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Play type data — What do the new Trail Blazers bring?

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The Blazers are going to look different this year. What will the new strengths and weaknesses be?

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Trail Blazers have welcomed seven new faces to the roster this season. Kent Bazemore, Hassan Whiteside, Mario Hezonja, and Anthony Tolliver figure to get the lion’s share of the playing time from that group (apologies to Pau Gasol). What impact will that have on the team? Let’s dig into some play type data from stats.nba.com.

The Data

I sorted through the NBA’s play type data and compiled how often Bazemore, Whiteside, Hezonja, and Tolliver ended a possession last season in a certain role and how many points per possession (PPP) resulted. I also did the same for the 2018-19 Blazers as a contextual comparison.

Here’s the table:

  • Yellow highlights are the three most frequent play types for the Blazers last season.
  • Red highlights indicate that a player used more than 10 percent of his possessions on that play type but had a lower points per possession than the Blazers.
  • Green highlights indicate that a player used more than 10 percent of his possession on that play type but had a higher points per possession than the Blazers.

Good news

“We’re going to get out and run more this year!” is second only to “Player X has added 20 pounds of pure muscle!” on the list of preseason platitudes that are proven demonstrably false by Nov. 1. Think that’s hyperbole? The Blazers have been claiming they want to run more since literally before the franchise’s first regular season game:

But, hey, there’s a chance it could be true for the Blazers this year.

Bazemore, Hezonja, and Tolliver all spent a considerable amount of time in transition and the latter two were highly efficient on those possessions. Portland’s conservative defensive scheme may limit opportunities, to an extent, but it’s at least possible that the second unit will revive the long dead “Red hot and rollin’” catchphrase.

Whiteside and Tolliver also look to be good fits with Damian Lillard on the pick and roll — both new players spent a lot of time as a role man and were highly efficient. Lillard throwing lobs to Whiteside as defenses collapse might even help Blazermaniacs shrug off the bad memories of trying to contain playoff-Javale McGee around the basket.

Bad News

Dreams of Lillard having less responsibility on offense this year will likely remain fantasies. None of the new Blazers were particularly effective in isolation and Bazemore and Hezonja were downright awful as pick and roll ballhandlers. There’s probably a reason ideas of load management have been generally dismissed, despite the league-wide trend in that direction.

Spot-up shooting might also be iffy. Bazemore matches the Blazers efficiency from last year but Tolliver and Hezonja were significantly worse. It’s possible they will get cleaner looks now that they’re playing for better teams, but it’d be unwise to bank on the newcomers to be significantly better than the departed Al-Farouq Aminu when spotting up on the perimeter.

Bazemore, in general, may need some help from Terry Stotts’ offensive wizardry — 60 percent of Bazemore’s possessions last year (transition + PnR Ballhandler + Handoff) were significantly less efficient than Portland’s team baseline.

Conclusions

  • This MIGHT be the year the second unit gets out and runs more!
  • Lillard has some new weapons at his disposal on the pick and roll.
  • It’s an open question whether or not Bazemore and Hezonja will be able to run the pick and roll well and take some load off of Lillard’s shoulders.
  • Spot-up shooting is still a work in progress
  • Bazemore’s raw numbers don’t look promising. It will be up to the coaching staff to find his strengths and put him in a position to use them.

Any other thoughts? Let us know in the comments!