It's no secret that Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts has run his offense from the outside-in the past several seasons. Last year, according to TeamRankings.com, Portland launched 27.1 three-pointers a game (No. 4 in the NBA) and scored just 37.7 points in the paint per outing (No. 27). The Blazers' pace was roughly league average, but due to a conservative defensive scheme that effectively funneled the opposition into the midrange and sealed off the perimeter at the expense of forcing turnovers, the team scored just 10.1 fastbreak points per game -- good for No. 25 in the league.
All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge -- who scored 39.4 percent of his shots from the midrange, according to NBA.com, good for No. 11 in the NBA for players who averaged at least 10 minutes a night and saw action in at least 41 games -- will be punishing teams from 15 feet and beyond in a Spurs uniform after he signed in San Antonio this summer as a free agent.
Guard Wesley Matthews (7.4 three-point attempts a night, No. 2 in the NBA) received a massive deal in Dallas and deep threat Nic Batum (4.4 three-point attempts a game) landed in Charlotte in a trade preceding the 2015 NBA Draft.
Big man Meyers Leonard (42 percent on threes last season), guard CJ McCollum (39.6 percent) and star guard Damian Lillard (34.3 percent) remain on Portland's roster, but the jumpshooting of Aldridge, Matthews and Batum has hardly been replaced with any of GM Neil Olshey's recent acquisitions. In fact, the opposite could essentially be stated for some; Gerald Henderson, Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless -- new players who will fill out much of the Blazers' depth on the wings next season -- made a combined 89 of 316 three-point attempts last season, or roughly 28.2 percent of their outside shots.
Power forward Ed Davis and center Mason Plumlee have notoriously limited shooting range and the other solid jumpshooters on the roster -- Noah Vonleh, Pat Connaughton and Allen Crabbe -- either haven't proven their accuracy in meaningful minutes at the professional level or could be on the fringes of Stotts' rotation to start the year.
The Blazers will have to compensate, in at least some ways, for the lack of bankable three-point shooters in the lineup this year. One of the ways Stotts could leverage his young roster's athleticism would be to push the ball more often and play at a quicker tempo when opportunities to fastbreak present themselves.
And fastbreaks often result in one of the highest percentage shots in the game of basketball: Dunks.
Last season, according to Basketball-Reference's team shooting statistics, the Blazers flushed just 227 attempts, good for No. 24 in the NBA.
Using Basketball-Reference's individual shot finder, we can come up with a chart that includes the league's top-20 dunkers by volume. Taking into account successful dunk attempts and made field goals, we can also come up with a "Dunk Percentage," or the number of dunks divided by the number of made field goals, which shows how many of a particular player's made shots were dunks. This chart also includes these same statistics for Portland's newest rotation players and, for reference, a handful of the rotation players from a season ago, sorted in descending format by Dunk Percentage:
|Player||Made Dunks||Made FGA||Dunk %|
(Note: Current Blazers are bold. Last year's are italicized).
There's a couple of caveats to consider when interpreting this information. First, small sample sizes for Harkless, Crabbe, Freeland and Vonleh may skew their individual numbers in either direction and second, this list is composed of the top-20 dunkers in the NBA by volume and ranked by Dunk Percentage, with current and former Blazers included for reference. Other NBA players outside of the top-20 in dunks by volume could have been included in this list and compared favorably, too. This chart simply shows the ranges of Dunk Percentages for the top dunkers in the league and where current and former Blazers would rank among them.
Still, the results are telling. Last year, only Leonard and Lopez scored a significant fraction of their points via dunks for the Blazers. Otherwise, the rest of Stotts' rotation relied on dunking very little, it seems. This should come as no surprise, as it illustrates just how outside-in Portland's offense functioned last season.
Also consider that Harkless, Aminu, Plumlee and Davis had Dunk Percentages last year that put them in the class of players like Tristan Thompson, Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond and Rudy Gobert, to name a few. In short, Portland's added a whole host of new contributors who can get above the rim and finish, a huge departure from the last several seasons.
Will Rip City become the next Lob City? Probably not -- Stotts will no doubt still look to find ways to put his shooters in position to score from deep and still utilize the perimeter often. But he'd also be remiss, it would seem, to not capitalize on the finishing abilities of some of his new weapons.
Bigs with limited range like Plumlee and Davis are still likely to feast on offensive rebounds and putbacks. Harkless and Aminu, two guys who love to get out on the fastbreak, should also have ample opportunity to finish authoritatively in transition in what looks to be a more up-tempo offense next season.
The 2015-16 win column may fill up slowly for Portland as the year progresses, but the brand of basketball Stotts will likely emphasize should look exciting and, in fact, result in more dunks than in recent seasons. Even as the potential losses pile up, the entertainment value should still be high.
And when measuring sticks of success like individual player development and forming a team identity take precedence over winning games, Blazer fans can at least look forward to a little more above-the-rim play from their favorite team.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter