The best players in the game of basketball are the ones who force opponents to make choices. Immediately, I think back to the Memphis series two years ago. With Robin Lopez in the game, Marc Gasol was allowed to effectively guard two players on every pick and roll. Gasol's size and quickness allowed him to simultaneously fill the lane and contest our guards drives/jumpers. This tactic worked for Memphis mostly because Robin was neither an outside shooting threat nor a commanding interior offensive presence. Gasol's defensive dynamics, though, changed when Meyers Leonard was substituted into the game. Marc Gasol became cerebrally uncomfortable every time Meyers waited to receive an outlet at the three point line. In Marc's words, defense got harder because he "had to make a choice"--either guard Dame or CJ coming off the pick and roll or stay with Meyers. Obviously, this is old news to probably every one who visits this site. And, as a reader, you may be asking what does this "choice talk" have to do with the Blazers using a Twin Tower lineup? I'll get there, I promise. But, first, allow me to continue backtracking. As a first time poster on this site, I apologize for being a bit long winded.
This summer, so much has been made about moving Aminu to full time power forward. I personally like the idea for many reasons, especially during the regular season. Most of the benefits have already been talked to death on Blazersedge, such as how the move will add shooting and defensive switching ability to the team's scheme--provided that Harkless or Turner are guarding the pick and roll initiator. But, I think all the hubbub about rigidly adhering to such a shift (in light of today's "Small Ball NBA Era") discounts what I believe could be the Blazers best "finishing" line up against the West's top dogs come playoff time. The lineup I am proposing is also one nobody seems to be talking about in Willy Raedy's thread about minute distribution, which is why I felt the need to make the Twin Tower topic its own post, since I believe it is a worthy point of discussion for my fellow Blazer fans.
Here is my proposed playoff lineup: Dame, CJ, (insert wing who proves to be the best fit by midseason: Aminu, Turner, Harkless, Crabbe), Ezeli, Leonard. My personal wing preference is to use Turner as the offensive initiator because with the group of players I just mentioned beside him, Turner legitimately has four threats capable of scoring at a "Go-To Level" in different areas of the court: Festus down low, Meyers for three or at the rim on an alley oop, and either Dame or CJ on the catch and shoot from basically anywhere except right under the basket. All Evan Turner needs is a small step on his defender. When that happens, teams must choose which "Go-To" option to leave open. Otherwise, they must sequester a drive/midrange jumper to Evan--both of which I'm perfectly confident in him taking during crunch time (perhaps more so than other fellow Blazer fans).
We can debate which wing pairs best with the Festus/Meyers Twin Tower duo, and I would be interested to see that in the comments section below, but that is not the real point of this post. I see legitimate arguments for each candidate. Dame has chemistry with Harkless cutting to the rim, much like CJ has chemistry with Meyers both cutting and spotting up. Purely from a chemistry standpoint, I can see a Dame-CJ-Harkless-Ezeli-Leonard lineup being the most effective group, but I'm holding out hope Olshey knows what he's doing and the big bucks on Evan Turner will pay off.
Side note: I'm also from the school of thought that believes Evan Turner's poor distance shooting is not a detriment to the team. It only takes 3 shooters on the court, one of them being a 4/5, in order to space a defense. What is more important for team ball is having athletes capable of making plays from every position. As Greg Popovich repeatedly said in practice YouTube videos during the Spurs road to their last championship, "Every player on the court is a point guard!" He used to yell that again and again at practice during times when guys like Tiago Splitter or Danny Green held onto the ball. I emphasize this point only to stress that there is no such thing as too much playmaking. Popovich's philosophy is also why I believe the passing provided by a Dame-CJ-Turner-Aminu-Plumlee lineup is not as redundant as many others lurking on this site assume it to be, but that is a topic for another discussion.
