Today we continue our series on questions facing the Portland Trail Blazers as they enter the 2019-20 regular season. We know guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will be great, as always. What other factors could make the difference between a good season and a great one?
So far we’ve uncovered:
9. How much can Pau Gasol contribute?
8. Who will hit catch-and-shoot threes?
7. Can the centers stay out of foul trouble?
5. Will Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons fit into bigger roles?
4. Do the Blazers have a clear starter at either forward position?
Question #3: Can the Blazers Score on the Break?
For most of the last decade, the Portland Trail Blazers have owned one of the prettiest halfcourt attacks in the league. Whether it was LaMarcus Aldridge dishing to Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum from the extended post or Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum wreaking havoc off the dribble to open shots for teammates, Portland’s offense worked like clockwork.
During that same span, the Blazers have failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities crucial to most high-powered offensive teams: fast break points. The Blazers ranked dead last in fast break points per game in 2017-18, registering a mere 8.4 per game. They upped that to 10.9 points in 2018-19, good for 24th.
Portland’s roster changed this summer. They boast fewer stand-still shooters, more scorers and athletes. They’ll start a potential rebounding, shot-blocking machine at center in Hassan Whiteside. With Kent Bazemore, Rodney Hood, and Mario Hezonja filling the wings, will this be the year the lid finally comes off in transition?
Defense will be a crucial component of this equation. You can’t run when the other team scores. Forcing more turnovers would help generate easy buckets. (The Blazers ranked 28th in turnovers forced per game last year, 29th in turnovers forced per possession.) If the Blazers can hold the fort on the defensive end, a couple more easy buckets per game could turn their offense from very good to world-beating. Those extra points would also make up for any hiccups in the halfcourt as they adjust to new personnel.
One way or another, Portland will want to push the pace this year. They’ve always been proponents of taking the first available good shot. If more of those shots are fast-strike layups on the run, they become that much scarier.
Keep with us as we count down to the #1 question facing the Blazers this year!