Portland Trail Blazers Media Day 2018 has come and gone. Everyone is in the best shape of their life. Few outside of CJ McCollum are thinking about the bad things from last year. Only the good things carry over or matter. Every player setting foot in the building has added a 3-point shot and is looking to “space the floor.”
Yup! Media Day.
In between questions about favorite restaurants in Portland and whether or not the players enjoy being near major shoe company headquarters buildings, the usual NBA platitudes were EVERYWHERE. That’s to be expected. This is the Tinder profile of a team’s upcoming season.
In the midst of selling and optimism, common themes emerged from the front office, coaches and players alike. Here are a few.
The West is Tough, Let’s Just Make the Playoffs and See What Happens
Once again this season centers around the Golden State Warriors. It’s written in stone, save a major shift; injury, trade, craziness in the locker room, etc. Portland’s plan is to play well enough to make the playoffs, avoid the Warriors in the 1st round and hope things go your way. Realistically, save bottoming out, this is the only real option, so it’s not exactly surprising.
The Blazers Will Shoot More 3’s
Neil Olshey, Terry Stotts, Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard, Zach Collins, Evan Turner, Seth Curry, the guy from the catering company, and someone yelling from the back halls of the Moda Center all said the same thing today: The Blazers will shoot more 3’s this year.
Damian Lillard and McCollum already lead Portland down that road, but adding Seth Curry (a more capable shooter than anyone else off the bench) allows Portland to keep 1 1⁄2 shooters on the floor regularly, with the ability for 2, maybe 3 at the same time! I know, I know it’s exciting. Clearly the message has been sent from top to bottom, Portland is pushing towards a more analytically-balanced offense. What that means for Nurkic’s long 2’s and McCollum’s mid-range game has yet to be determined.
More Ball Movement, Less Dribbling
Multiple players highlighted the need for more ball movement/player movement as opposed to dribble drive starts to the action. Adding shooters Curry (and even Nik Stauskas) allows the Blazers to move more to a ball movement based offense with shooting gravity on the floor all 48 minutes.
Throughout the summer we’ve heard Olshey mention Turner taking on more play-making duties and today he stated that Curry will also assume some of that portfolio. Stotts echoed this sentiment while also saying that McCollum wouldn’t need to be responsible for that burden with the second unit as frequently this year. Basically it sounds like McCollum will work off the ball, allowing him to focus on being a scorer.
Switching on Defense
Yeah, I know. Just...hold on... give it a.... sigh. We’ve been down this road before, and yeah it wasn’t great. But the way it was talked about during the pressers gave me a little hope.
It didn’t sound like switching was going to become an all-encompassing approach, but something we might see outside of the starting lineup. No one wants to see Nurkic switching 25-feet from the rim regularly. That’s not fair to anyone. However, if Portland is going to play with their lineups and try to be more flexible—or “position-less”—then we should expect to see three-guard lineups, 3’s playing the 4, 4’s playing the 5, and everything in between. In those instances, expect to see the Blazers ratchet up the tempo, put pressure on the ball, switch on the perimeter, and run on offense.
Primarily that lineup sounds like a mix of Dame, CJ, Curry, Turner with Harkless, Aminu and Collins, with perhaps a sprinkling of Jake Layman if he makes the rotation out of camp. Basically, those lineups don’t include 7-foot, 270-pound players Nurkic and Meyers Leonard.
Which leads right into my last theme, lineup experimentation. The fact that Maurice Harkless isn’t yet cleared for camp is a new revelation. Stotts was already going to tinker with the lineups during the preseason (some of which I discussed here) but with Harkless out, expect to see even more outside-the-box type stuff.
This could be a blessing for guys like Layman or Gary Trent Jr. who wouldn’t get long looks with Harkless healthy. Beyond that wrinkle, we should expect to see Collins being played with every frontcourt match up possible. There aren’t a lot of questions about the personnel on this team, but who Collins can play beside efficiently/effectively is probably the biggest one.
It remains to be seen which player will come out of camp with the label of “this guy really showed something!” Olshey went out of his way to compliment Layman’s summer work and growth. Lillard mentioned Leonard as having a different energy. McCollum said Trent Jr.is physically ready to compete. My early bet is on Trent Jr. The odds are pretty good and the opportunity appears to be there with Harkless not quite 100 percent yet.