Portland Trail Blazers: Examining early success

Nov 30, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts (center) speaks with Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (left) and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (right) during the first half of a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 30, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts (center) speaks with Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (left) and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (right) during the first half of a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers are off to a 12-2 start, good enough for second-best in the Western Conference and third-best in the entire NBA. Terry Stotts’ club has won 10 straight games, with six of those victories coming on the road.

While it is early and few would be surprised to see this team finish between the sixth and the eighth seed in the West, Portland’s success has peaked the interest of fans around the league.

For starters, the Trail Blazers boast respectable numbers in practically every statistical category. They are holding opponents to an NBA best 24.8 percent from 25-29 feet and 30.4 percent from three-point range.

While the team is limiting opponents scoring from beyond-the-arc, 29 percent of Portland’s scoring is coming from downtown, good for third-best.

The Trail Blazers are also in the top five in offensive rating, scoring 107.1 points per 100 possessions. They accomplish this by running an offense that is fast and fluid. As soon as Damian Lilliard brings the ball up, he swings it to one of the wings, who has been freed up by a screen from one of Portland’s big men. Whether it is Nic Batum or Wesley Mathews, if open, how early it is in the shot clock becomes irrelevant, Portland’s wings have the green light and to this point, have been capitalizing on the quality looks that defenders have been giving them, shortly after the ball crosses half court.

Defensively, the team is relying on its length to both protect the three-point line and to overwhelm guards when they get into the paint. However, the team struggles at defending the pick-and-roll. To this point, ball handlers are scoring nearly 39 percent of the time that they come off a screen against the Blazers, per my synergy. Portland’s guards, particularly Lilliard, lose precious seconds fighting through the screen, while the player defending the screener retreats into open space, yielding uncontested jump shots.

An example of this would be Stephen Curry shooting two-of-nine from beyond-the-arc against Portland, something that had little to do with the Blazers defense. Thanks to a lack of help from the Portland player defending the screener, Curry was getting open looks throughout the game but the ball simply was not bouncing in his favor.

The bench, arguably the worst in the league last season, is much improved thanks to offseason spending. The additions of Mo Williams and Dorell Wright, along with British import, center Joel Freeland have made a significant impact at both ends of the court.

The team’s added depth and improved offense bode well for Portland moving forward, the question is, as we get further in to the season and teams gain more continuity on offense, can the Blazers defense progress to a rate that makes this a team of playoff caliber.

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