Running The Break: March 24th, 2014


How has Batum turned into a monster on the boards? Do the Trail Blazers have to shoot well from distance to win down the stretch? Seven local reporters who eat, sleep, and breathe Trail Blazers basketball give their take in this week's edition of Running The Break.


1. As of March 21st, 2014, Nicolas Batum leads the NBA in total rebounds for the month of March (143). How is Batum - a career 4.8 rebounds per game player - pulling down 13 boards a night?

Casey Holdahl (@Chold), He's crashing the boards in a way he's never done before. And while not having LaMarcus Aldridge out there grabbing double-digit rebounds a night certainly helps, that's only part of the different. More than anything, he's trying harder to get rebounds because he knows someone has to with Aldridge out of the lineup. It's also not as if he's hunting uncontested rebounds, which is a fairly common practice, particularly for big men who don't get to touch the ball on offense very often. Batum is actually out there fighting for rebounds.

Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes), It’s a different mindset he has. He told me he's channeling his inner Kevin Love. But on a serious note, with LaMarcus Aldridge out, he has to take more responsibility on the glass. Now, the totality in which he’s doing it is ridiculous. He acknowledged that he's surprising himself. But I think once Nic figures out how to do something, he wants to do it more. Sort of like when he was stockpiling those assists. This is his new steady.

Mike Tokito (@mtokito), The Oregonian: I think it’s mostly a need thing – with LaMarcus Aldridge out, the Blazers need more rebounding from their wing guys, and Batum, with his 7-foot wingspan, is equipped to do that. It helps Batum that he is not guarding point guards quite as much as he did, and if you look at his numbers, he’s hitting the offensive glass more – he’s averaging 2.5 offensive rebounds in March, which would be in the league’s top 10 over a full season.

Erik Gundersen (@BlazerBanter), The Columbian: The simple answer is because he has to. The Blazers were already rating about the league average in defensive rebounding and with Aldridge out that facet of the game becomes even harder. Batum reads the game better than just about anybody on the Blazers and usually knows what the teams will need extra help with. Right now, they need rebounding and he's providing that.

Mike Acker (@mikeacker), Willamette Week: It’s simple: Batum is an incredibly well rounded basketball player. He wants to be involved as much as possible, and he’s worked on every aspect of his game every season since his first in the NBA. The part B answer is that Batum has noticed a pretty glaring hole in his team’s frontcourt since LaMarcus Aldridge has been out, and he’s made it his life’s mission to fill that hole by hitting the boards like crazy.

Dave Deckard (@blazersedge), BlazersEdge: LaMarcus Aldridge has been out, his replacement (Dorell Wright) is a non-rebounder, and opponents have figured out to draw Robin Lopez out of the lane or keep a body on him constantly. That leaves Nic.

Batum’s work on the boards has been impressive. It’s interesting to note, though, that during his incredible rebounding streak the team’s rebounding edge over the opponent hasn’t risen. He’s picking up slack for everyone else.

SlyPokerDog (@SlyPokerDog), Batum has defiantly been more aggressive in rebounding but more importantly like Aldridge, Batum has been taking advantage of the space Robin Lopez provides in sealing off opposing players away from the basket.


2. After recording 32 assists as a team Thursday night against Washington, Wesley Matthews credited the ball movement as a main reason why the Trail Blazers were such a hot team early on in the season. Can their teamwork and tenacity (Portland ranks No. 1 in Second-Chance points with 1,144) overcome their downfalls on the inside (Portland ranks 26th in Points In The Paint with 2,590)?

Deckard: Sure. They have been all season. They have to watch out for teams who can take those offensive rebounds away from them and teams with enough defensive tenacity to guard them straight up instead of helping out constantly on defense. The former will take away the second-chance points, the latter the ability to share. Once those start to slip the Blazers don’t look as good.

SlyPokerDog: That's a huge discrepancy. Teamwork and tenacity won't overcome that. You can only hope it minimizes it's advantage and the Blazers are able to use their strengths in ball movement and outside shooting to win.


3. When a player of LaMarcus Aldridge’s caliber is inserted back into the lineup there may be a tendency to “stop and stare” when the All-Star has the basketball. How can the team and Coach Stotts ensure the offense continues to have the same ball movement, player movement that makes Portland so dynamic when Aldridge does indeed return?

Deckard: First of all you have to ask which Aldridge will return. Will we see the pre-groin-injury version who scored in multiple ways and kept defenses stymied or the slower, post-injury version who lofted turn-around jumpers from a single spot and missed them? When Aldridge is slow and still he’s far less effective. The whole team grinds to a halt on his possessions. The Catch-22 is that the Blazers can’t be effective against good teams without him. If the defense doesn’t bend towards him their offense doesn’t work.

If Aldridge is mobile again I don’t think you have to worry about the team standing and watching as much. Defenders will collapse towards him, creating space which Portland’s players will fill. They’re happy to share the ball under those conditions.

SlyPokerDog: "Stop and stare" at your All-Star is a complacency that happens with all teams that have a dominant player on the roster. It's a long season, offensive and defensive focus can be lost. With the playoffs rapidly approaching, playoff positioning tightening and now even the remote chance that the Blazers might not even make the playoffs the team is not going to just give the ball to Aldridge and then stand around and watch what he does with it. The Blazers will continue with the strong ball movement they have while Aldridge has been injured and they had at the beginning of the season with him in the lineup.


4. In Portland’s 45 wins this season, they’re shooting the 3-pointer at a 40-percent clip compared to 32.7-percent in their 24 losses. For a squad that takes the second-most shots from downtown (1,749), does their chance to succeed in the postseason really boil down to the arc?

Deckard: Not entirely. Not every three is created equal. Damian Lillard (and sometimes others) will launch threes off the dribble without the ball moving. Whether those go in or not they don’t have the same effect on the opponent as the weak-side three where the ball crosses the court, moving through 2-3 players’ hands, before the shot. One-man threes don’t move the defense. Weak-side threes create pressure, weakness in other defensive zones which the strong-side players can take advantage of. Plus those threes are more open.

Over the long run that 40% vs. 33% clip has as much to do with what kinds of threes are attempted as it does with hot and cold. The Blazers have to do all the things that lead to those open, weak-side threes in order to succeed. That means a healthy Aldridge drawing attention, well-spaced and unselfish players at the top, brisk cuts to draw extra defenders away from the play area, and accurate shooting on the other side of the court. Those are the keys to Portland’s success. Otherwise the triples are bailing the Blazers out of trouble instead of propelling them to victory.

SlyPokerDog: The Blazers have won the majority of their games in the regular season with ball movement and outside shooting. I don't see them suddenly using a different recipe in the playoffs.


5. Three years ago the Blazers, Grizzlies and Hornets all had 34 losses heading into the final two games of the season. Memphis sat their leading scorer, Zach Randolph, those last two games - both losses - in an attempt to matchup with the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs. Their strategy paid off as the Grizzlies defeated the Spurs in six games. Obviously, it’s too early to think of positioning, but could you envision the Trail Blazers performing a similar strategy if the opportunity presented itself?

Deckard: No. Who would wish for any of the top-bracket teams this year? Every potential matchup will be tough. How the Blazers are playing heading into the playoffs will matter more than their opponent.

SlyPokerDog: Sure I can see something like that happening. The Blazers match up better against the Spurs than they do against teams like the Rockets. If losing a game or two during the regular season means the Blazers have a more favorable matchup in the playoffs you have to look at it.