Is Portland’s Offense Sustainable?
When they take the floor at Toyota Center on Monday night, the Portland Trailblazers will do so with the NBA best offense. Under second year coach Terry Stotts, the 31-9 Blazers league the lead in points per game (109.6) and points per 100 possessions (110.6). After 40 games, you wouldn’t think Portland’s elite offense is a fluke, but when you look at where their points are coming from, maybe it is.
Through 40 games, Portland is scoring 35.9 points per game in the paint; only Orlando and New York are scoring fewer points inside. The Magic are in the bottom five in points per possession, while the Knicks are in the bottom half. The teams with the fourth, fifth, and sixth fewest points in the paint per game (Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Cleveland) are also in the bottom half in offensive efficiency. The three teams directly behind Portland in points per possession (Miami, San Antonio, Houston) are in the top 10 in points in the paint per game, which begs the question, where are the Blazers getting their points?
Even though they are in the bottom half of the league in field goal attempts, Portland is in the top 10 in free throw makes because they shoot a league best 82.7 percent from the charity stripe, but still, the Blazers are scoring 55 points of their 109.6 points per game in the paint and at the free throw. By comparison, the Rockets are scoring 73 of their 105.1 points per game in those same spots, but Portland has the best offense in the league for a reason, and that reason is that they shoot the ball better than everyone else.
Portland gets 28 percent of its points from behind the 3-point arc, more than anyone in the league. They’re knocking down more than 10 triples a game, and hitting close to 40 percent of their attempts. The Blazers three-point attack is led by Damian Lillard who is shooting close to 44 percent from downtown, and Wesley Matthews who is draining 43 percent of his. Last season as a rookie, Lillard shot less than 37 percent, and Matthews has made 40 percent just once in his previous four NBA seasons, so you’d think there has to be a little regression, right? Maybe, That isn’t my concern with the Portland offense though.
The mid-range jump shot is starting to get phased out of the game. Like the three-pointer, it is a low percentage, even when open, but it doesn’t have the reward of the extra point. The median team mid-range shot percentage this season is just over 39 percent, so over 100 possessions if that is the only shot you take, you are scoring 78 points. The Bucks league worst offense is scoring 95.6 points per 100 possessions. The median team three-point percentage is 36 percent, meaning if you took nothing but threes for 100 possessions, you’d score 108 points, which would be the fourth best offense in the NBA. Clearly, one shot is better than the other.
The Blazers are getting 22% of their points on mid-range shots, while shooting close to 43 percent, second best in the league, on an NBA-high 28.7 shots per game. The mid-range attack is led by LaMarcus Aldridge who is taking close to half of Portland’s mid-range shots, and getting half his points on them while shooting close to 44 percent. That is a career-high, though not by much, which is good news. Aldridge has never been below 41 percent in his career, so while there could be a little regression it won’t be much. Problem is, it is rare to have a great offense while being so dependent on long two-point shots.
Of the 11 teams that get more than 20 percent of it’s offense off mid-range shots, only Portland and New Orleans are in the top half in the league in offensive efficiency. When you flip that and take the 11 teams that get the least amount of it’s offense from those shots, only two (Philadelphia, Detroit) are in the bottom half in offensive efficiency.
Clearly, Portland’s offense is an anomaly, but they have the guys that make it work. You’d like to see them get more offense inside, especially from Lillard, whose points in the paint are down from his rookie season, but aside from his three-point shooting there aren’t many areas where they could regress. Their offense may be a bit of a throwback, but after 40 games, you can’t call it a fluke. It is a large sample size, half a season, and the offense has gotten better each month this season, so at least for now, it looks like the Blazers will be able to sustain it.Follow @AdamSpolane
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