Fast Break Points Allowed. That's not horrible, but you have to factor in the 2 points that San Antonio scored in the third game of the season. The Spurs aren't fast breaking this year. They weren't fast breaking that night. The low total was a credit to Portland's intensity but it was also a function of opponent. Outside of that night against the Spurs, Portland is allowing 20 ppg on the break. Making a small sample size even smaller doesn't prove a point but it's enough of a red flag to take this category from not worth mentioning to Mixed Bag status.
Portland's defensive rebounding is bad but their offensive rebounding is middle of the road, leaving them 16th in Offensive Rebounding Percentage.
Nicolas Batum has been critical in some games, peripheral in others. In the balance his per-minute scoring is down but his rebounds are way up and his assists have risen as well. Turnovers are up. Shooting and efficiency percentages more or less remain in line with last year.
Last Year Robin Lopez averaged 15.7 points per 36 minutes, shot 53.4% from the field, grabbed 7.8 rebounds per 36, registered a 12.4% offensive rebounding percentage and a 13.4% defensive rebounding percentage, and posted a PER of 18.9. This year's stats so far (per 36): 5.4 points, 36.4% shooting, 6.1 rebounds, 10.6% OREB%, 7.9% DREB%, 9.0 PER. Lopez's personal fouls per 36 have risen from 2.8 to 4.5. Summary: He's producing worse in every category, sometimes dropping precipitously. Taken in isolation his numbers have been semi-disastrous. Plus Portland's defense isn't turning out much better than last year's version so we don't even have the out of "making the team defense better" at this point. However Lopez is putting in the effort and he has provided a backstop of sorts during Portland's runs. His technical work, positioning hands and feet, is impressive. Hopefully effort and familiarity will help bring the numbers more in line with expectations as the season progresses.
The Million Dollar Question
The million dollar question, of course, is how many of these trends will continue or intensify and how many will reverse. You'd expect individuals to regress towards the mean. That means Lopez and Williams will probably look better statistically as time goes by but Lillard and Aldridge will probably retreat a little from their current lofty perches.
The Blazers were built to shoot jumpers. It's easy to imagine the excellence in that department lasting all season. Long range shooting always involves ups and downs but Portland will probably end up well above average. The Blazers were not built to score in the paint, nor run. A jump-shooting offense doesn't draw foul shots. Easy points being hard to come by might also prove a chronic condition. Efficiency numbers should remain high, buoyed by the three-pointers. Overall scoring may be harder to maintain for 82 games. The Blazers are walking a tightrope to make those 105 points as it is. 40 feet on a high wire is doable. Running a marathon on one is another story.
Defense...wow. The one adjustment the Blazers can (must?) make is getting back in transition. Those points are preventable. The Blazers need to prevent something. Portland's doing a good job defending the three and not fouling too much. If they can stop the break they'll at least have a shot at not being miserable on defense despite the leak-fest in the paint. A little more defensive rebounding wouldn't hurt either.
We'll look back again sometime after Christmas and see how the story has progressed.