Terry Stotts was an interesting choice as the next head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. There are those who dislike the hire, while the vast majority of the rest seem to be in wait-and-see mode, with neither a negative or positive stance towards him. There is reason for such feelings. His career coaching record, with the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, is 115-168, a very underwhelming mark. Yet, when analyzing his performance at the helm of the Bucks in particular, it is imperative to look past the losses and focus on the system he had in place.
I followed the Bucks when he was their head coach from 2005 to 2007. Those two seasons were the best of Michael Redd’s career, as the star shooting guard averaged 25.4 and 26.7 points per game. Redd was allowed to have free-reign, always having the green-light to bring the ball up and shoot when he desired. So did young point guard Mo Williams, and as a result scored 17 points and dished six assists per game in the 2006-2007 season. That these numbers were compiled by this duo under Stotts shouldn’t be surprising given the offensive style that was implemented. It is a fast-paced, casual attack that he looks to bring to Portland, which is an exciting prospect considering their youth and athleticism.
Portland doesn’t have a player like Redd at the shooting guard position, as its star is power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, but rookie point guard Damian Lillard could flourish as Williams did running the show. Lillard took the Summer League by storm, but though that isn’t the best indicator of NBA success if his ability does indeed translate to the next level having Stotts on the sidelines can only work wonders.
The ball was primarily either in the hands of Redd or Williams under Stotts. This was due in part to the lack of dependable players on the team, but it was also due to the talent this backcourt possessed. Even if the Blazers head coach was someone other than Stotts, Lillard would have undoubtedly been given the reigns as the facilitator. Stotts, if history repeats itself, will make his role even bigger, allowing him to take a more free-spirited approach. Expect the offense to go primarily through him, whether he is scoring or distributing to Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and other playmakers. And expect Stotts never to lose trust or faith in him or anyone else. When he knows players can make plays, he lets them loose.
Also expect a lot of assists. Faster-paced offenses often are unselfish, and Stotts’ Bucks fit the bill. During the 2005-2006 season, with speedy T.J. Ford at point, Redd on the wing, and Williams off the bench, they averaged 21 assists per game, good for seventh in the league. They averaged the same number the following season, placing 12th in the league. It is no wonder, then, that Stotts’ teams scored 97 points and 99 points per game in his two seasons. They were this explosive with little depth. Just think about the possibilities in Portland, as they have their fare share of scoring threats.
Stotts’ teams didn’t necessarily live and die by the three-pointer, but they weren’t shy to let it fire from deep. Redd was a big reason why. His average of 3.9 attempts per game in 2003-2004 jumped up to 5.2 and 5.8 under Stotts. Portland’s options from that range include Wesley Matthews, Sasha Pavlovic, Will Barton, Luke Babbitt, Batum, and Lillard. None of these six don’t have Redd’s skillset or gunslinger mentality, but Stotts will nonetheless make sure plenty will be hoisted by this group, either through drive-and-kicks or pull-ups in transition.
“I’m a big believer in 3-point shooting to space the court,” Stotts said to the Portland Tribune. “Between Nic (Batum) and Wes (Matthews) and Luke (Babbitt) and the young players improving their 3-point shooting, I’m excited about that.”
This is all well and good, but there was a very big reason why Stotts didn’t last long in Milwaukee. The defense was atrocious. They finished 19th in the league in points allowed in 2005-2006 and 27 in the league the following season, giving up an average of 104 points per game on 48 percent shooting. Time and time again, the Bucks would be in the thick of high-scoring battles, unable to stop opponents at any juncture of the game, especially late. That, rightfully so, has some Blazers fans scratching their heads over his hiring, but he is insistent that defense will be a top priority in Portland.
It better be. If it is, the Blazers will have made the right choice. There is no point to having a high-powered offense if there is an inability to keep opponents from putting up the same or better numbers. After all, as exciting as the run ‘n gun Phoenix Suns were there was a reason they didn’t win a championship.
There is a reason the Dallas Mavericks, did, though. Over the past four years as head assistant to coach Rick Carlisle, Stotts helped shape the Mavericks offense, having such an effect that star Dirk Nowitzki gives him a lot of credit for the team’s 2011 championship run. Nowitzki has said that Stotts affected the way he played, drawing up offensive sets that put him in high-percentage situations. Stotts has a new forward to take under his wing in Aldridge, whose game has grown substantially since his rookie season. And given the impact Stotts had on Nowitzki, it’s hard not to believe Aldridge’s game won’t jumped up a couple more notches. That is perhaps the biggest reason to be excited about the new head coach.
Stotts has a lot of good attributes. And as an offensive mastermind who looks to improve his approach on defense, he may just be the right guy for the job. His Bucks were often must-see television, and there is no doubting his Blazers will be, too. And, unlike Milwaukee, they might just be more than exciting. They might be good. Maybe not this coming season, but soon. Who knows, but for now, I can’t wait to watch and wait.