One Team, One Stat -- Portland Trail Blazers struggle to convert in restricted area
* Tonight on TNT: Lakers vs. Blazers (10:30 ET)
The Portland Trail Blazers are trying to pick up where they left off at the end of the regular season in April. Thanks in part to the acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers were the most improved team after the All-Star break, 7.8 points per 100 possessions better than they were before the break.
The Blazers had to trade Allen Crabbe this summer, but are hoping a full season of Nurkic with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will help them break a string of three straight seasons where they lost more games than they did the season before.
They started off the season right, beating the Phoenix Suns by 48 points. Since then, the results have been mixed, though the Blazers could be 7-1 if not for the late-game heroics of Giannis Antetokounmpo (three big defensive plays in the final minute) and Blake Griffin (game-winning three at the buzzer), as well as a 1-for-7 finish at the end of regulation in Utah on Wednesday.
Through eight games, the Blazers’ record (4-4) belies their point differential (plus-56), which is that of a 6-2 team. Of course, the point differential is somewhat skewed by a 48-point win in Phoenix on opening night. Since then, the Blazers are 3-4 with a point differential (plus-8) of a team that’s 4-3.
Wednesday’s overtime loss was the lone road game in an 11-game stretch that continues with the Blazers’ longest homestand of the season, six games over the next two weeks. Portland will try to get back over .500 with a win over the 3-4 Los Angeles Lakers at 10:30 ET in the second game of TNT’s Thursday double-header.
Pace: 100.0 (21st)
OffRtg: 105.2 (13th)
DefRtg: 99.1 (5th)
NetRtg: +6.0 (7th)
The Blazers rank last in field goal percentage in the restricted area at 47 percent.
This isn’t anything new. The Blazers ranked 28th in restricted-area field goal percentage last season and 16th (out of 16 teams) in the 2017 playoffs. Still, shooting less than 50 percent within a few feet of the basket is pretty brutal. The league average last season was 61 percent, giving restricted area shots the highest value (1.22 points per attempt) on the floor.
There are six players who have shot less than 50 percent on at least 25 shots in the restricted area, and three of the six – Maurice Harkless (45 percent), Damian Lillard (47 percent) and Jusuf Nurkic (48 percent) are in Blazers’ starting lineup. A fourth starter – C.J. McCollum (7-for-20) – has been the third worst shooter in the restricted area among 128 players with at least 20 attempts. The fifth starter – Al-Farouq Aminu (10-for-18) – is also below the league average.
The Blazers get a good percentage of their shots in the restricted area, and part of that total is tip-in and put-back attempts. The Blazers are tied for second in offensive rebounding percentage and lead the league in the percentage of their possessions that are put-backs, according to Synergy play-type tracking.
The quality of those shots can vary. Some tip-ins are more controlled than others.
Even at 47 percent, the Blazers’ restricted-area shots are worth more than their shots between the restricted area and the 3-point line, on which they’ve shot a better-than-average 36 percent. McCollum has been one of the league’s best shooters on non-restricted-area 2-point shots, but over the course of his career his layups (shot at 52 percent) have still been worth more than his other twos (46 percent).
Still, an inability to get easy points at the rim puts more pressure on the Blazers to make jumpers. Since the start of last season, the Blazers are 33-17 when they’ve had an *effective field goal percentage of 50 percent or better on shots from outside the paint, and 12-28 when they haven’t.
* Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
The Blazers have missed seven of their eight shots in the restricted area with the game within five points in the last five minutes. That makes for some frustrating moments.
Through Wednesday, Portland ranks 26th in overall effective field goal percentage (48.5 percent), even though its ranks sixth from outside the paint (52.5 percent). The Blazers’ restricted-area shooting should rise above 50 percent in the next few weeks, but their inability to finish will continue to haunt them from time to time.
Below is a possession where Nurkic sets three screens. The final one frees Evan Turner for a foul-line jumper and draws Alex Len to the ball, which allows Nurkic to get rebounding position under the basket. But he misses the tip.
Fairly simple, but also a prototypical Blazers miss in the restricted area. Another common theme among their misses is Lillard going with the high degree of difficulty (bonus missed tip-in from Harkless)…
• NBA.com/stats Video: Watch the Blazers shoot 9-for-22 in the restricted area against the Clippers on Oct. 26
A FEW MORE BLAZERS NOTES
1. The Blazers have allowed 8.7 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season.
That makes them the fourth most improved defensive team in the league through Wednesday. But if you throw away the opening-night win in Phoenix, the improvement isn’t so drastic and they rank 12th defensively (102.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) instead of fifth (99.1).
Still, four of their eight games have been against teams – the Pacers, Bucks, Clippers and Raptors – that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. Other teams have played easier schedules in that regard, and the Blazers held both Indiana and Toronto under their season-long marks for points scored per 100 possessions.
Portland leads the league in opponent effective field goal percentage. For the second straight season, they lead the league in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area. But a big chunk of their improvement has come in opponent 3-point percentage, which we shouldn’t put much faith in at this point in the season.
Also, it should be a little concerning that they’ve had the league’s seventh biggest increase in the percentage of opponent shots that come from the restricted area or 3-point range. You can better control what shots your opponents take, and the Blazers haven’t been as good at forcing the less-efficient ones.
2. The Blazers have been 17.4 points per 100 possessions better in the second half of games (plus-16.2) than they’ve been in the first half (minus-1.1).
That’s the biggest such differential in the league through Wednesday. The Blazers have yet to lose the second half, having won it in their first seven games and played even with the Jazz in the second half on Wednesday.
The bigger difference (11.1 points per 100 possessions) between the first-half Blazers and the second-half Blazers has been on offense. Lillard and McCollum have a combined effective field goal percentage of 43 percent in the first half and 56 percent in the second half. Nurkic has also shot much better in the second half of games (49 percent vs. 38 percent).
3. The Blazers have been almost 28 points per 100 possessions better with Aminu on the floor (plus-16.6) than with him on the bench (minus-11.2).
It’s early and the Phoenix game has to be taken into account with everything, but Aminu has been Portland’s plus-minus man this season. And that may be about who’s on the floor when Terry Stotts is staggering the minutes of Lillard and McCollum.
Last season, when McCollum went to the bench midway through the first and third quarters, Harkless was more likely to stay on the floor with Lillard. And last season, Harkless had the better on-off numbers than Aminu, who played more minutes with McCollum than with Lillard.
This season, Aminu has played more minutes with Lillard and Nurkic than with McCollum and the Blazers’ back-up bigs. The Blazers’ most-used two-man combination has been Aminu and Lillard, who have played 233 minutes together.
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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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