Why is Portland so good? Why is everyone ignoring this question? Early in the season it was "is Portland good, or is it an easy schedule?" but as the wins piled up against quality teams like the Pacers, Rockets, Thunder and Warriors it has just become accepted that the Trailblazers are good; however, there seems to be no satisfactory answer to how. If the Cavs want to keep defending their home court we need to know what it is that Portland does well so we can fight it and pull off an upset.
The obvious answer is that the Blazers are good at offense. Tops in the league, so how about very good at offense? How about elite at offense? That is to shallow though- "stop them from scoring" is much easier said than done if you don't understand why they are so good at scoring in the first place. Miami is second in the league in offensive rating (all stats from basketball-reference.com) and it is easy to see why their offense is so good. Lebron, Wade and Bosh are all very efficient with Lebron about to be forced into a 2 year sabbatical to play minor league baseball so the rest of the league can win a title or two. These three are not only efficient but also high volume, combining for almost 42 attempts per game. The rest of their team is also comprised off efficient players, be they Ray Allen or Chris Anderson, who make the most of the shots they get. Houston, the #3 team, also has some high usage/high efficiency players in Howard and Harden, as well as high end role players in Lin (TS 0.637 so far this year) and Parsons (0.601).
So why Portland? Aldridge and Lillard sounds like a good answer until I respond with this fact. Isaiah Thomas and Demarcus Cousins are shooting better (higher TS%s) and on higher usage than those two- by a wide margin. What would you think if I asked you to consider Thomas and Cousins to be the cornerstones of the #1 offense in the NBA?
Threes and FTs is the next answer. The Blazers are #2 in both 3pt % and FT%. That must be the key. A part of the puzzle? For sure, but the key? No. Though shooting exceptionally well when they get to the line or jack a 3, they don't do either with extreme regularity. 9th in the league in 3pt rate and 18th in FT rate, and they aren't burning the bottom of the net with the two pointers either clocking in at 47.7%- a hair below the league average.
No, there is something subtle going on here, something mostly unnoticed and unmentioned and slightly convoluted. So I invented a new stat to explain Portland's offensive prowess. I present to you- possessions over opponent or POO. POO is straight forward and no nonsense. POO isn't the most glamorous stat but POO has no problem being number two. POO is about bearing down, being in control and getting your hands dirty. Ok, I shouldn't be writing this while eating lunch.
POO = Oreb% + Dreb% - TOV%. It is very simple when you think about it, grab rebounds, don't turn it over and you get to take more shots, and these are the things that Portland does well. They are tops in the league with a rating of 91.3 per 100 chances. League average is 85.9. 5.4 extra shots (not possessions) actually leaving their fingers and sailing towards the rim each game. Roughly six points per game scored because they take POOing seriously.
What does this mean for the Cavs? Well it means that the key to stopping the Blazers from taking a big steamy dump on us tonight is not to focus on LMA or Lillard as you might think but to stop their secret weapon- Robin Lopez. Lopez is 5th in the league in offensive rebound rate and has solid rates for both defensive rebounds and turnovers. While neither Joel Freeland nor Thomas Robinson has played enough minutes to qualify for the leader board they have combined for enough (over 25 per game) and they would, together, be ranked #11 in Oreb%. We need to dominate on the defensive glass against these guys, Bynum, TT and Andy need to box out and keep the ball from bouncing their way. We need Kyrie, Delly and Dion to harass their guards and force a team that is careful with the ball (6th in TO%) into making mistakes.
More than any other time this season we need an active, energetic Cavs team if we want to knock off one of the top teams in the league.