One Team, One Stat: Post-break turnaround in Portland

One Team, One Stat: Post-break turnaround in Portland
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard speaks with center Jusuf Nurkic during the first half of an NBA basketball preseason game against the Toronto Raptors in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

NBA.com's John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2017-18 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Portland Trail Blazers, who were a different team after the All-Star break last season.

THE STAT

The Portland Trail Blazers were the most improved team after the All-Star break last season, 7.8 points per 100 possessions better than they were before the break.

THE CONTEXT

With the addition of Jusuf Nurkic (acquired from Denver in a trade for Mason Plumlee), the Blazers went 18-8 after the break to grab the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They were 14-5 with Nurkic in the starting lineup and outscored their opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

After going 1-2 in their first three games after the break, the Blazers had the league's second best record (17-6) in March and April.

Only two teams (Miami and Charlotte) saw a bigger post-break improvement in offensive efficiency, and only two teams (Brooklyn and Toronto) saw a bigger post-break improvement in defensive efficiency. The Blazers were one of three teams (Golden State and Miami were the others) that ranked in the top 10 on both ends of the floor after the break.

Offensively, it was their 3-point shooting that saw the most improvement. The Blazers ranked second in 3-point percentage (41.0 percent) after the All-Star break, having ranked 15th (36.0 percent) before the break.

Allen Crabbe (47.1 percent) and C.J. McCollum (45.6 percent) were the league's two best 3-point shooters among players with at least 100 attempts after the break. Damian Lillard, meanwhile, shot 41.3 percent from 3-point range over the last two months after shooting 34.6 percent before the break. That increase (6.7 percent) was the second biggest among 60 players who attempted at least 100 threes both before the break and after it.

Threes were the story on defense, too. The Blazers not only held their opponents to a lower percentage from beyond the arc after the break (34.4 percent) than they did before it (38.1 percent), but also saw a reduction in the percentage of their opponents' shots that came from 3-point range (from 31 percent to 26 percent). They also cut their opponents' free throw rate from 32 attempts per 100 shots from the field before the break to 28 after it.

The Blazers' bloated payroll forced them to trade Crabbe (who finished second in the league in 3-point percentage) this summer, post-break improvement doesn't necessarily portend continued success the following season, and this summer's player movement only made things tougher for second and third-tier teams in the Western Conference.

But a full season of a healthy Nurkic (who missed all but 17 minutes of the team's first round series vs. Golden State) could make the Blazers a tougher out than they were without him.

BLAZERS NOTES - GENERAL

1. Were 25-16, with a plus-3.1 NetRtg at home. Were 16-25, with a minus-3.1 NetRtg, on the road. Symmetry.

2. Were the only West playoff team that had a losing record (13-17) against the East.

3. Were one of three teams (Chicago and Memphis were the others) that had a winning record on the second game of a back-to-back (8-7) and a losing record otherwise (33-34).

4. One of three teams that lost multiple games after leading by 20 or more points, going 13-2. The others were Sacramento (7-2) and Utah (20-2).

BLAZERS NOTES - OFFENSE

1. One of three teams (Golden State and San Antonio are the others) that have ranked in the top 10 in 3-point percentage each of the last four seasons.

2. Had an effective field goal percentage of 45.9 percent, the best mark in the league, on contested jumpers, according to SportVU.

3. According to SportVU, 53 percent of their ball screens resulted in a shot, drawn foul or turnover from the ball-handler or the screener. That was the highest ball-screen usage rate in the league.

4. They ranked last in skip passes at just 4.6 per game.

5. Only team that scored less than a point per possession in the playoffs.

BLAZERS NOTES - DEFENSE

1. Have ranked in the bottom six in opponent turnover rate in each of the last five seasons.

2. Had the worst defense in regular season games played between playoff teams, allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions in their 41 games against the other 15.

3. Allowed a league-worst 0.91 points per possession on pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions, which accounted for 19.8 percent (the league's third highest rate) of their opponents' possessions.

