Today's Mailbag question is pretty comprehensive, so let's dig right in. If you have your own questions about the Portland Trail Blazers, e-mail them to email@example.com!
So wins and losses aren't going to be the barometer for the Blazers this year. I agree with this. When asked about measures of success you talk about individual development. I also agree with this but I'm not satisfied. I want some team measures that I can judge by. Is there anything you're looking for besides whether the new players do well individually?
Sure. We've talked about team measures before, usually in the guise of "What the Team Will Do Well". I guess we haven't put them in one place yet, so here you go...a list of things the Blazers need to do in order to maximize success and demonstrate direction this season. We could list 100 theoretical approaches for any team but these should be the core qualities by which Portland will flourish or fall.
With each category we list the chance that they'll actually succeed, ranked from 1-10 with 1 being "almost no chance" and 10 being "count on it".
None of this is meant to imply that excelling in these categories will lead Portland to a 50-win season. Many barometers for bona fide team success aren't listed here. (We're not naming anything they have basically no chance of succeeding at.--Hello, halfcourt offense--even if that factor is important.) But if the Blazers do well in these areas they're off to a promising start no matter how the actual win-loss record ends up. If they fail in these areas, the season might not get off the drawing board.
Chance of Success: 3 out of 10
The Blazers will almost certainly struggle on offense this year. Even Terry Stotts, one of the better offensive coaches in the league, won't be able to patch these guys together in a coherent halfcourt system. They're too young, there's too much duplication of skill and scoring range, and too many players are limited. Portland will need to defend in order to win games.
The Blazers picked up plenty of players with athleticism this summer, a few with established defensive chops even. They've got the individual talent to play defense well. Youth and lack of playing time together provide the biggest obstacles.
Blazers fans will remember how Portland's otherwise-decent defense stuttered last season when Wesley Matthews went down with an Achilles injury and Arron Afflalo stepped in to replace him. They managed, but it wasn't the same. Afflalo was a veteran and a decent defender. Now imagine replacing 4 players in the starting lineup and shaving 5 years of experience off of each position so replaced. Imagine every player off the bench being new to the team...or young themselves...or Chris Kaman. The time it takes for Portland's defense to become dependable could be measured in seasons, not months or weeks.
Nevertheless, athleticism and willingness do count. If the Blazers can gel it together on the defensive end they could become a powerful force. Defense will set up everything else they want to do.
Chance of Success: 9 out of 10
Along with the aforementioned athleticism, the Blazers picked up major doses of rebounding at every frontcourt position this summer. With mobility to match, theoretically there shouldn't be any way they end up a poor rebounding team. If they're not controlling the glass, the Blazers are in big trouble.
Chance of Success: 5 out of 10
Once you get past the Wonka-bar wrapper of defending and the foil insert of rebounding, transition offense is Portland's Golden Ticket...their passport to prosperity. The sheer variety of players who can motor down the court and throw down a thunderous jam makes the Blazers a dangerous threat. If they get a head of steam in the open court, they won't be stopped.
The problems here are obvious. Transition points require good defense. Opponents don't like to give up easy buckets and will be trying to stop Portland from running, as it's one of the few ways the Blazers will be able to score reliably. The best team in the league in transition last season--the Golden State Warriors--scored just under 21 points per game on the run. Even if the Blazers match that, where are the other 80 points going to come from?
Nevertheless, Portland will be well-served by trying to tire out opponents, becoming a constant threat to run them out of the gym in 48 minutes of beach-storming hell.
Offensive Rebounding and Converting Boards Into Points
Chance of Success: 8 and 5, respectively.
The Blazers will be a good rebounding team on this end of the floor as well. The "8" above represents the chances of Portland actually getting offensive boards. They'll generate plenty of opportunities by missing halfcourt shots. They'll sweep up plenty of rebounds because that's what they're built to do.
Converting those rebounds into points will prove harder. Opponents will be watching for this just as hard as they're watching for transition opportunities. They might not keep Portland from getting the ball but they'll try to keep men between rebounders and the basket. With Portland bigs having the offensive range of your average trailer hitch, they might be forced to pass the ball back out after they secure it. If they find Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum for an open three, all will be well. Otherwise the orange roundie will end up in a washing machine full of suck, with missed shots only leading to more missed shots.
Despite that, the Blazers will probably end up making hay on the offensive glass. Whether it's enough hay to fill the barn remains to be seen, but the groundwork for success is there.
Chance of Success: 4
In theory the Blazers should be as quick back on defense as they were running up on offense. In practice this might not happen.
Young guys tend to remember scoring more than getting back to defend. Guards are usually responsible for the initial transition defensive stop and Portland's guards will also be their primary scorers, leaving them occupied. Even if they do get back, Lillard and McCollum aren't likely to intimidate anybody. Other potential defenders will be busy going after those offensive rebounds we just mentioned.
The Blazers are going to have to be disciplined in order to convert transition opportunities on offense into an actual advantage in transition points overall. If they give away as many as they score, their flashy dunks will turn out meaningless.
Forcing Turnovers/Winning the Turnover Battle
Chance of Success: 7/3
One way to preempt the need for 24 seconds of solid defense is to swipe the ball before the opponent gets a shot up. This hasn't been a part of Portland's arsenal for years. It should be now. The Blazers are better equipped to force steals now than they have been since the days Scottie Pippen roamed the floor. Even their defensively-challenged guards are good at it.
Generating opponent turnovers does not automatically lead to winning the turnover battle. Inexperience and limited points of scoring attack could leave the Blazers vulnerable to turn-about from opposing defenses. For a team this young, turnovers are far easier to commit than force. Taking care of the ball may become as big of an offensive challenge for the Blazers as hitting jumpers.
Again, send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll try to answer them in a future edition of the Mailbag!