The Portland Trail Blazers have had the most average season so far. In terms of their record (as of Monday), they are 18-17 and rank right in the middle of the pack in net rating. However, it has been a different story for those who have watched the games. The Blazers started off 10-4 and were at the top of the Western Conference standings for a couple of nights. Unfortunately, the injury bug bit the team. Dame missed ten games, Nassir Little fractured his femur, and Gary Payton II has yet to debut. Given we just hit 2023, let’s look at some New Years resolutions for the Blazers:
Improve the Pace: In the NBA, pace refers to the number of possessions a team has during a game. A faster pace generally leads to more scoring opportunities and a higher-scoring game. Currently, the Blazers rank 27th in the league in pace. The Blazers tend to operate out of the half-court isolation sets, with Jerami Grant and Damian Lillard squaring up one-on-one with the opposing team’s best defender. Regardless, running on the fastbreak is a must for this team.
Steals lead to an improved pace because they create extra possessions for a team. When a player steals the ball from their opponent, their team gains possession and can bring it up the court and try to score. This creates an additional possession for the team, which can help increase the game’s overall pace. The Blazers rank last, only swiping six steals per game.
On the other hand, turnovers have the opposite effect on the pace. When a team turns the ball over, they lose possession and allow the other team to score. This can lead to a slower pace, as the team that turned the ball over has to work to get it back. The Blazers rank 21st in this category, turning the ball over 15 times per game.
Having more steals and fewer turnovers can help a team improve its pace by creating more scoring opportunities and reducing the number of times they lose possession of the ball. One player can help in these two areas, Gary Payton II.
Last year, Payton II averaged career highs in every category, even shooting 61.6% from the field, but that is not why the Blazers signed him. Much like his father, Payton II is a factor defensively. He averaged almost three steals per 36 minutes last year and compiled a 3.4 defensive box plus/minus (DBPM). For reference, Giannis Antetokounmpo compiled a 3.5 DBPM last year. Essentially, you have the potential for Giannis at the shooting guard position. I am willing to bet that once Payton II gets back into a groove, he will overtake Anfernee Simons at shooting guard.
To improve their performance in the second half of the season, the Blazers should focus on increasing their pace by creating more steals and reducing turnovers. This can be achieved by utilizing the defensive skills of Gary Payton II, who has shown the potential to be as effective as Giannis Antetokounmpo on defense.