The Trail Blazers shoot poorly close to the basket last season. Really poorly.
Their 56.8 percent shooting percentage within five feet of the rim was the lowest in the NBA, and the third consecutive year that Portland has been near the bottom of the league in that category.
Inability to finish around the rim seems to be a roster-wide problem — all of the Blazers were below average, for their position, at converting within five feet of the hoop last season.
But there are three solid reasons to hope that this trend reverses:
1) Seth Curry
Fun fact: Seth Curry shot 64.5 percent within five feet of the hoop two years ago. That’s better than any Blazer last season — Evan Turner led the team converting on 63 percent of his attempts — and a huge upgrade over Shabazz Napier who shot 50 percent on a nearly identical number of attempts.
Everyone’s talking about 3-pointers, but Curry’s entire scoring arsenal might give his new team a boost.
(No, you shouldn’t ask about Nik Stauskas right now.)
2) Jusuf Nurkic’s steady improvement
Nurkic improved from 56.2 percent before the All-Star break to 63.4 percent during the last third of the season. He still wasn’t THAT impressive for a center, but it was a huge uptick that coincided with coach Terry Stotts’ putting pressure on Nurkic to get more serious with his scoring (as reported by Jason Quick):
Probably the most concrete coaching moment came around the All-Star Break, when the staff restructured his shooting workouts, which had devolved into a series of nonchalant and finesse shots. Nurkic says there is a new rule: He can only practice shots he will take in the game.
“It’s about getting away from the flip shots and staying in control,’’ Stotts said. “Him taking the time to steady himself and get game-like shots. And he has worked hard at it. That work he has put in is starting to pay off now.’’
Since the All-Star Break, Nurkic has seen improvement in every category: his shooting percentage has improved from 48 percent to 55 percent. His scoring from 14.1 to 15.0 and his rebounding from 8.2 to 10.3.
Nurkic continuing this upward trend will bode well for the Blazers.
3) This is not a coaching problem
It’s tempting to blame the coaches for this lack of inside scoring, but the percentages over the last three seasons are not particularly out of place for anyone on the roster relative to the rest of their careers, and the Blazers actually finished No. 13 and 5 during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, respectively, within five feet of the hoop. So the flow offense CAN get guys clean lay-ups, it’s just a matter of whether or not anyone can hit them.
The Blazers literally can’t get worse than they were last season so hopefully Stotts, Curry, and Nurkic can work together to get some more easy buckets this year — the season may depend on it.