4. Opponents shot a league-low 56.4 percent in the restricted area, but a league-high 46.7 percent on other shots in the paint and a league-high 37.6 percent on above-the-break 3-pointers.

5. Opponents took 55 percent of their shots in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock. That was the league's third highest opponent rate.

BLAZERS NOTES - LINEUPS

1. Their most-used lineup before the break - Lillard, McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Plumlee- was actually better (plus-8.8 points per 100 possessions in 255 minutes) than their most-used lineup after the break (plus-5.5 in 229 minutes).

2. That latter lineup - Lillard, McCollum, Harkless, Noah Vonleh and Nurkic - forced just 10.6 turnovers per 100 possessions, the lowest rate among lineups that played at least 200 minutes together last season.

3. Outscored their opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions in 1,807 minutes with both Lillard and McCollum on the floor, but were outscored 3.6 points per 100 possessions in 1,874 minutes with only one of the two on the floor.

4. After the All-Star break, they were 11.5 points per 100 possessions better with Harkless on the floor (plus-10.3) than they were with him off the floor (minus-1.2). Harkless-Vonleh had better numbers (plus-11.4 in 397 minutes) than Harkless-Aminu (plus-1.4 in 277).

5. In the playoffs, Portland starters had an aggregate NetRtg (weighted by minutes played) of minus-23.0, the postseason's worst mark by a wide margin.

BLAZERS NOTES - INDIVIDUAL

1. Al-Farouq Aminu was one of five players with at least 200 drives and a turnover on at least 10 percent of them.

2. Aminu was also one of seven players who shot less than 50 percent on at least 150 shots in the restricted area. At 6-9, he was three inches taller than any of the other six.

3. Maurice Harkless shot 35.1 percent from 3-point range on 194 3-point attempts after shooting 25.0 percent on 196 attempts over his previous two seasons. His effective field goal percentage (55.8 percent) and true shooting percentage (57.0 percent) were both career-high marks.

4. Damian Lillard took only 28 (4.8 percent) of his 579 3-pointers from the corners. That was the third lowest rate among 135 players who attempted at least 200 total threes, with only two centers - Marc Gasol and DeMarcus Cousins - having lower rates.

5. Lillard's turnover ratio (8.3 per 100 possessions used) was the lowest of his career and the third lowest mark among the league's 30 starting point guards, higher than only those of Kemba Walker (7.6) and Kyrie Irving (8.3). He also recorded career-high marks in rebounding percentage, effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage.

6. C.J. McCollum shot 54-for-101 (53 percent) on clutch shots, the best mark among 40 players who attempted at least 50. Lillard (36.4 percent) had the fourth lowest clutch field goal percentage among that same group. He shot 0-for-11 on 3-pointers with the game within three in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

7. McCollum (36-for-38) and Lillard (73-for-78) ranked second and third in clutch free throw percentage among players who took at least 25 free throws with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.

8. McCollum was one of three players to shoot 45 percent or better on at least 200 non-restricted area paint shots and 45 percent or better on at least 200 mid-range shots.

9. McCollum shot 43.1 percent on pull-up 3-pointers, the best mark among 49 players who attempted at least 100.

10. Anthony Morrow's career mark of 41.7 ranks 14th all-time, but his 3-point percentage has dropped each of the last three seasons, from 45.1 percent in 2013-14 to 30.8 percent last season.

11. The Nuggets were outscored by 10.3 points per 100 possessions with Jusuf Nurkic on the floor. That was the seventh worst on-court NetRtg among 246 players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games prior to the time he was traded. With Portland, he had the 10th best mark (plus-9.6) among 267 non-Warriors who averaged at least 15 minutes in 15 or more games after the time he was traded.

12. Evan Turner was one of four players who took at least 100 pull-up jumpers and 100 catch-and-shoot jumpers and had a higher effective field goal percentage on the pull-ups (41.4 percent) than on the catch-and-shoot attempts (38.6 percent).

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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