A hallmark of the Nate McMillan offense has been to prevent turnovers and snare as many offensive rebounds. Trading off a potentially higher effective field goal percentage for a more risk averse offense is something that has drawn criticism in the past as a strategy that may not be viable in the playoffs. Although Nate appears to have relented on running an extremely slow-paced offense (the Blazers linger in the top 10 in pace factor this year after years in last place), the other principles of NateBall are very much intact. The Blazers are the third stingiest team in the league with the ball, and are above average in offensive rebound rate.
However, as these aspects have stayed steady, effective field goal percentage (eFG) the most crucial factor in building an offensively efficient club, has tanked. The Blazers rate 21st in the league in eFG, which is the worst among Western teams currently holding a playoff spot. Trying to parse eFG trends is difficult, because it is nearly impossible to distinguish an extended slump from something systemic. Players will go entire years shooting with subpar efficiency for no apparent reason only to rebound as plus contributors the next year. However, because it’s so important I’m not going to chalk up the Blazers shooting woes to a bunch of coincidental slumps: there has to be something more going on.
The shot selection profile is actually pretty good
One thing many inefficient teams have in common is they choose to shoot a lot of long 2s. The most efficient shots in basketball are the slam dunk and the three pointer, and the most efficient teams will shoot a lot of them. Stan van Gundy and George Karl are big proponents of this, which is one reason their teams have efficient offenses.
Believe it or not, the Blazers are 4th in the NBA in at rim attempts, and solidly middle of the pack in 3 point attempts. The have the fifth best shot selection profile in the league. The problem is, the Blazers are not making these shots at anywhere near the league average rate. They are 29th in the league in at-rim FG% and 22nd in 3 point FG%.
Although a number of Blazers are shooting below their career averages at the cup, currently the worst offenders are Wesley Matthews and Jamal Crawford. I never would have pegged Wesley as an excellent finisher, but he shot an excellent 65% there last year, a number which has cratered below 50% this year. Where his true skill level lies isn’t entirely clear, though it should be noted that he’s getting far less feeds around the basket this year. Maybe it’s Wesley who misses Andre’s dimes, not LaMarcus?
Jamal has always been pretty shaky in this area, fluctuating from the mid 60s to the mid 40s from year to year. This year he’s unsurprisingly around 50%. Even Gimpy Brandon Roy was better than these guys at shooting layups.
The answer for three point shooting is probably a bit simpler: the Blazers just do not have a lot of good three point shooters, and the “streaky” shooters they have (Felton and Wallace) have not been firing at the moment. Essentially these issues are troubling, but there isn’t a lot to do except wait out these shooting slumps, or get more efficient players.
As a parting shot, let me suggest a guy who can get his own shot, has an excellent shot selection profile and is eminently available.