Damian Lillard’s recent injury shouldn’t keep him from the playoffs, placating any worries that fans might have after his tumble against the Dallas Mavericks earlier in the week. He sat last night’s game against the Houston Rockets, giving insight to what the Blazers’ lineup looks like without its superstar.
The Blazers are also without Ed Davis and Maurice Harkless, making Stotts’ job way harder than usual. Here’s how Lillard effects the Blazers on and off the court:
|On − Off Difference||+.025||+1.6||+3.1||-2.1||+10.3|
Lillard’s presence is most significantly represented by the offensive rating of his team as he takes the court, and if he’s out, Stotts has to work to make up the difference of his absence. Basically, Stotts has to find 4 points per 100 possessions in order to break even. Given that NBA teams typically have about 100 possessions per game, Stotts will have to get creative to find more than 4 points in order to win.
What do the Blazers look like without Damian LIllard? The team doesn’t look particularly astounding, but there are some bright spots:
|Collins, Connaughton, Davis, McCollum, Napier||108:12||+27.6||+.101||+21.8||+3.8|
|Collins, Connaughton, Davis, Harkless, Napier||77:33||+9.3||+.096||+7.7||-1.1|
|Collins, Davis, McCollum, Napier, Turner||121:58||-8.7||-.057||+3.7||-1.4|
|Aminu, McCollum, Napier, Nurkic, Turner||148:13||-11.9||-.067||-8.1||-11.0|
These are the 5-man lineups without Lillard, ordered by Points Minus Opponent Points (PTS), that have spent more than 75 minutes on the court together. These lineups use Ed Davis and Maurice Harkless, who weren’t available last night, but having Napier, Connaughton, and Collins offers an effective offensive boost when Lillard is resting.
The Blazers started last night with a lineup of Napier, McCollum, Turner, Aminu, and Nurkic. The Blazers fell behind fast and early, so what was Terry Stotts thinking?
|Aminu, Connaughton, McCollum, Nurkic, Turner||35||+19.9||62.5||58.3||47.4||63.8|
This particular lineup hasn’t seen the court too much, but has shown to be an offensive plus. Most successful Blazer lineups have Connaughton on the court, and he’s a good complement to the likes of McCollum, Naipier, and Turner. He’s excellent in transition, and because he doesn’t command the ball, other ball handlers can operate with the space Connaughton can provide. We didn’t see much more of this lineup at all last night. Stotts was determined to keep Baldwin in, and he did well.
Notes on Last Night’s Game
Overall, Blazers’ lack of depth really showed against the Rockets. Stotts fumbled his bigs rotation, and felt uncomfortable until he was able to put Nurkic back into the game. Nurk had a very solid start to the game, but was absent in the second half. It was apparent that Stotts really wanted to establish Nurkic early on, but the team couldn’t leverage his positive contributions into perimeter conversions. The rate of attempts from deep increased in the second half and the Blazers were making a bunch of them.
For most of the night, Blazer bigs looked light when going up against Houston’s Tarik Black or Clint Capela for rebounds. At one point, Luc Richard Mbah Moute was able to sneak into the paint against three other Blazers and poke the ball back out for an offensive rebound. I don’t think Ed Davis is the sole player responsible for showing some aggression down low, so this poor start to the game largely rests on lack of motivation for the bigs.
Stotts employed Wade Baldwin for heavy set of minutes in the first half, and he was effective. There was a sequence in the middle of the 2nd quarter where Baldwin stole the ball from James Harden and scored. Baldwin then stole the next Rockets’ inbound pass and let Nurkic finish with another bucket. Baldwin’s defense was solid thereafter, staying in front of James Harden as best as he could and restrained himself from taking anymore needless risks. Harden eventually got the best of him, but that’s more due to the MVP’s amazing season than anything Baldwin wasn’t capable of. Harden finished with 24 points.
Stotts seemed infatuated with Wade Baldwin, as he saw the court for an astounding 32 minutes, after logging just 30 minutes total on the year. He played well in the first half, but ignored an open Collins at the top of the key. He also couldn’t connect with open perimeter players in transition, missing a cross-court pass opportunity to an open Connaughton.
Zach Collins had a disappointing night, logging just 15 minutes without any points. In the middle of the 4th, he rushed two shot attempts as if he knew that he was about to get benched. The offense was determined to go down low when Nurkic came on but didn’t do the same for Collins, even though he’d established himself a couple of times.
Stotts opted for Baldwin in the final minutes instead of Naipier. Baldwin had done all his work in the 1st half and just couldn’t keep up on offense. Given the work he’s put in this season, I’d have given Naipier the green light from deep and he may have drawn an extra foul or two with the ball in his hands.
Did Stotts Find the Ultimate Lineup?
Baldwin, Connaughton, Layman, Swanigan, and Papagiannis contributed to a thrilling comeback in the final 4 minutes of the game. This lineup was +15 in those 4 minutes and almost stole a win after being down by 15 points for most of the game.
This isn’t a lineup that Stotts will be pushing in the near future, but maybe playing Swanigan and Connaughton a little more would help fill a void that Harkless leaves behind. Ed Davis is expected early next week in time for the game against Denver and should reignite Portland’s rebound department. Hopefully Lillard comes back sooner than later, as the final three games are against teams that are vying for positioning in the Western Conference.
I think it’s fair to say that the rotation is simply lost without Lillard. Stotts could’ve cemented minutes better by not playing Meyers Leonard or Zach Collins, and redirect that time to Swanigan, Connaughton, and Aminu. While the mainstays struggled, normalizing the rotation in the game gives veterans a chance to find their grounding.