Blazers Links: A different feeling leaving NYC, Blazers ready for limelight and Elite Offense versus Elite Defense
If you’re snowed in, or if you’re somewhere else and want to read some Blazers content, we’ve got you on this Friday. We’re less than three hours away from a highly-anticipated tip-off between the Pacers and Blazers at 4PM on ESPN and CSNNW.
First off, we’re going back to New York where Howard Beck–formerly of The New York Times, now writing for Bleacher Report–caught up with LaMarcus Aldridge and to talk about their trip to New York two seasons ago. The following day, Nate McMillan was fired, Greg Oden was waived and Gerald Wallace was traded for the pick that became Damian Llillard.
“That was definitely our lowest point,” forward LaMarcus Aldridgerecalled late Wednesday, sitting in the same visiting locker room at the Garden. “You feel helpless. Because I want to win. I’m a winner. I felt like I was helpless, because I was trying to do everything I could. But when guys don’t want to play anymore, there’s not anything I can do.”
“We definitely see ourselves competing for a title really soon,” Aldridge said. “We feel like we have all of the core pieces.”
Click here for the rest of Beck’s piece, for a good look back at how far the Blazers and Knicks have come–ending up with different trajectories–since that debacle at MSG in March of 2011.
Casey Holdahl of TrailBlazers.com spoke with Earl Watson, who will take over the minutes from Mo Williams who has left the team indefinitely due to family issues.
“That’s how I proceed. Beyond any of that, today, I’m not even worried about the game, I’m more worried about my teammate. My prayers are with my teammate, him and his family. To me, that’s the bigger purpose. You never want to get in a game like this or through injury. With that said, my opportunity to play in this game, for me personally, is minimal to real life. That’s the honest to god truth.”
Bethlehem Shoals of FreeDarko fame, also a regular over at GQ.com, brought his talents to the TruePortland series for ESPN.com.
Shoals writes that the Blazers are ready to be the team, not just of Portland, but of basketball fans everywhere, calling them one of the “great foils” of this NBA season.
They also are just dangerous enough, and inconsistent enough, that they’re never fully in or fully out of any game. They play with a confidence that, in less agile hands, could be mistaken for recklessness. Their defense kicks in at just the right time, usually in the second half; whether their shooting is on or off, the Blazers run their system, fully convinced that sooner or later it will bury their opponents under a flurry of jumpers and quick moves around the basket.
The Blazers are, for lack of a better word, one of the NBA’s great foils this season. Anyone versus the Blazers is going to be an entertaining matchup, something maybe only the Warriors can claim with any consistency. They somehow bring out the best in other teams, pushing the game without things erupting into run-and-gun absurdism. Portland isn’t a team you want to play because there’s a high probability you will lose. However, playing them practically guarantees something entertaining.
Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com’s insider section used the Blazers-Pacers match-up as a jumping off point to look at what happens when great offense face great defense.
The numbers also show the elite offenses specifically winning the offense-defense confrontation. They averaged a 109.2 offensive rating in matchups with the best defenses. While that’s a drop of 4.9 points per 100 possessions from their season-long performance, it’s 7.3 more points per 100 possessions than the top defenses allowed over the course of the season.
In other words, when the best offenses play the best defenses, the offenses outplay the defenses.
That’s what happened when the Pacers faced the Blazers. Using a heavy dose of midrange jumpers to counteract Indiana’s historically good defense, which attempts to deny shots at the rim and 3-pointers, Portland scored just 1.9 fewer points per 100 possessions than its season average in the victory. The performance was one of the Pacers’ 10 highest defensive ratings of the season.
Read the rest of Pelton’s piece for a look at playoff match-ups that have been nearly even.
Bradford Doolittle took a look at how LaMarcus Aldridge impacts the game for ESPN.com’s insider. He argues that traditional efficiency metrics such as True Shooting percentage sell Aldridge’s impact short. One underrated aspect, Doolittle writes, is how infrequently Aldridge turns the ball over despite his high volume of shots.
It turns out that Aldridge’s ability to be an aggressive offensive performer while still protecting the ball is one of the chief feathers in his cap. Aldridge sports the seventh-lowest turnover percentage in the league at 7.0 percent. He has a higher usage rate than the other 17 members of the league’s top 18 in this category, in most cases a markedly higher usage rate. In fact, his usage rate (29.6 percent) is 4.1 times more than his rate of turnovers.
Is that unusual? The answer is yes, though Aldridge doesn’t even lead the league by this unusual measure. (The leader would be Al Jefferson, who has become the standard-bearer in the category.) Including this season, there have been just 11 qualifying seasons in which a player has posted a usage-to-turnover ratio of greater than 4.0. Michael Jordan, now Jefferson’s boss in Charlotte, had four such seasons after he went to the jump shot as his primary weapon. Jefferson and Aldridge are the only big men on the list of 11. This is a big reason why Portland as a team sports the fourth-lowest turnover rate in the league.
Doolittle was inspired by his colleague Tom Haberstroh who argued that Aldridge’s reputation as a world-class offensive player was oversold because of his True Shooting percentage.
We’d like to think the basketball audience has become more nuanced in the past 50 years than just blindly trusting points per game. But the buzz surrounding Aldridge’s season suggests we have a ways to go. The truth is that his gaudy scoring average of 24.1 points per game overstates his scoring prowess.
Although we don’t typically think of big men as high-volume shooters, Aldridge is more Allen Iverson than he is Tim Duncan. He leads the league in field goal attempts (he has 42 more than Kevin Durant in 89 fewer minutes), and his 51.5 percent true shooting percentage — a shooting efficiency metric that incorporates 3-point shooting and free throws — ranks 138th among those qualified for the scoring title. Again: 138th. Bottom line: Aldridge is an elite shot-taker, not shot-maker.