Portland's Big 3
Blazers seek right formula to balance three stars and one ball
By Jason Quick, The Oregonian
November 30, 2009, 11:55PM
Bruce Ely, The OregonianThe offensive development of Greg Oden has given the Trail Blazers another scoring option, but the team is still struggling with how to blend his talents with Brandon Roy's and LaMarcus Aldridge's. The Mount Rushmore of the Trail Blazers convened Monday for a private meeting – star players Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden along with coach Nate McMillan – to assess where the team is heading after blowout losses in the team's last two games.
At the top of the agenda was airing out simmering issues about the team's offense, while discussing ideas on how the team can blend the offensive talents of Roy, Aldridge and Oden.
Later in the day, McMillan refused to divulge the specifics of the meeting, saying only that this is part of the maturation process of the three young players.
"It's going to take those guys some time," McMillan said. "This is not going to happen overnight."
The players are in no way at odds with each other. Roy said he and Oden are "cool – real cool" and that he and Aldridge, already close friends, are "better than we have been any other year."
"There's nothing among teammates," Roy said before the meeting. "Guys are perfectly fine. We just have to find a way to get it on the court."
Although the Blazers are 12-7 this season, the foundation of their success has been defense, which has pulled them through some woeful offensive nights. The struggles are largely because the team's offense has changed from last season. What was once a pick-and-roll dominated attack of Roy and Aldridge now includes post-entry passes to Oden, who has improved greatly this season to become a legitimate offensive weapon.
But the offensive improvement of Oden has come with a price. At the moment, neither Roy nor Aldridge have comfortably adjusted to the change in playing style.
Roy's familiar forays into the lane have become few-and-far-between, usually because Oden and his man are in the key, presenting a detour. Also, most of Oden's post plays do not involve Roy at all, leaving him standing on the perimeter.
For Aldridge, Roy's reduced penetration has cut down on one of the duo's favorite weapons – the drive and kick – while also limiting the space inside when Aldridge does decide to post.
Meanwhile, Oden is flourishing, averaging a career-high 11.6 points while shooting 63.3 percent from the field, the second highest percentage in the NBA.
Through it all, the offense has sputtered. There has been a rash of hurried attempts to beat the shot clock, and far too many stagnant, lifeless possessions that ultimately end in a low-percentage jump shot.
"I think we have to establish a pecking order offensively," Roy said Monday, shortly before Oden asked him when the meeting would commence in McMillan's office.
Roy has been the most vocal in expressing concerns about the team's offensive struggles, in large part because he is the most accommodating and forthcoming interview on the team, but also because he is accustomed to being the focal point of the offense.
Clearly, Roy is fighting himself and the system.
He began the season stressing to his teammates the importance of sacrificing, but he says he feels like he is sacrificing the most. He moved to small forward for nine games, and throughout the season has surrendered the ball more than he ever has in his career.
"How do I sacrifice and still be me?" Roy asked Monday. "That's what I'm trying to find out. I'm trying to sacrifice and I'm trying ... but I'm feeling – Arrrrrgh! I don't think it works. Not because of the scoring, it just doesn't seem right."
These struggles stand out on a team that has generally been harmonious throughout its ascension to a playoff contender. But it is exactly what McMillan forecasted last season. That's when he gathered Roy, Aldridge and Oden for a dinner at his home before the start of last season to talk about potential problems.
They talked about egos, sacrificing, communication and patience. But Roy said they never got to specifics about how to handle the distribution of touches and shots.
"We kind of brought it up, but coach was like, 'Let me worry about it when it gets there.'," Roy said.
Now that time is here, and McMillan acknowledged that it will take adjustments from everyone, including him. In fact, with several players on the team, McMillan stands as the central figure in the offensive struggles because he insists on calling most of the plays.
Roy, for instance, says he has gone long stretches in games without even touching the ball as McMillan calls plays for Oden and Aldridge. He equated that tactic to tonight's game against Miami. If the Heat went long stretches without giving the ball to star Dwyane Wade, Roy and the Blazers would be ecstatic.
"I think teams are happy with how we are playing right now. I honestly think that," Roy said. "They are like, 'We aren't getting your best shot.' I mean, they are thinking Greg is good, L.A. is good, but I can tell my man is there going, 'Whew! Off the hook again.' I mean, there are dudes who guard me, like O.J. (Mayo), and they are asking me 'Are you taking a back seat?"'
McMillan said he is new to this three-player dynamic as well, and is making adjustments along the way.
"Part of it is me calling plays, and having that balance," McMillan said. "And maybe we do move guys around, work on the rotation. We will make adjustments."
Adjustments were already well under way on Monday, when the schedule allowed time to practice. They worked on both offense and defense, during which the points of emphasis were screens on offense and rotations on defense.
As McMillan addressed the media, the players peeled off and met in small groups. Joel Przybilla and Andre Miller at one basket talked animatedly. Near the water coolers, Roy, Steve Blake and Martell Webster circled, each of them alternating with waving hands and arm movements as they drank out of cups. At another basket, Oden and Aldridge shot baskets.
The meeting of the team's biggest figures was a mere 45 minutes away, and by then Roy had already decided on his tone.
"I am positive. We have to stay connected. At Utah, and halfway through the Memphis game, we started to separate a little bit. Started pointing fingers. We have to come back together and say 'Let's do it together.' So I'm not going to point fingers at this and this. I'm just going to go out and play. I'm going to stop thinking, and stop worrying about who is touching it and just play hard and see where that takes us. Instead of trying to read into everything, we gotta make this work."
By the time the meeting was over, McMillan was optimistic that his three young stars could figure out how to play with, and off, each other.
"These guys are all under contract for a long time, so we've got to face reality," McMillan said. "It's gotta happen. When? Who knows? But they will get it. Because these are not selfish guys. They will figure out that everyone will get an opportunity."
the guy that can be a solid 12-15 ppg guy off the bench that creates mismatch problems and has been out the last few weeks is travis outlaw...hes CRUCIAL for portland to be successful, also aldridge hasn't been scoring as much as usual, maybe hes focusing more on defense..im not sure
McMillian needs to look at the Lakers and how they're able to involve Kobe, Gasol and Bynum.
I think it's time for Roy and Aldridge to acknowledge the fact that Oden has arrived and he's only going to get better... He's not going anywhere and is a part of the team's future also. If they're going to challenge the Lakers in the West and compete for a championship, Oden has to play a huge role. They need to embrace Oden and develop an on court chemistry/relationship with him. They just need to continue developing chemistry and growing/getting better together.
McMillian needs to figure out how to develop the chemistry/create balance between them and if he can't... Then they need to find somebody who can.
With the emergence of Greg Oden as being "reliable" and the addition of Andre Miller this team will be unsteady for a few more weeks but i think they will figure it out and Roy will learn to pick his spots. But i feel that LA will be the man left out and seeing as he doesn't rebound alot and is a average shot blocker he will probably get critized if the team stuggles.
On a unrelated note what happened to Jerryd Bayless?
Jerryd Bayless is finally in the team's rotation. He plays here and there, but still isn't getting enough playing time to actually make an impact.