Welcome to the Blazer's Edge Mailbag! We are here to answer any of your Portland Trail Blazers questions you may have. Please send your questions to email@example.com and we'll do out best to get it answered!
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What are the plus/minuses of a spread 5 offense.... with a good defense?
With all the flack Meyers gets....it sure seems to me if we could get a good defensive spread 4... we are set as we already have the other players ..... including the rare spread 5 (Meyers) ..and almost as rare SG (CJ) with an amazing penetrating handle and passing skills.
Wouldn't it seem as though we would shoot a higher 3 pt %.... with the better spacing of a spread 5 offense.
Last question, how would a team effectively guard a spread 5 offense?
There are limitless amounts of different ways to run a spread 5 offense. Some of the more popular examples from the NBA are the spread 5 high pick-and-roll that the Suns and Steve Nash mastered, the spread 5 corner series, which was a specialty of long time Princeton coach Pete Carril and Ex-blazer head coach Rick Adelman when they joined forces in the early 2000s with Kings, and the weave, which may look familiar as it is part of the current Blazers playbook, just to name a few.
The goal of any spread 5 offense is that the key is left open except for when cutters are coming through and leaving again or if the ball reaches the paint on a dribble penetration. Depending on the type of offense it is, every player without the ball is either screening, cutting or spotting up at the 3-point line. Players can post up if they get good position or have a mismatch but in doing so, the goal is to score quick or keep the ball moving. Running a spread offense takes five players all on the same page. Everyone needs to be able to read situations, move, drive, shoot and be able to anticipate and make quick passes.
One of the benefits of spreading the offense out, is forcing the opposing team's big men to have to guard on the perimeter. Imagine driving the lane against the Miami Heat, and having Hassan Whiteside 10 feet away and not able to contest the finish. Or imagine Al Jefferson out on the perimeter chasing a shooter or getting switched on to a point guard at the 3-point line. Spreading the offense out is a good way to expose any bad perimeter defenders.
With the offense in constant attack mode, it can create defensive panic and mistakes. Getting back-doored or over-helping and leaving a shooter unguarded are the easy shots that the offense is designed to create. If a player is beat off the dribble, the spacing of the offense makes it much harder for the defense to help and leads to uncontested lay-ins and dunks.
If spreading the floor out leads to all of these uncontested 3-pointers and dunks, why don't all NBA teams run it? The biggest reason for that is personnel. A team like the Golden State Warriors can put out lineups that can make all of the right plays offensively, and still be a top defensive team. There just are not that many other teams that have the players to do that. Making a great back-door cut is pointless if the ball handler cannot get them the ball right when they are open. Or being able to score 105 points per game does not matter if you're giving up 108.
The college game has more teams that run spread motion type offenses because they have a 35-second shot clock, opposed to the 24-second clock that the NBA uses. In basketball time, those 11 extra seconds are an eternity. A spread offense in the NBA has to be much more efficient.
To answer how to effectively guard a good spread offense, the easiest solution is switching with players who can all guard the perimeter. It's crucial to hold the drives and not let the ball pick up speed. Switching on defense is the easiest way to negate the benefits of a screen or a handoff. Its just a matter of the defense being able to find a 5-man unit that can all guard the perimeter and still be able to score the ball. Not all teams can do that.
The Blazers definitely have the personnel to spread the floor. They are already currently third in the NBA in 3-point percentage and a lot of their sets start with the paint wide open. They are also dead last in the NBA in post-up plays, third in handoffs, and second in the NBA in total points off of the drive. This tells us that the Blazer offensive attack starts mostly from outside the key. The Blazers rarely play lineups with five shooters on the court, but GM Neil Olshey and head coach Terry Stotts have built an offense that is able to space the floor just the same.
The two most important pieces to the offense are guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Having two starting guards who can create for themselves on the drive, create for others, shoot behind screens, and are a danger to score from every spot on the floor, is a luxury that very few teams have. The more space that those two can get would be to Portland's advantage. The offense relies heavily on those two being able to create.
Al-Farouq Aminu and Gerald Henderson did wonders for themselves by becoming league average 3-point shooters for the first times in their respective careers, although neither is the type of creator that the spread offense values. Henderson has a knack for moving without the ball and a strong attack off the dribble. Allen Crabbe is also a good fit to stretch the floor, given his 3-point shot, and even more so as he continues to grow as a driver and passer.
Mason Plumlee is a non-shooting big, but is an intricate part of spreading the offense because of his passing. Portland often runs him at the top of the key and he is great at finding back door cutters and hitting shooters in the right spots as they come off screens. He is also a big athletic target and a very good finisher around the rim which is great for high screen-and-rolls. Shooting the ball is a helpful skill in spreading the floor but his passing is just as important.
Meyers Leonard is shooting the ball at a very good rate this season. Especially for a 7-footer. His 37.7 percent shooting from deep is the same as Damian Lillard's. His percentage is also better than known big men shooters like Kevin Love at 34.3 percent and Ryan Anderson at 36.3 percent. This number is slightly skewed because Leonard has fewer attempts and has a spot up percentage of 35.4 percent, much higher than the aforementioned players (Damian Lillard's is 8.3 percent).
Even so, the percentage still cannot be ignored. Leonard is a big body, he runs the floor well when he wants to, his defense on the post is progressing and he is a very capable passer. The flack that Leonard gets is mostly from his tendency to lose focus [See: "Comments Section" for more details]. Being that big, mobile, and able to to shoot and pass as well as he can is a rare and valuable skillset. It is perfect for teams who like to spread the floor.
Leonard is young and a restricted free agent this year, because the two sides could not come together on an extension after he turned down an offer that was reportedly between $12-15 million for four years. The Blazers are clearly sold on his potential and who could blame them? His 13.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes are good, but he is yet to prove that he can be a consistent player in this league. The Blazers cannot fully know what they have in him. Is he capable of being a starter on a playoff team? Is he just a big to come in and space the floor for a few minutes per game? How high is his ceiling? Is he Spencer Hawes? Channing Frye?
The Blazers have overachieved this season, but overachieving is not the ultimate goal. The Blazers' front office still has work to do in order to make this team a true contender. Big men who can shoot, like Leonard, are a necessity in today's NBA to counter slow big men and to extend rim protectors. Every single NBA team has at least one guy who can play the 4 or 5 and can shoot the 3 (A stretch for a few teams but ultimately holds true).
As suggested, Portland could definitely use another big who can shoot and stretch the floor even more, and play perimeter defense to counter the lack of lateral quickness in the other Blazer bigs. Leonard is clearly in the long-term plans for Portland. He is a perfect fit for a spread offense, but before we start structuring an offense based around him, let's see him earn it.
Thank you for your questions! Remember if anyone else has questions they would like us to answer please send them in to Blazersub@gmail.com