The Portland Trail Blazers' hot start reminds me of the Sixers from two years ago.
You remember that team, don't you? Long before the advent of the Andrew Bynum trade, His Swagness Nick Young, confetti, and paparazzi-filled press conferences at the Constitution Center, the Sixers were a mild-mannered team led by Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, and a weird cast of veterans and youngsters. Evan Turner, when I still had high hopes for him. Jodie Meeks started sometimes. Lou Williams was even there. It seems like so long ago, and yet it's really only been a year and a half since they fell in game 7 to the Boston Celtics in the East Semifinals.
That year, the Sixers started off strongly - advanced team measures (which include plus/minus, strength of schedule, etc.) rated them as one of, if not the best, if not THE best, teams in the league through a month and a half's worth of games. They did so by returning their top 8 or so players from the year before. Unlike much of their lockout-winded brethren, they had been in shape, knew the playbooks and defensive schemes, and played really well for about 30 games.
Of course, we know how that all ended. Collins wore on people, the team fell apart, and eventually the Sixers got lucky in getting to the second round of the playoffs before what could have been a more merciful put down from the Celtics.
Now, the Blazers haven't returned that many players. Their bench rotation is almost entirely new and they traded for an actual starting center (Robin Lopez, serviceable as always). But the core of the team - the Lillard-Matthews-Batum-Aldridge quartet - returned for a second consecutive year together. Those 4 players worked very well together last year, and with actual NBA talent around them should have been seen as a threat.
And they've been excellent. To draw on the Sixers comparison, those four seem to have a "continuity advantage" - the phrase current Grizzlies GM John Hollinger used to describe the Sixers smoking start in 2011-12. Similar to those Sixers, the Blazers run a motion-based offense predicated on moving the ball from one side of the court to the other and playing unselfish basketball. Find the open man, and let him do the damage.
With a year of familiarity with Terry Stotts' system, and one more year of development for the young guys, they've gone from a having a good-to-average offense to producing more points per possession than any other NBA team. Of course, these Blazers are much more talented (and much better coached) offensively than our old Sixers. They use their continuity advantage to generate and convert high value shots, along with a crapton of midrange launching from LaMarcus Aldridge.
Omer Asik Trade on the Table?
•Liberty BallersTalk about a lack of chemistry - the Sixers could be involved in the Asik sweepstakes after all, with rumors about a deal potentially on the table circulating.
And unlike the Sixers of yesteryear, they still have room for improvement. Stotts still puts too many minutes on the starters, and the bench is certainly capable of doing more than it has so far. Robin Lopez could use a little more time to get acclimated, and the Blazers installed a new defense over the summer which could stand to improve.
In other words: the Blazers are really good, and it's probably not a fluke. They'll bring their entertaining motion offense and chemistry to the Wells Fargo Center tonight, to face a team that likely has little future together. The Sixers will likely endure more player movement chaos over the next three months.
For a team that's already featuring 3 rotation players who saw little or no training camp time, the Sixers play remarkably well together. That's a credit to Coach Brown and the rest of the staff. But you still see the mistakes that arise either due to youth or a lack of familiarity with the schemes. You can hear the coach discuss having to take the offense slow with the young guys.
This isn't going to change for a while. But once it does, hopefully we'll be as entertaining as the Blazers are. Even in tank mode, with the Sixers' pacing and the Blazers' spacing, this should be a fun one. /Frazier-ed
For more on the Blazers, check out the crazy-popular SB Nation sister site Blazer's Edge and their game preview. Also, check out me rambling about the Sixers to my friend Dane Carbaugh over at A Young Sabonis.
Game starts at 8:00 EST.
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- Sixers at Raptors Game Thread: Tanking Above The Border