The Trail Blazers made an obvious commitment to a youth movement this offseason, and with that youth, naturally, comes athleticism, speed and quickness. Portland coach Terry Stotts, facing an uphill climb against more experienced, talent-stocked and veteran-laden lineups out West next season, will be tasked with leveraging whatever advantages he can find on his rebuilt roster to remain competitive for an 82-game regular season.
Blazer's Edge staff writers have been weighing the prospects of a more uptempo Blazers offense for weeks, wondering how the style of play will change in Rip City this fall after four members of the starting lineup from the last two seasons were dispersed across the map this offseason, while All-Star point guard and team-cornerstone Damian Lillard remained the lone holdover.
"..Playing faster makes a lot of sense," Blazer's Edge scribe Evans Clinchy conveyed last Friday. "Each young Blazer you look at reveals a new reason for next year's team to emphasize the transition game."
"For a multitude of reasons," he later continued, "it looks like a fast-paced style of play will be a must for the Blazers next season."
Fellow Blazer's Edge writer Willy Raedy mentioned on the most recent Weekend Podcast that most teams promise before training camp to push the tempo and take advantage of fast break opportunities in the upcoming season. Which is true, so Stotts' endorsement of a faster pace should come as no surprise to any Blazer fan.
Still, Portland clearly has the horses to get out and run. And, thanks to NBA.com's SportVU player tracking statistics, we can see just how fast some of these guys are.
The fastest player in the league last year, in terms of average in-game speed, was Spurs guard Patty Mills, clocking in at 4.8 mph. Blazers guard CJ McCollum was tied for third in the NBA with a large handful of other players -- including backup point guard Tim Frazier -- at 4.6 mph, while wing-addition Al-Farouq Aminu averaged 4.5 mph last season, ranking him in the upper-echelon of speedsters. Lillard averaged what seems like a paltry 4.2 mph last year, but keep in mind how often point guards walk the ball up, which would heavily skew their average speed; Only a few point guards are ranked among the very fastest players in the league, many of them bench specialists whose job is to push the ball.
NBAminer.com, an analytics site put together by two data-obsessed Turkish NBA fans, uses more precise measurements from the SportVU cameras and, for what it's worth, has McCollum as the third-faster player in the league (4.622 mph average), Frazier at No. 9 (4.519 mph) and Aminu at No. 11 (4.48 mph).
We know that in McCollum, Frazier and Aminu, Portland has three of the fastest overall players in the game. In order to see how some of the other Blazers stack up, then, let's look at how they ranked for their position on their respective teams last year. This allows us to take into account the slow pace of many teams that might restrict an otherwise quick player, while looking at position specifically and comparing apples to apples.
Interestingly, Meyers Leonard did not fare well in average speed (4.0 mph, second-to-last for Blazer bigs), though he's fairly consistently lauded for his athleticism. Perhaps Stotts' defensive scheme kept him anchored in the opponents' key for many possessions, but Leonard didn't stand out for his speed amongst his frontcourt peers in Portland by any stretch.
However, power forward Ed Davis was third overall for the Lakers last season at 4.3 mph, also the team's fastest big man. Along with Davis at 4.3 mph was center Mason Plumlee with the Nets, by far the fastest big on their roster. Noah Vonleh registered an average speed of 4.4 mph last year to lead all power forwards and centers on Charlotte's roster, while Gerald Henderson played at an average speed of 4.3 mph, making him one of the Hornets' faster wings. Moe Harkless also tallied 4.3 mph, among the faster wings on the Magic last season.
Outside of Leonard, the majority of players on Portland's newfangled roster were generally the fastest on their previous teams at their respective positions. Even the guys from slower-paced franchises managed to hustle up the court faster than most of their peers, perhaps an indicator that pushing the ball next year in Portland may not just be an initiative early on but also a legitimate strategy for Stotts' to employ.
McCollum, Frazier and Aminu are already among the entire league's fastest overall players. If that weren't enough for you to consider why the Blazers should leverage their youth and athleticism by running more next season, the confidence in knowing that Plumlee, Davis, Vonleh, Henderson and Harkless were some of the fastest players at their position on their respective teams should confirm that Stotts at least needs to try and get out in the open court more often.
No one is promising the results will be pretty -- the Blazers were not particularly fast-paced last year, so there are bound to be growing pains as the new players adjust to each other and the coaching staff figures out some semblance of a playing rotation -- but Portland will likely have to increase the tempo in order to remain competitive on many nights.
At the very least, the Blazers have the athletic pedigree to get out and run this season. Now it's up to Stotts and his staff to make sure his team's potential for speed isn't squandered. And, if the team and coaches succeed, fans in Portland could see one of the fastest Trail Blazer rosters in recent memory when the season kicks off this fall.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter