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Charting Portland's 4th Quarter Offense

As mentioned in last night's Media Row Report, the Blazers -- and Brandon Roy in particular -- were flummoxed by their inability to execute on the offensive end down the stretch last night.  As I noted, the only Blazer to make a field goal in the game's final six minutes was Travis Outlaw, who had 9 points.  Andre Miller chipped in 2 free throws and that was it.

To get a better idea of exactly what happened, I charted every Blazers offensive possession from the 10:35 mark in the fourth quarter (when Brandon Roy checked into the game) through the end of the game.  On each possession, I noted the team's lineup, who initiated the play, where was Roy at the end of the play, what happened on the play, and whether the play resulted in points. 

Here's a link to the full-size chart.  It's pretty interesting. I recommend skimming it at the very least.

In the two previous charting posts -- Greg Oden's Touches and Martell Webster's defense -- there were some fairly definitive, simple results: Greg Oden was not involved in the offense and Martell Webster really took care of business on defense.  In this case, the results aren't exactly as black and white.  

First, let's take a look at the numbers.  During Brandon Roy's final stretch in the fourth quarter...

  • The Blazers had 23 possessions.
  • The Blazers scored points on just 8 possessions. Their points came from 5 players and were converted, in order: Aldridge dunk, Rudy 3, Roy jumper, Travis jumper, Travis 3 pointer, Travis jumper, Miller free throws, Travis layup.
  • The Blazers scored 0 second-chance points. 
  • Miller initiated 12 plays, Roy initiated 6 times, Blake initiated 3 times and Webster initiated the final 2 possessions. Note: many of the plays that Miller initiated involved simply turning the ball over to Roy early in the possession on the wing.
  • Points by lineup: Miller/Roy/Fernandez/Outlaw/Aldridge (7 points on 8 possessions)... Miller/Roy/Fernandez/Outlaw/Oden (5 points on 3 possessions)... Blake/Roy/Outlaw/Webster/Aldridge (0 points on 3 possessions)... Blake/Roy/Outlaw/Aldridge/Oden (0 points on 1 possession)... Miller/Roy/Outlaw/Aldridge/Oden (4 points on 4 possessions)... Blake/Roy/Fernandez/Outlaw/Aldridge (2 points on 2 possessions)... Roy/Fernandez/Webster/Aldridge/Oden (0 points on 2 possessions)
  • The Blazers ran 7 pick and rolls with Brandon Roy as the ballhandler. That's a Roy pick and roll on nearly 1 in 3 possessions.  
  • Aldridge had 1 iso opportunity. Oden had the ball dumped into him in the post 1 time.
  • Roy was generally single-covered throughout the fourth quater by Joe Johnson (Josh Smith and Marvin Williams each took brief turns).  Double-teams are noted in the chart.

OK, now that you've got the numbers for some perspective, let's take a look at what worked and what didn't work.

