Spacing is the new movement, and Webster leads the way
PORTLAND — Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said it all comes down to spacing. So did Blazers small forward Martell Webster and guard Brandon Roy.
For Portland, spacing is the word of the moment, having replaced movement as the key to the Blazers’ offensive success.
In addition, the need for better spacing on the offensive end of the floor is why McMillan decided to insert Webster back into Portland’s starting lineup, and remove veteran point guard Andre Miller.
After a nine-game run in which the Blazers went 7-2 while employing two point guards, Miller and Steve Blake, in the same starting unit, McMillan changed things up before the start of Saturday’s 106-78 home victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Webster was in; Miller was out. Portland’s offense again prized perimeter passing over guard penetration. And Webster was the main beneficiary, recording season- and game-highs with 21 points and 13 rebounds.
McMillan hinted before tipoff Saturday that he wanted to get Webster going. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound guard had looked out of synch and played outside his game while running the court with the Blazers’ second unit. And even when plays had been called for Webster, he had been unable to convert.
Moreover, McMillan had consistently watched opposing defenses cave in and double team Roy, forward LaMarcus Aldridge and center Greg Oden while the Blazers utilized the Miller-Blake lineup. Thus, Portland’s coach decided he was more in need of a shooter who could spread the floor and make teams pay when left open, rather than an extra point guard in Miller, who is not a scoring threat beyond 15 feet away from the basket.
Saturday, Webster delivered. And McMillan found what he was looking for.
“You need a guy who can keep that defense honest,” McMillan said. “If they don’t, (Webster) has the ability to hurt them with the 3-point ball. If they play single coverage, our guys should be able to take advantage of that. He really helps when you have guys out there spreading the floor.”
Webster knocked down 4 of his 7 3-point attempts in the win over the Timberwolves. But he was not the only Blazer who benefited from open looks.
Blake connected on 4 of 6 3s, while Portland tied a season high with 10 made 3-pointers.
“Our bigs were making great passes out of the post when they got doubled,” Blake said. “And the guards were able to make plays with them.”
Roy compared Webster being back in the starting lineup to when forward Nicolas Batum held down the spot last season. Webster and Batum — who is recovering from shoulder surgery — are both athletic, speedy small forwards who are able to turn their arm length and leaping ability into advantages.
“The game is more simple for that 3 guard. They just catch and shoot,” Roy said. “I think (with) the second unit, (Webster) was forced to maybe think a little more and have to create. Where as in the starting lineup, it’s just he knows when he catches it: shoot it.”
Webster acknowledged that he might have been thinking too much while struggling through a rough nine-game slump that coincided with his move to the bench.
Saturday, Webster again looked like the confident, high-flying player whose successful return from a foot injury that sidelined him for nearly the entire 2008-09 season had his teammates, coaches and Blazers management eagerly anticipating his comeback throughout training camp.
And as Webster soared, the Blazers’ floor spacing opened up, looking like the wide-open blueprint McMillan had envisioned.
“Things were open,” Webster said.
He added: “Guys were in their spots and they stayed there. And when the ball came their way, they shot the ball with confidence.”
Bulls vs. Blazers, 7 p.m. at the Rose Garden
TV: Comcast Sports Network/NBA TV
Radio: 95.5 FM
Position/player Ht. Pts.
G Steve Blake 6-3 8.5
G Brandon Roy 6-6 19.9
F Martell Webster 6-7 7.3
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 14.5
C Greg Oden 7-0 10.4
Coach: Nate McMillan (5th season, 158-185)
Player to watch: Aldridge — He has struggled in the last two games, but should play well against an undersized Bulls team.
Key reserves: Andre Miller, Rudy Fernandez, Joel Przybilla, Juwan Howard
G Derrick Rose 6-3 15.2
G Luol Deng 6-9 16.8
F John Salmons 6-6 13.3
F Taj Gibson 6-9 7.1
C Joakim Noah 6-11 11.9
Coach: Vinny Del Negro (2nd season, 47-47)
Player to watch: Rose — His speed and ability to penetrate could give Blake trouble.
Key reserves: Kirk Hinrich, Jannero Pargo, Brad Miller