During this year's NBA Finals the Cleveland Cavaliers surprised observers by staying relatively competitive against the more talented Golden State Warriors by running a stagnant offense predicated primarily on LeBron James holding the ball for most of the shotclock. The ISO-heavy Cavs offense was a throwback to the NBA of several years ago and was vaguely reminiscent of the Brandon Roy-centric Portland Trail Blazers circa 2009. This is not an insult - the Cavs won two more games than they probably should have in the Finals and the 2009 Blazers overachieved their way to an unexpected 54 wins.
Still, the Cavs reversion to a one-man offense stood out because it flew in the face of current NBA offensive systems which are generally constructed around ball movement and spacing. The league has been making a transition in that direction for years, starting with rule changes that outlawed interminable post-up backdowns (the "Mark Jackson Rule"), and then changes in the defensive rules that allowed teams to double away from the ball and play zone. When Tom Thibodeau leveraged these changes to revolutionize NBA defense by emphasizing overloads to the "strong side" of the court, the traditional post-ups of the ‘90s and ISOs of the early-mid 2000s were dead. Coaches responded by relying on "read and react" offensive systems to poke holes in the overloaded strong side defenses by swinging the ball around the perimeter to generate open shots.
Portland has been no exception to this trend. When Terry Stotts was hired he brought to Portland a flow offense that relies on strong shooting, great spacing and good passing to generate open looks all over the court. For the fans, this was a dramatic change from the days of Nate McMillan's offense and, quite frankly, has been a lot more entertaining to watch.
For me, seeing the Cavs over the last two weeks was a reminder of how beautiful the modern NBA offense is when the players are working together as one unit. With that in mind, I decided this week's plays should highlight "Ball Movement." As mentioned last week we're putting a unique Blazersedge spin on these top play compilations, so these are not the "best assists" or flashiest passes of the season. Instead, we've selected 10 plays that highlight the effectiveness of Portland's offense when all five players are sharing the ball. Be sure to vote in the poll at the bottom of the page!
Play 1: Weave against Phoenix
Sometimes when Portland runs this weave play it's easy to confuse them with the Harlem Globetrotters. Bonus points on this one for Meyers Leonard - the big guy makes a handoff like a wing player and then finds himself wide open in the corner. He doesn't get the ball because Robin Lopez also had a layup opportunity, but he highlights the way that the Blazers often manage to get multiple players open for clean looks on one possession.
Play 2: Broken play against the L*kers
Despite this play falling apart the Blazers maintain their spacing to, again, find multiple open players.
Play 3: CJ beats the shot clock buzzer.
The L*kers actually play decent defense here, but Portland keeps looking for the open man until CJ gets the defender to bite on a fake and drills the corner jumper at the shot clock buzzer.
Play 4: Aldridge finding the open man...Batum finds the even more open man.
In this play LaMarcus Aldridge draws a double and immediately recognizes where to find the open man. Portland makes Miami pay for leaving a three-point shooter open. This play highlights the importance of Aldridge to Portland's offense - he doesn't receive box score credit for this play, but his presence in the post and quick read of the defense generated an open look from deep.
Play 5: Chris Kaman gets the rebound over Paul Pierce
The passing by the Blazers gets the Wizards defenders to turn their heads and ultimately leads to a Kaman put-back. An ancillary bonus of good ball movement is that it can confuse or distract defenders, leaving them off balance, and give the bigs a better chance at an offensive rebound.
Play 6: Beautiful ball movement against Toronto
Anybody see the movie Hoosiers? Coach Dale would have a tear in his eye after seeing this play. Watch how Lillard keeps moving after his initial cut to the hoop and is rewarded with an open shot.
Play 7: Weave against Houston
Another picture perfect weave.
Play 8: Blake hits the 3 over Udrih
Quick passing gets Blake the three pointer.
Play 9: Another one against Memphis
Ball fakes and passing all over the court lead to a 3 as Memphis scrambles to recover.
Play 10: Batum hits the shot against Phoenix
"That's Blazers' ball movement."
Please vote for your favorite play featuring ball movement in the poll below and add your opinion to the discussion in the comments! For last week's poll on favorite clutch moments of the season follow this link.