For the last few months, many Blazer fans have speculated about how coach Terry Stotts would alter his offensive attack to better accommodate the skill sets of Portland's rebuilding roster.
Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright, Arron Afflalo -- all reliable outside shooters over the course of their respective careers -- wound up in different uniforms this offseason, replaced by a handful of inconsistent 3-point shooters in Al-Farouq Aminu, Gerald Henderson, Moe Harkless and Noah Vonleh. How would these guys fit in with the outside shooting prowess of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe, Portland's holdovers from last season? Surely, Stotts would have to tweak his offense to make it work with more unproven jumpshooters now in tow.
Through three games -- yeah, the sample size is small, but we can still start to identify trends this early -- the Blazers have launched 28.7 3-pointers a night at a 33.7 percent clip, compared to last year's 27.2 3-pointers attempted per game at a 36.2 percent rate. It doesn't take much research to see that Portland, at least so far this season, will still be using the 3-pointer as a huge piece of its scoring attack. In fact, according to nba.com stats, the Blazers have gathered 29.6 percent of their total points from beyond the arc this year -- compared to 28.7 percent for the team a season ago.
As it turns out, LaMarcus Aldridge's 19.9 field goal attempts from last season had to be re-distributed somewhere this year. Lillard, McCollum and Leonard have all seen a greater role in the offense, but Stotts has also allowed Aminu and Harkless opportunities to get up shots from the outside, as well. And so far, with 19 attempts from beyond the arc between them through three games, both are cashing in on their freedom to launch from deep; Besides Pat Connaughton, who's nailed his only 3-point attempt this year, Aminu and Harkless are leading the Blazers in 3-point percentage this year at 50 and 44.4 percent, respectively. Of course they'll regress at some point, but it's encouraging to see this team take solid shots from deep and convert them at a solid clip.
So what's different from last year? Lillard is taking fewer threes off the dribble, while McCollum is taking more. Instead of Aldridge drawing double-teams at the elbow and finding Matthews or Batum in the cracks of the defense, the penetration of Portland's guards is collapsing the opposition enough to find quality shots around the arc for Aminu, Harkless, Crabbe and Leonard. And, of course, the pick-and-pop combo with Leonard as the screener provides plenty of solid looks. The ball still swings to the open man, and the 2015-16 incarnation of the Blazers still employs the crisp ball movement that's been a hallmark of Stotts' offense since he's been in town.
Let's ignore shooting percentages, then, and compare A) where the 3-pointers are coming from, B) how open they are, C) when they're coming in the shot-clock and D) if they're unassisted pull-up jumpers or catch-and-shoot attempts:
|Top of the key||17.4%||24.4%|
Assisted vs. Unassisted:
We can see that the Blazers favor the right corner more this year but the left corner less, attempt far fewer angle 3-pointers and far more from the top of the key. More threes are coming with shooters defined by NBA.com as open (closest defender 4-6 ft.) or wide-open (closest defender 6+ ft.).
One of the biggest differences between this year's outside attack and last year's is that the shots are generally coming much earlier in possessions, with the majority of them still coming with 7-15 seconds left on the shot clock. Finally, Portland is shooting slightly more unassisted 3-pointers but also more catch-and-shoot threes.
If a three-game sample size is any indication, we now know that the Blazers won't be taking their foot off the pedal with the outside attack, but rather doubling down on it even if the new faces are less proven than the veterans who left Portland this summer. And Stotts has found a way to get his guys more open; Even if Lillard and McCollum still spot up for more 3-pointers off the dribble, Aminu, Leonard, Crabbe and Harkless have found slightly more space from defenders than did the 2014-15 Blazers.
We can still expect Leonard (15.4 percent) and Crabbe (14.3 percent) to get closer to the 30-35 percent range they're capable of and Aminu and Harkless to come back to earth, but the point remains clear: The Blazers will still be launching from deep this year as much as ever, even with fewer proven outside threats -- they're just emphasizing open looks and shooting slightly earlier in the shot clock.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter