clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Portland Trail Blazers "Thumb Punch" Playbook Breakdown

The final episode of a three-part series on the Trail Blazers and their "Thumb" series.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last two weeks we have gone over several of the basic plays included in the Portland Trail Blazers' "Thumb" set.

First we covered Thumb Up. Then it was Thumb Fist.

Those plays covered how the Blazers got a quick 3-pointer or how they moved into the pick-and-roll. Today we conclude by checking out how the Blazers work themselves into the low post, and how that has changed in the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge during the 2015-16 NBA season.

Let's talk about "Thumb Punch." Watch the video right here and or read the full breakdown below:

The Setup

We're going to start by going over the basic setup once again, and this time our chalkboard is set up to show how Portland used to work this play last season with Aldridge. In particular, the pass is going to go to the weak side, away from the direction of the wing who comes across the top of the set.

We’ve got the same basic Horns formation, with two posts at the elbows and two wings in the corner. The first action comes with one of the wings moving up from the corner on a pin down to receive a pass from the point.

At this point, the opposite wing has run down the baseline to clear space and re-balance the floor. Meanwhile, the SG has received a pass from the point guard on the elbow.

It's important to note that this play is setting up the SF to take a screen across the baseline from the PF.

Next, 3 flips the ball back to the point and receives a screen at the elbow by the C.

Meanwhile, we see that SF is getting a pick from PF at the baseline after he's moved down toward the basket. This is doubly important, because it not only acts as a screen for the wing, but pushes the PF deeper into the block for the eventual post-up possession.

The next action completes the set for Aldridge in years past.

It's just a quick pass to SF as he runs to the arc, and then a pass down low to the block for Aldridge to go to work.

Here's the whole series as it looks drawn up:

Let's take a look at what this play looks like on video from 2015 and prior, to see how Terry Stotts has adapted the post-up plays from this set.

With LaMarcus Aldridge

When it came to the post on this play, often this was run to the weak side of the floor in order to get Aldridge the ball down on the left block.

In the play above, we have the handoff play running left-to-right. Once that man clears, we have Aldridge setting a screen to the man switching the court down the baseline. Once the point gets the ball to the wing, it’s then a quick pass down low and Aldridge goes to work.

Looking at post up possessions for Blazers bigs in 2016, this version of the set almost never happens for them.

Post plays from Thumb in 2016

Instead what we have is a neat substitution for post touches out of the Thumb set by Stotts that does two things: First, it switches the play to the strong side of the floor. Second, it’s a post-up play for the guard with the big man as the passer on the arc.

Role reversal!

In the play above, we have Moe Harkless as the handoff man coming across a screen by Noah Vonleh. With the flare play taken away, Vonleh then moves up to the arc as Harkless continues to the block. A quick pass later, and it’s a post-up play for Harkless.

Sometimes this "post-up" play is more smoke and mirrors than anything else. It can also be used to set up a sideline pick-and-roll.

In the example above, Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe are running what's called a "Get" action, where a pick-and-roll is run upside down, with the big man on top with the ball and the guard running up to get the ball from him.

You see this run by Blake Griffin and Chris Paul -- although admittedly under more control -- quite often.


This whole play is a very nice adaptation by Terry Stotts for the Blazers in lieu of losing such a huge low block presence like Aldridge over the offseason.

Remember, these are just some of the basic plays Portland runs out of Thumb. There are several more, and it's a read-and-react style of offense. Yes, they call these plays specifically, but the great thing about Stotts' offense is if the first option is shut down, you can move right on to another action.

Keep your eyes peeled and see if you can spot additional plays out of Thumb during the next Blazers game you watch.