Another Trail Blazer season begins tomorrow night in Moda Center against the Utah Jazz. So what should we expect from this group, which I believe to be the most talented and deep team Portland has had in years?
It's possible to draw some conclusions from what has gone on in the last eight seasons of Terry Stotts coaching this team. There are common threads.
While it is dangerous to assume what has happened in the past will continue in the future, it’s not nearly as hazardous when it seems that there hasn’t been much change over Stotts’ tenure.
So why would we expect change now?
An absence of major changes and adjustments has been a hallmark of the last eight seasons in Portland. The Trail Blazers have tinkered with their approach at both ends of the court over that time, but not a lot has changed with their basic philosophy.
Not just from season to season, but from game to game and half to half.
Overall, Stotts’ teams have taken a very cautious and safe approach at both ends of the court.
On offense, the Trail Blazers have walked the ball up the floor most of the time, very often playing at one of the slowest paces in the league and when they do attempt to run, it often does not result in a score. At the same time, Portland has not turned the ball over much.
But the reality of the low turnover numbers is that there haven’t been many assists, either. In two of the last three seasons, the Trail Blazers have finished last in the league in assists.
Those numbers come from just not passing the ball much.
The price being paid for that slow-paced approach, of course, is there haven’t been very many easy baskets in the open court. And you need easy baskets.
When this team has moved the ball efficiently and moved bodies, it has been an extremely efficient offense. But in the last few seasons, as the pick-and-roll offense has taken over and one-on-one becomes the remedy for halfcourt breakdowns, there has been a lot of standing around.
At the defensive end, Stotts’ teams have finished in the top 15 in defensive rating just twice in eight seasons. And the Trail Blazers are playing it safe on defense, too. They don’t gamble much. They don’t lurk in the passing lanes. They don’t pressure the ball often.
Consequently, they don’t steal the ball very often.
In eight seasons, Stotts’ teams have never finished higher than 25th in the league in steals. That’s amazing and a very obvious sign of how safe this team plays on defense -- and likely a contributing factor on why it hasn’t gotten a lot of fast-break points.
With very good off-ball defenders in Derrick Jones and Robert Covington this season, it will be interesting to see if those steal totals rise.
And it will be a thing to watch, too, if Portland continues to drop its big players in pick-and-roll coverage. It’s been the default defense for this team and as the league has changed, it has become more difficult to execute effectively.
In summary, the Trail Blazers have the talent to reach the conference finals -- if all things break their way. They are experienced, versatile and can be a dynamic offensive team.
But I think they might have to become more aggressive in their style of play. It might be time to play a little faster on offense and take a few more chances on defense.
Can things change? I think if they don’t, it’s going to be just another of those “pretty good” years that doesn’t quite pay off the potential of this team.
Playing it safe may not be the right approach.