After all of one game Blazer Nation seems to be tilting left and right. I guess I understand with Oden's injury, the Most Hated Team In The Universe TM beating us senseless on opening night, and our revered stars laying an ostrich-sized egg on national TV. But honestly, we've been talking for months about how brutal the early schedule is. You're going to have to expect a little more of this before things get sunny. (They will...just hold on!) To help through this stretch, though, here's a three-part prescription for the Blazers, an inoculation of sorts against the swarm of flu-like bugs that are about to assault us. It won't keep us from getting flattened but it might keep the symptoms from turning fatal.
1. Remember that this is Lamarcus Aldridge's scoring team.
Clearly the Blazers need some inside scoring to go along with their jump-shooters and slashers. Greg Oden is certainly part of the solution, but he's injured and his offense is too raw to be depending on night in and night out. In the blitz of Oden media it's easy to forget that Lamarcus Aldridge is still on this team. Not only that, he's worked for the last couple years on his body, on his moves, and on his scoring touch. You're not knighting a rookie here. This guy has earned it. So give him a bunch of touches and let him work. Don't forget that he can score inside and out either. Set the boy up in the post every now and again. Yes, Brandon Roy is still the heart of the team but Brandon functions best when he doesn't have to carry the scoring all game long. One of the few bright spots to Oden being out is that the team can again establish Lamarcus as the guy on whom Roy can depend.
2. Fix the fast break, please!
The opening game didn't strike me as hard as it did some folks. It looked awful, sure, but it wasn't like you saw a hundred recurring reasons why the Blazers will stink this year. Most of the problems Portland had were either because of the quality of the opponent or because of strange bounces of the ball. Neither will be repeated often. One aspect of the game that amazed (horrified?) me, however, was how badly the Blazers ran the fast break during the few opportunities they had. I am on record saying I have never seen an NBA team run the break worse than last year's Blazer squad. Tuesday night's game didn't exactly inspire confidence that this year's team will be better.
Running the break properly is not that difficult. There are two basic rules. First, the dribbler should not run right down the middle of the court but instead approach the basket at an angle. Second, anyone running with him should be spaced out wide.
The reasons for the dribbler not heading straight down Broadway are simple.
First, coming in at an angle allows you to use the backboard if necessary. That means your target for getting up a good shot includes not only the rim area but much of the glass as well. If you come straight at the hoop you only have one place to put the ball: straight at the rim. The angle for a good shot is much narrower and thus much easier to defend (or miss).
Second, coming in at an angle means that you have more space to maneuver while still heading towards the hoop. Imagine driving at the basket on a diagonal slant. If there's a defender in front of you, you can go around him to the left or right and still be headed towards the rim with the most minor of directional adjustments. The only difference is whether you'll come at the rim from the baseline side or from in front. Now imagine driving straight at the basket with a defender in front of you. You can still go left or right to get around him but as you do so you are actually taking a line that will leave you farther away from the rim to the side. If you keep going on this left or right line you will end up wide of the rim, having to reach to the opposite direction your body is heading to get the ball home. It's much harder to put down a shot when angling away from the rim than it is when angling towards it.
Third, coming in at an angle from one side or the other forces the defender to commit to the side you're on in order to guard you. The basic idea of a fast break is to put more players on the attack than defenders can handle. If you draw a defender off to one side a little there's no way he can get over and cover a player running down the other side of the court. If you take a line straight down the middle you leave that defender the option of going to either side and picking up any attacker coming towards the rim. One defender can potentially cover two attackers if he's allowed to stay in the middle of the floor.
This latter explanation also tells you why it's important for the players running with the dribbler on a fast break to get out wide. If attackers run in a bunch then a single defender can get in front of them all. If they're spread wide any pass will reach the attacker long before the defender can cover that space.
So what do we see when the Blazers run? Dribblers headed mostly down the middle and teammates running with them no more than 5-6 feet away. That ain't good.
I don't know if the coaching staff figures that it's more important to drill things we'll see 80 times a game (defense and halfcourt offense) than it is things we'll see 3-4 times a game like the fast break, but from my seat we could sure use those 6-8 extra points. Or maybe the Blazers are drilled in this but just forget in the rush. Either way, it's painful to watch and needs to be corrected.
3. Make Oden's Rehab Count
I hesitate to direct prescriptions at individual players without knowing more about them or what they're already doing, but Greg Oden is sticking out like a sore thumb right now, so I'm going to risk it. Let's play a game of "If I Were Oden".
First off, if I were Greg Oden I would take a page out of Joel Przybilla's book and figure if injuries and mobility are any kind of concern, lighter is better. I would ask the team to hire me a personal nutritionist and consider the next month my "eat into shape" time. I wouldn't eat a thing without his OK. Heck, he might even do my cooking for me. I might not stay on this regimen forever, but if I'm not going to be able to do strong cardio and I'm already having conditioning issues I need to do something. Maybe I'll pick up tips that will serve me throughout my career. Better yet, maybe my road back this winter will be easier. Strength and muscle mass can come later. For now, lean and mobile are in. I want to be more streamlined when I get off crutches than I was when I started.
Second, I would be in the gym doing anything I could to work on some kind of shot. Maybe I sit in a chair, get a hoop that adjusts lower, and work on my upper body motion for a face-up shot. Once I can move, even slowly, I'm going to start drilling that hook shot. I want hundreds and hundreds of reps a day, morning and evening. You can't keep me out of the gym.
Most of all, if I'm Oden, I don't make the team remind me of this stuff. I take charge of my own practice as I'm coming back from injury. I make the decision to get better at my craft and to keep my body going.
Now it may well be that Greg Oden is already doing these things. I'm not suggesting we all peek over his shoulder either. But I hope and pray that any setback, such as the foot sprain, becomes an opportunity for him rather than another roadblock. That could well make the difference between a successful career (mentally and emotionally if not physically) and a disappointing one. As long as you have the talent and an adequate body, the next most important factor in sticking in this league seems to be attitude. It takes developing, but once you have the right one nobody and nothing can take it away from you.