Back to my original point--how does the Twin Tower lineup force other top teams in the West to make choices, and why will it be so effective? Defensively, the lineup works because Meyers can guard the 5-man while Festus uses his elite big man quickness to chase around other fours. The guy was able to effectively stay with Dame in the playoffs for Christ's sake. Don't tell me Festus can't keep up with any four man in the league not named Lebron James because I don't buy it. As Dame himself said after the Game 2 collapse against the Warriors last season, "Festus can really move." On the defensive end, this Twin Tower lineup will be our most effective group against teams like the LA Clippers, Dallas, Memphis, OKC and the Spurs who all trot out their own dual big man lineups. Think Festus on Griffin/Dirk/Randolph/Kanter/Aldridge with Meyers guarding D. Jordan/Bogut/M. Gasol/Adams/P. Gasol. A bonus to this strategy is Aminu will not get abused by Dirk fadeways or Aldridge turn-around jumpers.
When it comes to Golden State, however, my preference would be to allow Meyers to stay on Draymond, thereby giving Festus freedom to patrol the middle as he drops off the offensively limited Zaza Pachulia. I tried google searching for an article I read last year by a sports columnist that deemed Meyers as the "NBA's hilarious Draymond Green foil" to link with this fanpost, but I was unable to find it in my admittedly brief internet perusing. The article had a few main points. Meyers has just enough quickness to limit Draymond's driving. This effectively reduces Draymond to a one dimensional 3 point shooter offensively--a skill which also is somewhat negated by Meyers length. Meyers also is significantly bigger than Draymond and therefore not susceptible to his bullying antics underneath the basket. Down low, this means Meyers can shoot over Draymond. In addition, Meyers negates Draymond's rim protection by pulling him away from the hoop. Whoever wrote the article I am referencing hit the nail on the head. Draymond Green, for all his strengths, is still a flawed player who can be exposed. Fast for his size, yes, but also not a blow-by artist with his first step (ie the main area where Meyers struggles). Ironically, a player with Meyer's makeup is exactly the type who can expose Draymond's weaknesses.
But, with Meyers in the game, the Blazers need someone to effectively patrol the weak side. Enter Festus. Ed works also, and I love me some Phys Ed. But Festus provides the added bonus of hedging the pick and roll at a championship level--a wrinkle the Blazers sorely need to add to there currently predictable/vanilla defensive game plan. Less predictable equals less easy to poke holes in by elite guards my book, and hopefully Stotts comes around to this school of thinking as well now that we have the horses to pull off an alternation between ICE and hedging.
Meanwhile, the Twin Tower lineup will also be effective offensively as Meyers can play stretch 4/5 while Ezeli gives a finishing option on the interior to our guards. Most Blazers fans are familiar with the choices Meyers forces on the pick and roll, which I described above in reference to the Memphis series with Marc Gasol. However, I believe Ezeli also forces teams to make choices simply with his physicality on the boards and in the paint on the offensive end (in ways we haven't seen previously from guys like Robin Lopez). For most interior defenders, I'd wager helping off of Ezeli to stop guards driving is not an easy decision to make, much like helping off a spotted up Meyers Leonard is difficult as well. If Ezeli gets the ball close to the basket, he is merely one pump fake or power dribble away from a high percentage finish. His effectiveness down low turns a drop off pass from our guards into cash that our team can consistently take to the bank. Ezeli's interior effectiveness, assuming he stays healthy, will cause a moment of hesitation from help defenders that will allow guys like Dame, CJ, and Turner a clearer path toward the basket.
As Wayne Gretzky's dad wisely used to say, when teaching his son how to play hockey, "Don't go where the puck is! Go where it is going to be!" Putting Aminu at power forward full time in the playoffs is tantamount to going where the puck already is in today's small ball era. I believe where "the puck is going to be" is with a Twin Tower lineup that can simultaneously cover small ball threats, which is an awesome possibility for the Blazers due to Festus's immense speed. The Dame-CJ-Turner-Ezeli-Leonard lineup has the opportunity to dictate other teams' styles of play by forcing them to abandon small ball in favor of conservative bigness. What do you guys think? Am I crazy for thinking this lineup could be so effective? Or, does anybody else take seriously the idea that an Ezeli/Leonard Twin Tower lineup could be the best way for the Blazers to match up with other top teams in a Western Conference playoff battle? Furthermore, what wing makes the most sense to go along with this big man pairing? I'm interested to hear your thoughts fellow Blazer fans!