What Worked

  • The lineup with the best ball movement, the most diverse scoring options and the most points was Miller/Roy/Fernandez/Outlaw/Aldridge.  This is obviously a smallish lineup with 3 guards and no true center. If ever there was a true flow on offense during this stretch of the game, it was with this five.  It felt less grinding and a little bit looser.   There was a good balance between Roy attacking the defense with other guys impacting play as well.
  • Travis Outlaw was a little bit inconsistent in his court spacing throughout the fourth quarter but did an excellent job of knocking down shots when the ball was swung to him and also taking his man off the dribble when isolated one-on-one. He got stuck with the ball one time at the end of a busted play that led to a 24 second shot clock violation but that wasn't really on him.  If there was a star down the stretch offensively, it was Outlaw (as mentioned last night).
  • Roy was able to break his man down defensively regardless of who he played with, getting to the hoop and drawing a lot of attention from various Hawks defenders.  His decision-making was perhaps a little bit below his usual standard in terms of finding guys but he did move the ball nicely on multiple occasions: finding Outlaw for his 3 and finding Aldridge off of a pick and roll. His consistent ability to draw attention was the Blazers' single best offensive weapon and it happened virtually at will.  It's important to note that this was not a case of the sky falling, it's not like Roy isn't the same Roy as last year.  Instead, there were some bad breaks -- a careless turnover, no foul on a hard drive -- that happen from time to time.
What Didn't Work
  • The transition from Miller to Blake produced the choppiest stretch of play and the offense became pretty formulaic: Roy would run a pick and roll from various spots with either Aldridge or Oden.  These possessions were by no means ugly and were very reminiscent of last year:  Roy picked up a foul off the dribble and set up Aldridge for a wide open baseline jumper.  The problem?  The Hawks were not in the penalty at the time so Roy couldn't get free points at the line.  Aldridge missed a clean look that he normally knocks down.
  • Overall, Aldridge was a non-factor. He looked ill-prepared for a pass in the paint from a driving Brandon Roy, he struggled to convert from the offensive glass down the stretch, he missed a baseline jumper as mentioned and he didn't make himself a threatening target on the pick and rolls with Roy.  Over the summer, I wrote how Aldridge would need to more aggressively command the ball in those situations, cutting sharply or fading to the proper spot to give Roy reasons to pass him the ball.  Time after time, he was a passive target easily covered by the defense and easily ignored by Roy.
  • On that same note, though, it's clear Roy is still familiarizing himself with the dynamics of the pick and roll offense. As smart as he is with the dribble, Roy found himself in some tight situations down the stretch, both because of his own doing and because of some excellent team defense by Atlanta.  At various points, Roy: ignored screens all together, didn't rub his defender close enough to the pick-setter, and dribbled hard off the screen into a no-man's-land near the baseline.  In live play, he was relying on his excellent instincts.  On tape, he will probably be shaking his head at some of those decisions, as Atlanta seemed to have schemed him quite well, with post defenders offering help quickly and without fouling.
  • Although this might anger many who desire that the Blazers push the tempo, the results when the pace picked up weren't great.  Miller had two shots blocked in transition that went back the other way before the Blazers defense could recover.
  • Oden's foul trouble complicated matters, stepping on any offensive flow the team hoped to create.  McMillan had been saving Oden for the stretch when he had four fouls.  Once inserted into the game, though, Oden lasted just 3 possessions before picking up his 5th.  By the time McMillan got Oden back in the game for the final minutes, the Hawks' lead demanded that McMillan pull him back out so that he could load up his lineup with shooters.  It was the worst of both worlds for Oden: not much playing time and adversely impacting the flow when he was on the court.
  • There was no "inside-out" game to speak of.  Roughly 90 percent of plays during this stretch occurred outside-in.  In other words, guards were attacking a solid Hawks defense that was succeeding in harassing ball handlers into turnovers and doing a good job of surrounding Roy in particular, forcing him to pass through traffic.  While this strategy led to some open shots for Travis, who dutifully knocked them down, it also saw the Blazers unable to get Aldridge or Oden going offensively and unable to make any real impact on the offensive boards.  It also quite often found Portland's perimeter players (Rudy, Blake, and Miller)  taken out of plays completely when off the ball.  Take a look at this shot or this shot.  Mike Woodson is giggling as he surveys those. 
  • As the charting indicates, Roy, too, found himself off the ball on the perimeter many more times than the Blazers would like to see.

It's very important to remember this analysis covers less than 11 minutes of play in one game.  Nevertheless, I think there are some takeaways.

  • The Miller/Roy/Fernandez trio has some serious potential offensively and is likely the best option for kick-starting things when the Blazers are struggling to score, especially when paired with either Outlaw/Aldridge or (ideally) Aldridge/Oden.
  • Going back and forth between Miller and Blake down the stretch can create more problems than it solves.
  • Whether through locating pick and rolls differently (i.e. on the side instead of up top) or by isolating him on more occasions, the Blazers can do a much better job of involving Aldridge down the stretch.  This will need to be a point of emphasis.
  • Consider having Roy dump passes in to either Aldridge or Oden to allow more offensive flexibility on the ball side.  When Miller dumps the pass in, his man can collapse because he's not a shooting threat.  When Blake dumps the pass in, defenders collapse because they feel they can close out on him quickly and need not worry about him pump-faking to attack the rim.  Roy's man must play more honestly, respecting both Roy's jumper and his driving abilities. This allows more room for Aldridge to work and a lethal safety valve should he encounter trouble.
  • Oden setting high picks late in games serves no purpose unless 1) he becomes a target after the pick and 2) Roy looks for him.  1 will absolutely have to happen before 2 does. Neither happened Tuesday night.

-- Ben Golliver | ( | Twitter