The Portland Trail Blazers have changed the script for the last decade. Although they are finally putting together a high-level defense, although there are some doubts about how sustainable it is, they have taken a big step backwards offensively after qualifying in the top half of the league in offensive efficiency for the past nine seasons. .
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are right where they have always been from the perspective of efficiency, and McCollum in particular has taken another big step forward in their manufacturing efforts. They are receiving high-level shooting from Pat Connaughton and Shabazz Napier, two players who have not been able to contribute positively by playing meaningful minutes in their careers to this point. Even Al-Farouq Aminu, forward of defense, has been very efficient in the games he has been able to play.
So, what's wrong with the Trail Blazers that put them in the bottom third of the league at that end of the floor? There are a multitude of problems for Portland offensively at the moment, including the inability of Evan Turner to score efficiently, but one place to focus is on posts-ups. The Trail Blazers use 9.0 percent of their possessions in posts, most of which go to Jusuf Nurkic, and score 0.77 points per trip, the fourth worst record in the league and an absolutely horrible result for any half court possession.
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The worst half court offense in the NBA scores 0.85 points per possession, and the Trail Blazers have seven worse points that when they throw the ball in the post. Nurkic gets most of these looks, is responsible for more than half of all UPS posts, and is even worse in his possessions, creating a very low offensive rating of 70.8 in those situations. They throw around five post-ups per game and are creating an offensive value 1
There are two main reasons why Nurkic's post game has been so poor this season: Portland does not execute enough pre-action to get a good position against an offside. – Balances the defender and does not fight for that position when he can get there. It has relatively good hands, it is able to pass over any shoulder and is large enough to draw back practically to anyone. In a league that avoids traditional post-up, Nurkic has the skills to keep him alive, but the results are simply not there for a team trying to compete for a spot in the second round of the playoffs.
Throw away five possessions per game to produce as little as Nurkic's later creations will not work against good teams and they certainly will not work in the playoffs. He is also a good enough passer, but the offensive stalls around him when he catches on the post, feeding the cyclical nature of these things: perimeter players do not move because he rarely faints and rarely faints because the perimeter the players do not move.
Nurkic's unwillingness to fight for a deep position before receiving the ball is unethical for the inviting contact once he has possession. He is happy to let his boy push him to 15 feet, but once the ball enters the post, he goes to work, backing off easily with his defender to return to that good position. Notice below how Jason Smith, with his 240 pounds, forces the 280-pound Nurkic to the perimeter:
Once the Nurkic captures, however, it's a completely different story . It crosses Smith and gets into painting easily. How much easier would his life be if he fought for that kind of position before the ball came in first? Then he could take a dribble on Smith's body to finish just under the basket and get a tray or dunk. The counterargument is that Nurkic chooses to go to the perimeter to execute a possible dribble with a perimeter player, but then he needs to abandon the ball when that action does not produce an advantage for his team.
Often, the Portland guards will pull a pick-and-roll post, trying to take advantage of a big man who gets stuck on the perimeter with the ball handler and is out of position. Again, however, Nurkic renounces that great position:
Nurkic screens for Napier on the perimeter, but he quickly slides the screen, leaving Chandler Parsons and Marc Gasol at the perimeter and moving not disturbed in the paint. He arrives at the restricted area and instead of camping there to get Lillard's pass, he floats to the corner and finally catches the ball two steps from the block. It becomes the battle that continues with Gasol, but there is very little that was good about possession.
There are good times for Nurkic in the post. As poor as his positioning in mid-court post-ups, he gets a good position in the semi-transition and the early offense:
Now it's more similar! When the bounce bounces toward a teammate, he runs at full speed on the ground and catches the ball in the upper part of the restricted area. You can not finish the contact that time, but these first post-ups are a perfect way to give your touches and reward you for the effort.
The concern for Portland's coaching staff is that Nurkic will return at both ends if he is not fed a steady diet of post touch. We have seen a litany of centers that are enraged by the lack of later publications; Dwight Howard's level of effort in defense is correlated almost directly with the amount of post touches he has had in that game. It's not a formal charge against these guys: almost every player in the league benefits from having the ball in their hands and feeling that it's a big part of the offense. There is a reason coaches tell reporters that "the ball has energy."
Players of all positions do better on both sides when they are offensively involved and have the opportunity to touch the ball. The only problem is that giving Nurkic and other centers his touches usually means getting a very bad injection at the end, so the centers are more maligned for complaining about not receiving the ball. There is no easy solution here. The Trail Blazers need to keep throwing the ball to Nurkic and let him give him his touches, but maybe some minor corrections in his game would help make those possessions at least a little more efficient.