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New Trail Blazers Lineup Brings New Hopes

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Rodney Hood’s arrival and Jake Layman’s continued good play make Portland more dangerous.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline has passed and barring a late addition in the buyout market or a 10-day addition, the 14-man roster the Trail Blazers currently have is what they’ll look to close out the season with . The additions of Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere are welcome. Turning the 13th, 14th & 15th guys on your roster into a 5th through 8th guy and an upgrade at the reserve big position- even if it wasn’t the big move Portland fans were hoping for. Now the question is, how will the Blazers utilize them? Specifically how will the Blazers look to integrate Hood- particularly with the recent ascension of Jake Layman?

Making his home debut after trade, Hood came in and made in immediate impact. Going 6-7 from the field for 14 points and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes of play, you really couldn’t ask more from Hood. While he’s far from integrated into the offense the canvas that the Blazers have to work with here was on full display.

Hood’s first bucket as a Blazer, attacking a closeout on the three point line and then finishing with a left handed floater (he’s a lefty) drew the “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd as it should have. More than anything, beyond just the fact that it was a nice, clean, crisp drive and finish- it was where it was coming from. A Blazers wing. Hood followed that up with a mid-post shot on each side of the paint, scoring with relative ease while most others watched. It wasn’t the prettiest play- it was more about making Hood feel comfortable and getting the ball in his hands than anything else. However, it showed Portland what he was capable of again.

If you take a look at Hood’s Synergy profile with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Utah Jazz over the last few years, it becomes evident where he likes to get his shots from.

If you draw lines at 45 degree angles from the rim out towards the three point line you can see the “alley” that Hood did most of his damage in last year. On display against the San Antonio Spurs we saw more of the same- Hood looking to get into the middle of the floor and do damage.

Why does it matter how he fits alongside Jake Layman? We saw for just a short period what it looks like with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Hood, Layman and Jusuf Nurkic on the floor. That lineup played a bit more than 6 minutes together and this is going to have all the hyperbole in it, but it was some of the cleanest and most entertaining brands of basketball the Blazers have played all season.

Let’s get back to the Layman Factor (trademark pending). Unless you’ve been a coma you know that Layman has forced the Blazers to play him more- both in a general sense with minutes but also in important stretches. It isn’t just Layman’s scoring (up to 12.3 PPG in his last 15 games) but how he has been doing it. Like Hood, we can see Layman’s shot profile and it stands out.

Granted, it doesn’t have the volume of Hood’s profile from last year- it’s pretty evident where Layman is getting his looks. If you were to overlay Layman’s chart with Hood’s you’d have a really nice network of the modern offensive philosophies that so many teams run- wing 3’s, shots at the rim and a sprinkle in the midrange. What you don’t see from the profile is how each player goes about getting those shots- the context.

Per Synergy Sports Tech, Layman’s top 4 shot types: Spot Up, Cut, Transition, Off Screen. All told those 4 categories make up for over 75 percent of Layman’s shot data. Basically, Layman does most of his damage without needing the ball.

Per Synergy Sports Tech

Contrast that with Rodney Hood’s top 4 shot types: Pick & Roll Ball Handler, Spot Up, Isolation & Transition. That accounts for over 71 percent of Hood’s profile and is a bit more ball dominant.

Per Synergy Sports Tech

So you can see while the end results look similar, they go about in different ways- complementary ways. There’s a pecking order, or an order of operations of how each goes about scoring, and they happen to fit very well (in theory) with Dame, CJ & Nurkic. As the Spurs tried to ratchet up their defense last night; over play screens, play above pick and roll coverage, showing hard, etc. Layman went to work with back cut after back cut. The Spurs adjust and sink in, Layman pops up for a look from three opening up the lane for a Lillard drive or a skip pass to McCollum for one of his 7 threes on the evening.

It was move, countermove, counter-countermove. It’s the smallest of small sample sizes, we don’t know how this lineup will stand up against a bigger/stronger/longer lineup or one that features a true superstar/unicorn type (Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, etc) - a truly positionless star that distorts a team’s defensive gameplan.

The early returns are nice- we’ve seen a glimpse of how Portland can play against opponents who try to take Lillard & McCollum out of a game. By having willing cutters, floor spacers and an additionally wing player who can shoot, create off the bounce and get their own shot- perhaps Portland has found the wrinkle and the winning combination to the blitzing and trapping that have doomed them in the past. Perhaps it’s a just a flash in the pan, either way it’s just nice to see Portland willing to mix things up at this point.