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Helping the Offense a Little

One of the topics of the day yesterday, starting on the radio and continuing on Dwight Jaynes' excellent blog  (and in Manga's fanpost regarding same) was the viability of the Blazers' current offense.  Dwight argues that Portland is too jumper-dependent, an assessment with which I wholeheartedly agree.  I'm hard-pressed to think of brilliant solutions right now, though, with half of our roster out including our only true low-post threat.  We can say the team should run more but it's difficult with your best finishers also being important rebounders.  Plus there's that whole defense thing.  We can say people should drive more in the halfcourt but only Roy and Bayless have the ball-handling chops to attempt it on a regular basis and the defense can see that coming from a mile away.  Both areas are open to improvement but the result is only going to be incremental until this roster is together like it was designed to be and the kinks are worked out.

The truth is, the over-reliance on deep jumpers is only the tip of the iceberg on which the offense is grounded right now.  There's also a desperate need for a consistent third scorer.  There's too much one-on-one attacking going on, allowing the defense to set and rebound easily.  We need an approach that moves the defense, where more than one person touches the ball, and that creates opportunities for someone besides the two main guys besides the obvious three-point heaves.

Part of the reason we've been having trouble finding offensive rhythm and success is that the guys who have taken that third scorer role don't change the paradigm.  Andre Miller is a natural candidate and could do well, but when he's at this best he's scoring with the ball in his hands.  People are excited about Jerryd Bayless but he's not likely to be consistent enough to fill the bill for the entire season and he, too, tends to prosper when he controls his own destiny.  As we've heard before, both overlap Brandon Roy's skill set and preferences, which makes synergy that much harder.

Martell Webster, on the other hand, remains a largely untapped resource.  Mind you' I'm not talking about the Martell who stands near the sideline and heaves threes.  We've seen as much from that Martell as we're going to get.  I'm talking the Martell who has the potential to become a scoring machine from 10 feet out instead of just 22 feet and beyond.  The nights when Webster really explodes he's not confining himself to three-point land.  He's all over the floor.  But we don't see that Martell often because Webster himself can't make that happen.  He needs somebody to set him up.  Many times that's considered a liability in this league.  But it suits our purposes exactly.

Back in the day, when Brandon and LaMarcus were just twinkles in Kevin Pritchard's eyes, the Blazers used to run plays for Martell every once in a while.  Granted even back then they didn't do it consistently.  I'd guess there were a couple reasons for that.  First, there was a fair bit of territorial jealousy surrounding offensive possessions at that time.  Second, the old Martell didn't have a well-rounded game and was frequently on the sharp end of coaching barbs...or at least caused some headaches on his own bench. They tried to raise him the right way instead of the easy way, to value effort instead of just scoring.  But both of those issues have since gone by the wayside (or mostly anyway).

When the Blazers did run plays for Martell he tended to score in droves.  And the play that got him off more than any other was a curl screen on the right hand side.  Somebody would set a pick 12-15 feet from the basket in a diagonal line from the rim.  Webster would cut through the lane from the weak side, curl around from beneath the screen, a passer at the top of the lane would hit him, and BAM!  Two points on the quick jumper again and again and again.

That play seems to have disappeared from the Portland lexicon.  Given the circumstances, short-handed and in a halfcourt-laden offense, I'd like to see it make a comeback.  It accomplishes pretty much all of our goals.  The biggest one is that Martell scores off of it and points are at a premium right now.  It moves the defense and it involves three people at minimum in the play.  You also have other options in the set, including the pick-setter cutting towards the rim for a pass from the top, the passer diving down the lane for a give-and-go with Martell, and Martell passing out to another shooter on the strong side if the defense tries to help from there.  It's not exactly a layup but honestly that 12-15 foot jumper might as well be one for Martell when he knows he has the green light.  Best of all this takes no extra personnel, no fundamental shift in the offense, and doesn't shoehorn anyone into a role with which they're not comfortable.  One guy sets the pick, Martell cuts and uses it, one guy enters the pass and maybe cuts, one guy hangs on the strong-side perimeter to receive a pass for the shot if help comes, and the last guy stays on the weak side to offensive rebound or get back on defense depending on what the top-of-the-key passer does.  It's not a stretch to fill those roles with a Przybilla, Aldridge, Roy, Miller, or even Blake, Bayless, Howard, and Cunningham.

I don't expect a major revolution in the offense anytime soon, but I would like to see wrinkles like this thrown in.  I mean, what else are you going to do with the shots you don't cede to Aldridge, Roy, and the people they outlet to?  Like it or not we do need a third scorer established and Webster is not only a prime candidate for the job, involving him probably disrupts everyone else the least.

--Dave (