So it's early September, and, outside of FIBA, there ain't a lot of basketball going on. To fill the time, I started watching the 30 For 30 on the "Bad Boys" Pistons squad, and Joe Dumars made an interesting comment.
On embracing the "Bad Boys" image he said; "Every great team needs an identity. You can't be great in this league and have zero identity."
My question to you is, do the Blazers, as constructed, have an identity?
I realize that this team, in spite of their success, are still trying to ascend to "Contender" status. But I can't put my finger on the one thing that, does not define them but describes them.
Do the Blazers have that? Is that something they are still figuring out? Or is it something the alludes them? If it's something that alludes them, what do they need to do in order to find it?
I realize that I just asked a lot of vague questions. But I feel that, if the Blazers are going to make a run, these questions need to be answered.
P.S. That Pistons team was such an amazing team. Really. They were a great team.
The Pistons were the last team to win a title before the Michael Jordan Era took flight. The completed an epoch in which it was assumed that you had to play as a team in order to succeed. The league had ridden the stardom of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird for years, but as famous as those two luminaries became they were still painted as key cogs in super-powerful lineups. You couldn't think of the Celtics without thinking of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, Danny Ainge and Dennis Johnson. You couldn't mention the Showtime Lakers title runs without throwing in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, and Byron Scott. Isaiah Thomas carried the standard for Detroit but Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, et al, got due credit.
Michael Jordan was so great he changed everything. Scottie Pippen was mentioned in the same breath when describing the Bulls. His talent mandated it and Jordan won no titles without him. Apart from those two, the rest of the Chicago lineup was seen as a rotating support cast, barely glorified even when--as was the case with Horace Grant--they showed decent chops.
As Jordan aged the slow, isolation-heavy offense came into vogue. Play on the floor began to reflect marketing as a select few players controlled ball time and possessions, pounding against set defenses that pounded right back. Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Charles Barkley prospered mightily. The players alongside them picked up the crumbs.
Changing hand-checking rules opened up NBA offenses again but it didn't alter the isolation-heavy focus as much as shift it. Point guards replaced shooting guards/small forwards as primary perimeter scorers. Mobile, ranged power forwards with jump-shot and dribble combo skills replaced huge pivots inside. Wing players drifted towards the perimeter, scoring high-value three-pointers and spreading the floor for small dribblers. Centers focused on offensive rebounds, another high-value statistical category.
Under Terry Stotts the Trail Blazers have become at once an expression of the new-style offense and a throwback to the old-style team concept. Every descriptor in the last paragraph applies: scoring point guard, the ultimate nouveau power forward, 3-D wing players, rebounding center. They understand what the numbers say about the power of the three-ball and the O-rebound. Aside from LaMarcus Aldridge's mid-range game--a poor statistical gamble mitigated by his massive talent and their floor-spreading capacity--the Blazers won't take a shot that's not a statistician's dream. To this they add chemistry and a lack of selfishness. Off the floor they know Aldridge and Damian Lillard will get the credit much the way Magic and Kareem did back in the day. On the court they don't care which of five players gets the look as long as it's a good one.
The best way to describe Portland's identity is, "Game plan with your head, play with your heart" (i.e. unselfishly, with charity towards your teammates). Alternately you could label it efficiency without the agenda.
They've done well so far. Lillard's rising star hasn't turned his head, or at least hasn't done so in any way we see on the floor. They appear to get the most out of each starter and to mesh their skills admirably, if not seamlessly. But lasting identities are built on talent as much as focus. Reduce the Bad Boy Pistons' abilities by half and you'd not remember their contribution even with the same blueprint and will. Portland's identity is solid...inspired, at times. Whether it'll stick remains to be seen.
How would you describe the Blazers' identity? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
--Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard