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Playbook Breakdown: Blazers Ring Up "Hockey Assists" Through Ball Movement

A video breakdown of the Portland Trail Blazers' ball movement and how they are registering plenty of "hockey assists" this season.

Maddie Meyer

Dane Carbaugh, who edits the Blazers blog, will be providing the occasional column for Blazersedge this season. Carbaugh will put together playbook-style video breakdowns to accompany his written observations. His previous posts can be found at this handy link.

Here, Carbaugh takes a look at how Portland's ball movement is registering plenty of "Hockey Assists" this season. -- Ben

Players at the NBA level don't want to be called selfish, but they definitely don't want to be seen as "too unselfish." Getting a team to consistently make the extra pass is tough, because it requires that all of their major perimeter players balance the natural urge to call their own number with an assertive search for the highest-quality opportunity.

Blazers F Dorell Wright recently told Blazersedge. "Guys move the ball in here, guys are really into the hockey assist. If you have a good shot, pass it to the guy with the better shot. Good teams do that. If [we want to] continue to shoot the ball like this, play well, and get wins, that's what it's going to take."

This season, Portland has excelled at the secondary assist. Commonly referred to as the "hockey assist", this is when a player makes a pass in anticipation of an additional pass being made to score a basket. Many Portland sets have complex hockey assists built-in to the main action of the play.

The Blazers use the Horns to get an open shot with a secondary assist.

In this Horns set against the Milwaukee Bucks, Wes Matthews passes the ball to Nic Batum in the near elbow. LaMarcus Aldridge then sets a flare screen for Matthews as he runs to the far arc.

Batum throws a bounce pass across the face of Aldridge's sagging defender, forcing him to stop the drive to the baseline. That allows Matthews to rocket a quick bounce pass back to Aldridge for an easy jumper. Batum provides the hockey assist while Matthews records an assist in the box score.

Portland's dedication to making the extra pass extends outside of their set offense. When plays break down, they are very comfortable with each other, always looking to put each other in the best position to score with natural spacing and unselfish play.

Portland passes five times to get an open shot against the Lakers.

There is perhaps no better example of Portland's unselfishness than this play against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The action starts as Lillard drives and kicks to Nic Batum on the wing. Batum gives a quick skip pass to Wes Matthews, which Jodie Meeks anticipates.

Matthews throws it back out to Batum, who has Wes Johnson closing out on him. He notices that Johnson has left Lillard open on the baseline to cover him, and sends a laser to the Portland guard.

Lillard starts to go up for a layup, but Steve Blake and the Laker defense has collapsed on him, trapping him under the basket. He recognizes the opportunity with LaMarcus Aldridge at the high post, and kicks to him for an open jumper. Portland passes the ball five times, giving up five mediocre shots for one great open look.

The Blazers do a great job of finding the best shot on the floor regardless of who takes it. There's no category for hockey assists in the NBA, but Portland is playing unselfishly and that has helped lead them to an incredible record in the Western Conference during the first quarter of this season.

Video via

-- Dane Carbaugh |