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Blazers Season Preview Part 4: Five Keys to Success

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Today we take a look at some of the keys to success if Portland is to make it over the hump and into the post-season this year.

 

1.  Get the ball inside.

 

This doesn’t mean that Greg Oden has to score 20 per night.  In fact I guarantee he won’t.  (Lamarcus Aldridge might though.)  But the value of an inside pass is not confined to points scored in the paint.  Moving the ball towards the hoop rather than around the perimeter forces the defense to make decisions…decisions which involve movement…movement which frees up space for everybody on the court.  Even if you don’t want Oden shooting the ball or even if the low post is only one-third of Aldridge’s game, you still want them touching the ball in there and moving it out.

 

Whether from the post, from the top of the key, or off the dribble, penetrating passes and cuts will be crucial to Portland’s offense as well.  You want to see guys threatening the rim even if the shot only gets there a few times a game.  One of those Sergio-to-Rudy alley-oops makes the other team play honest for a whole quarter at least.

 

In short, the purpose of the offense is to attack.  We want to see more aggression from our players resulting in more pressure on the opponent.  We’re going to be decent shooting jumpers, but if we fall in love with them without probing the middle first we’re going to lose.

 

2.  Create easy opportunities.

 

We’ve talked about this ad nauseum, but it’s a good reminder.  Whether we defend for percentage and rebound misses or whether we defend for turnovers (or both) we need to convert our defense into offense with fluidity.  This includes running hard and filling lanes appropriately on the break.  Every point guard who looks to get playing time right now is going to be more than willing to set up anyone who runs with them.  We have to stop leaving 6-8 points per game on the table because we didn’t rebound, didn’t make the right pass, or didn’t convert.

 

3.  Rebound

 

This part of Portland’s game lagged behind most others in terms of improvement.  That has to change this year.  You cannot plan any line of attack until you’re sure you have the ball.  The hesitation which comes with uncertainty on the boards cost us dearly last year.  Offensive boards and putbacks are fine (already that looks like an area of potential strength) but the real money is going to be made with our frontline controlling the glass.  This is more of a stretch but it needs to happen.  The simplest way for Portland to become a great team is for them to become one of the best rebounding teams in the league.

 

4.  Help less, but with greater effect

 

Last year was the first year in recent memory when the Blazers had adequate enough defenders that the defense didn’t look like a circus with clowns piling out and running everywhere.  Even so, we still depended on frequent rotations and stunts, especially when Joel Przybilla was out of the game.  This year we have size and talent at every position.  Claiming Portland had good defenders at every position is going way too far, but these players should be able to handle individual responsibility better than we’ve seen.  The first rule for every player should be “Stop your man.”  That sound obvious but it hasn’t happened with regularity and compensating for the lapses in coverage has cost Portland interior position and rebounding position as well.  Every player has to take pride in not letting his man free.  When we do rotate it should not always be to put a finger in the dam, but to pressure or force turnovers or blocks.  There’s a huge difference between “Brandon let his man get by and now Lamarcus has to rotate” and “Brandon stayed in front of his man and slowed him down and HOLY COW LOOK WHAT LAMARCUS DID TO THAT SHOT SNEAKING IN FROM BEHIND!!!”  Nobody is asking for stops every time down the court, but slowing the opponent down is complete plausible and will have amazing effects with our mobile front line.

 

There’s a corollary to this:  Dean Demopolous and company teach a mean set of zones.  The last couple of years have been teaching seasons and this one, with rookies in tow, will be also.  But many of these players are familiar with the concept.  It’s time to put them in action skillfully.  One of the Blazers’ strengths on defense is disguising their coverage.  Last year they slipped in and out of zones with regularity.  At this point the players themselves should be getting a handle on when that is appropriate and should be able to read the court as they do so.  The Blazers have the capacity to employ almost any defense you can name.  It’s time to put that capacity into effective practice.  I’d love to hear opposing commentators say, “They’re confusing our team” instead of “They look confused.”

 

5.  Communicate

 

Communication is an underrated skill.  Mostly we think of the inspirational locker room speech.  I’m not sure that matters much.  What does matter is calling out reads on defense, being aware of all five players on offense, and being able to negotiate through rough spots.  Sometimes the Blazers have been great at this.  Sometimes they’ve been lousy.  We saw both last year.  This is a simple fix and a great discipline.  Every time somebody goes to the floor a teammate should be there to pick them up immediately.  Every time somebody makes a great play there should be high fives and pats.  If the Rose Garden ever gets quiet enough we should be able to hear multiple people calling out screens.  When something goes wrong conferences should be brief and without finger pointing and frustration.  We should be able to see this team supporting each other, teaching each other, and inspiring each other.  Keep in mind that the players we’re hoping will give us the most improvement are all brand new to this team.  Communication won’t be an afterthought, it’ll be critical to Portland’s success.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)