In an era dominated by offense, the 2023-24 Portland Trail Blazers produced 104.3 points per game through their first seven games of the season, last in the entire NBA. They lost All-Star scorer Damian Lillard over the summer, but they still have two players over 20 ppg and one knocking on the door. It seems like they should be doing better than last in the league. What’s happened to Portland’s offense?
That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
So much was made of defense this year, but what about scoring the ball? With Shaedon Sharpe, DA, and Grant on board I thought we’d be better. Malcolm Brogdon is even scoring but we’re still not producing. What gives? Did you expect them to be better too?
Anfernee Simons has been out for most of the year so far. That certainly contributes. Scoot Hednerson’s offense got off to a slow start. The Blazers haven’t been making full use of Deandre Ayton either. All of those are contributing factors.
But the big red flag belongs not to any individual, rather the team as a whole. Portland currently sits with a pace rating of 101.3, tied with the Miami Heat for 24th in the NBA. The Heat are a veteran, halfcourt-savvy team. So are the Denver Nuggets, nestled right next to Portland in the low-pace category. The Blazers aren’t.
Preventing opponent points is the basic function of defense, but Portland was relying on good defense to generate fast offense, another huge point of emphasis when the season started. So far, that hasn’t happened. That leaves the Blazers playing in the halfcourt, which goes straight into the Big Book of Very Bad Ideas for this team.
Modern set offenses depend on the three-point shot to spread the floor. Failing that, they call for a dominant multi-threat scorer/passer in the middle of the floor or, if everything else falls through, a superstar who can score at will. The Blazers don’t have enough shooters. Nor do they have any of those other things. Opponents are sitting back, waiting for drivers to attack the lane or passes to hit the post. At that point, they swarm and strip. When the driver or poster passes the ball out to the arc, nobody’s hitting the long ball.
Take all the players you listed in your question. Now put two defenders on them. They don’t look as fancy anymore.
Let’s not even talk about the instinctive flinch when almost any Trail Blazers player pulls up from distance.
Portland’s effective field goal percentage—measuring scoring efficiency based on two- and three-point shots—is tied with the New York Knicks for dead last in the league. Their true shooting percentage, which also accounts for free throws, is 29th out of 30, ahead of those same Knicks and nobody else. Three point percentage? Last overall. Field goal percentage? 29th there too.
There’s not enough defense in the world to make up for that. And it all goes back to the same issue. The Blazers aren’t getting down the floor before opposing defenses set up. They need more easy baskets, generating points quickly, so they can ride out the ups and downs (mostly downs) of their halfcourt possessions.
Again we’ll point out that Anfernee Simons was a huge key to Portland’s halfcourt offense. Losing him hurt. It won’t be fair to judge the current roster without him present. But I don’t expect Simons to make up for the deficit singlehandedly. If the Blazers can’t run, they won’t succeed with this roster.
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Note all stats in this post were recorded before the Blazers and Sacramento Kings faced off on Wednesday night. Minor variations in numbers will occur because of that game.