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Nothing Comes Easy

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The off-day gives us some freedom to be a little theoretical, and I'd like to bring up something I think might be the single biggest reason the Blazers aren't getting more wins this year despite some reasonable effort.  It can be summarized in three little words:  no easy buckets.

The Blazers are shooting 44.6% as a team for the season.  That's 23rd in the league.  Even though we have guys with offensive talent they're not able to produce to the fullest because every shot attempt is either long or contested.  How many dunks do you recall the Blazers getting this year?  Not many, I'll wager, because we simply don't get dunks.  How many layups can you recall that weren't contested circus shots?  Roy gets a couple, Sergio gets one now and then, but who else?

Granted, we play a halfcourt offense and that's not a bad thing, especially for a team with this makeup at this level of ability.  And everybody's first reaction is going to be that Nate slows us down and so we don't get easy opportunities off the break.  But that's not entirely accurate.  Coach doesn't want us getting into an up and down game by shooting early in the clock, missing, and letting the opponent run.  We don't have the horses to keep up and that style doesn't play to the strengths of our main offensive options.  But there's not a coach in the world, including Nate, who will yell "STOP!" when a guy has a clear path to the hoop for a layup or even a 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 fast break.  I guarantee you in those situations Nate will yell at the guys to push the ball up and score.

The problem is those situations almost never occur.  And it's not because we don't have speedy guys, it's because we never create the opportunities for the speed to matter.  First of all, we allow opponents to shoot 47.6%, which is 27th in the league and disastrous to any running attempts.  Unless you're Phoenix (and nobody but Phoenix is) you can't run off of made buckets.  Second, though improved in rebounding from last year, we're still mediocre at best.  If you can't secure the ball you can't push it forward.  Third, our rebounders are, for the most part, poor passers, which means the outlet can't come quickly.  Fourth, we are 20th in the league in steals and 26th in forcing overall turnovers, which means we aren't getting a lot of easy opportunities from non-shooting situations either.  And finally (and most egregiously) when we do get an opportunity to run for an easy basket, we are completely incompetent in our execution.  And that's a generous estimate.  (I can't give a truly accurate description without using some of those words not allowed on this site.)  Sergio is an exception, so we'll absolve him of the general blame.  But other than him, our guards either don't have good enough handle, don't have the right idea of spacing, don't have the passing instinct, or simply don't make the right decisions to get us easy buckets.  Our best fast break finishers fumble away the ball with regularity and they also blow their fair share of dunks.  And the guys who have the hands and skill to finish plays consistently simply don't run and never even make it down for the play.  I have seen more horribly executed fast breaks (by percentage) from this year's team than I've seen from any other team I've watched.  In fact whenever one starts developing I say to myself, "This will not end well."  And lo and behold, it usually doesn't.

All of this collectively is killing us.  If we ever hope to win, it'll have to change.  The San Antonio Spurs are known for their steely halfcourt execution and they're the best in the world at the control game.  But you better bet they will run you for an easy two every chance you give them.  And without those fast break opportunities, they're not contenders.  We are 15-24 right now with a point differential of -5 ppg.  -5 is a horrible point differential.  But if you think about it, two more fast-break opportunities per game puts us at a much more reasonable -1.  Three makes us +1.  One per quarter makes us +3.  At this point I'd be willing to bet you that such an increase would lead to 6, 8, or 10 more wins at minimum...and that's in half a season.  (I know the game results say around 4 but you've got to remember that the finals scores of games get skewed depending on whether you're 2 points down in the closing minutes or 8 points down.)

We may not have the personnel to force steals and turnovers, or even to dominate more on the boards.  But I believe we can defend better than we do and I know we can improve our fast break execution when we do get opportunities.  Basically it would take a little more technical know-how and a lot more hustle, both of which should be in plentiful supply.  In fact of all our problems, my guess is that this would be the easiest to address in the short term.  It wouldn't make us into a championship team...at this point in the season it might not even make us into a winning team...but it would make us a better team for sure.  

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)