Last year, the Portland Trail Blazers cemented their identity. The offense had a second consecutive year of power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the post, point guard Damian Lillard in the high pick-and-roll, and lots and lots of movement. The defense shifted, keeping their big men closer to the hoop against pick-and-rolls.
This year, the Blazers' plan to keep those core principles with a few tweaks coach Terry Stotts has discussed after nearly every practice: more aggressive weakside defense and fewer transition buckets. I covered these changes in depth (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) but what other on-court adjustments should the Blazers be considering?
Here are three on-court tendencies the Blazers should keep and three they should change:
On-Court Tendencies to Keep
Using Wesley Matthews in the post
Last year was the first time we saw shooting guard Wesley Matthews consistently get touches in the post. This ability was a big reason why he was able to make life tough on James Harden during the playoffs and expect him to be even more effective during the upcoming season.
Continue taking more shots than the opponent
A big part of the Blazers' success last year was their ability to get second-chance points and take care of the ball on offense. This often allowed them to take more shots than their opponent. As the Blazers emphasize getting back on defense, offensive rebounds may be harder to come by. If that's true, the Blazers will need to force more turnovers in order to maintain this advantage.
Keep drawing up brilliant ATOs
"ATO" stands for after time out play and they typically take place in special situations near the end of quarters or games. Stotts has long been a master at drawing up the perfect play to fit the situation and his continued excellence will help the Blazers succeed in close games. He even won the title of "ATO All-Star" from Doug Eberhardt, a former coach and current writer for SB Nation.
On-Court Tendencies to Change
Fewer long twos early in the shot clock
As Evans Clinchy pointed out, the Blazers have proven mid-range jumpers can be a key part of an elite offense. However, the Blazers, and Aldridge in particular, were often too willing to take a long jumper early in the shot clock. This lets the defense off the hook by taking a good shot instead of working to create a great one. The mid-range will always be their bread and butter, but they should test the defense and see if they can create a more efficient look first.
Less Dorell Wright at small forward
On the Golden State Warriors, Dorell Wright was asked to stand around the 3-point line and space the floor. He thrived in this role, making the most 3-pointers in the league and playing solid defense. The Blazers' offense constantly puts wing players in pick-and-rolls and down screens. Wright hasn't shown the ability to read these plays consistently and it's the main reason why he's struggled with the Blazers. With guard CJ McCollum ready for a larger role, it's probably best to give the majority of back up small forward minutes to Matthews instead of hoping Wright turns into something he's not.
More Situational Lineups
Last year, the Blazers' rotation was incredibly consistent and you pretty much knew when each player would come in and out of the game. This year, Stotts has a few more options. Look for him to mix in two-point guard lineups, two-center lineups, small ball lineups, and situational uses of particular bench players. If done well, this could help the Blazers succeed against troublesome matchups during the season and make them more versatile in the playoffs.
-- Willy Raedy