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Continuity and Winning in the NBA

Could the Portland Trail Blazers get a big boost from their stable lineup?

NBA: Preseason-Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Mailbag time! If you’ve got Portland Trail Blazers questions, send them to blazersub@gmail.com! The season’s around the corner and the pace is heating up, so let’s get to it.

Hi Dave (or whoever's checking the mail bag these days),

Will the continuity and good shape everyone's in only help us get off to a fast start? Or will it help throughout the year? Are there diminishing returns on those advantages?

Thanks,

Evan in Philly aka So Harkless (Blazers fan for 26 year and never been to Portland :D)

As for the first part, you need not worry about who’s checking the Mailbag. I may not be able to get to every question but I do read them all and I thank you for them.

Like Evan, some have noticed that I’ve posted a little less frequently over the past couple months. There are a couple good reasons for that:

  1. I’ve taken a new call and my family has moved to Boise, Idaho. (I know, half of you thought that’s where I lived already but not so. Believe it or not, there’s more than one town in Idaho. It’s a big state.) The hubbub of moving and starting at a new place has impacted my energy for posting. Things are more settled now. If you’re in Boise and you want to come see what else my life consists of besides Blazer’s Edge (and hear me talk in person) come visit Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran on Five Mile and Victory. I’m sure a few minutes with me will make up for the lesser number of Mailbags over the last few weeks. Maybe we can gather some folks and go have a beer after.
  2. Besides that, the time is more than ripe to acknowledge the enormous and talented staff here at Blazer’s Edge. This site left “Cult of Personality” status long ago. The sheer number of talented and motivated writers here astounds and humbles me. Featuring them heavily for a while seemed like a fine idea while I was on the move.

Now onto the Blazers-related part of your question. Continuity does make a difference. We saw that in Pre-Season Game 1 a couple days ago. The Utah Jazz incorporated new veterans and re-inserted formerly-injured stalwarts. The Trail Blazers returned most everybody from last season, adding only Evan Turner. (OK, Greg Stiemsma too...but Turner’s presence was more significant.) The Blazers carried into the game everything they brought from last year while Utah struggled to define themselves. The contrast was stark.

In the meta-picture, the impact of continuity runs along a bell curve. It’s a crucial step for young teams. They start out on the left side of the curve with none; the benefits soar in those first few years. As the team becomes more experienced—together and individually—the boost provided by continuity recedes. Familiarity with each other certainly helped the San Antonio Spurs during their dynasty, but it’s not like they fell apart shifting major players as the years progressed and they hit the right side of the graph.

During a given season, continuity can help in a few ways. The potential for fast starts is one, though it should be noted that familiarity can also breed apathy. The old truism that the NBA season doesn’t start until Christmas is often embodied by veteran teams. The fatigue of spring provides another opportunity for continuity to tell. Good teams don’t just win when they play their best. They win because, night after night, their fall-back baseline is higher than the other guys’. The difference between, “I’m tired and confused and I’m going to jack this shot” and, “I’m tired and confused but even in my sleep I have three familiar options available here” wins ballgames. Continuity also keeps teams calmer when they’re challenged to the limit in the playoffs. First-time post-season runs are usually shaky. After you’ve been a few times with the same guys, the attitude changes.

Even so, it’s safer to think of continuity as a tie-breaking factor between similar teams than as a means of winning games on its own. It can make the door open quicker, maybe even wider, but talent still gets you through it. A talented team with less time together will probably beat a less-talented team with no lineup movement.

You also mentioned “good shape”, which I’m going to assume means health. This is the x-factor in any season. The best team in the world will founder if key players are injured. Last year we saw the Blazers rise in part because they stayed healthy when so many of their rivals didn’t. Whichever team gets bit least by the injury bug has a huge advantage.

Dave,

I’m in a knot about the upcoming season. Vegas has us at 47 wins but Kp2 [ed note: Kevin Pelton] says we might regress and I just don’t know. Give me some hope or prediction or what do you think would happen? Make it positive cuz I need it!

Jet

Honestly, the variables involved in any kind of prognostication make accurate forecasts problematic. I could engage in speculation but I’m not a professio...aw heck, fine. Listen up.

Don’t know about the future, that’s anybody’s guess.

Ain’t no good reason for getting all depressed

Buy up your pad and pencil, I’ll give you a piece of my mind

In my opinionation, the sun is gonna surely shine

Hope that helps! And don’t forget to keep sending those questions to blazersub@gmail.com!

By the way, the latest line I’ve seen on the Blazers is 45.5 wins, courtesy of Bovada. Which side of that are you on? How many wins do you forecast and why? Let us know in the comment section.

—Dave (@DaveDeckard)