Category Archives: Portland Trail Blazers

‘Twas the West’s 20 wins before Christmas

Richard Masoner | Flickr

Holiday spirit? (Richard Masoner | Flickr)

Quite a few teams have jumped out to unexpectedly hot starts before the Christmas games, arguably the most surprising being the Portland Trail Blazers. They have tall tasks coming up against the Clippers, Heat and Thunder, but for now they’re 23-5 and first in the West, just barely ahead of Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

For Portland to get to 20 wins before Christmas is quite an accomplishment and a sign of success across the entire regular season. From 2000 to 2013, 30 teams out West have reached 20 wins before December 25, which averages out to about 2.3 teams per season. 2014 surpassed that mark with four total.

Below is a table showing each team in the West’s 20-win club over the last 14 years:

20 wins before Christmas

Season Team W-L by 12/25 82-game record West rank Finish
1999-00 Los Angeles Lakers 22-5 67-15 1 Won Finals
Portland Trail Blazers 20-7 59-23 3 Lost Conf. Finals
2000-01 Utah Jazz 20-8 53-29 4 Lost First Round
Los Angeles Lakers 20-10 56-26 2 Won Finals
2001-02 San Antonio Spurs 20-5 58-24 2 Lost Conf. Semifinals
Sacramento Kings 20-9 61-21 1 Lost Conf. Finals
2002-03 Dallas Mavericks 23-4 60-22 3 Lost Conf. Finals
Sacramento Kings 22-8 59-23 2 Lost Conf. Semifinals
2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers 20-6 56-26 2 Lost Finals
Sacramento Kings 20-6 55-27 4 Lost Conf. Semifinals
San Antonio Spurs 20-10 57-25 3 Lost Conf. Semifinals
2004-05 Phoenix Suns 23-3 62-20 1 Lost Conf. Finals
San Antonio Spurs 21-6 59-23 2 Won Finals
2005-06 San Antonio Spurs 21-6 63-19 1 Lost Conf. Semifinals
Dallas Mavericks 20-7 60-22 4 Lost Finals
2006-07 San Antonio Spurs 21-7 58-24 3 Won Finals
Dallas Mavericks 20-7 67-15 1 Lost First Round
Utah Jazz 20-8 51-31 4 Lost Conf. Semifinals
2007-08
2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers 23-5 65-17 1 Won Finals
2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers 23-4 57-25 1 Won Finals
Dallas Mavericks 20-9 55-27 2 Lost First Round
Denver Nuggets 20-9 53-29 4 Lost First Round
2010-11 San Antonio Spurs 25-4 61-21 1 Lost First Round
Dallas Mavericks 23-5 57-25 3 Won Finals
Utah Jazz 21-9 39-43 11 Missed Playoffs
Los Angeles Lakers 21-8 57-25 2 Lost Conf. Semifinals
Oklahoma City Thunder 20-10 55-27 4 Lost Conf. Finals
2011-12
2012-13 Oklahoma City Thunder 21-5 60-22 1 Lost Conf. Semifinals
Los Angeles Clippers 21-6 56-26 4 Lost First Round
San Antonio Spurs 21-8 58-24 2 Lost Finals
2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers 23-5
Oklahoma City Thunder 22-5
San Antonio Spurs 22-6
Los Angeles Clippers 20-9
34 teams   57.8-24.2

So average regular season records those teams finish with are often quite good. Only one team finished with less than 50 wins and the average 82-game record is just under 58-24. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see all four teams this year finish with 58 wins before the playoffs, fattening up in non-conference matchups in the process. No team with over nine losses by Christmas, however, has won over 58 or more games since Chris Webber and the 2002 Kings. The Clippers are probably out of luck, at least until they get J.J. Redick back.

Only one team missed the playoffs on that list: The Utah Jazz of 2011 who had a mess of a season. They’d lost Carlos Boozer the summer prior and replaced him with Al Jefferson, who is now in Charlotte. Utah now has Richard Jefferson and his expiring contract. Will Utah replace him next summer by drafting another Jefferson? The Jazz also ended the season without Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams while prolonging a total rebuild. None of the four 20-win teams this year match what Utah went through. Portland did have an active off-season, but to match Utah’s they’d have to ship LaMarcus Aldridge for, say, David Lee, then have Damian Lillard request a trade down the road. Hmm…

Some other notables from the 20-wins-before-Christmas Club:

  • Of the 29 20-wins-before-Christmas teams that made the playoffs, six lost in the first round.
  • 15 teams made at least the Conference Finals. It’s basically a lock that one of the four this year makes it unless we have a Houston-Golden State matchup. Not likely, but nonetheless possible.
  • 10 of the 13 seasons have featured a 20-wins-before-Christmas team represent the West in the NBA Finals.

Portland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and the Los Angeles Clippers are in a club that often entails success down the road, but a few stumbled despite a hot start. Let’s see which starts were more on the fluky side and ones that were the real deal.

Until then, happy holidays. I need to wrap my presents. Where’s the duct tape?

LaMarcus Aldridge’s rebounding compared to Rasheed Wallace’s

Tiago Hammil | Flickr

Tiago Hammil | Flickr

Over the last decade or so, a few of the NBA’s premier forwards have been with the Portland Trail Blazers. Rasheed Wallace was traded when Zach Randolph‘s career was just getting started, then Randolph was traded just when LaMarcus Aldridge became (and remains) a building block for Portland. Of the three forwards, Aldridge is the only one who’s kept his head on straight through the first half of his career. Let’s hope that doesn’t change.

And last night against Houston, Aldridge became the only one of the three to accomplish the statistical feat of 30+ points and 25 rebounds as a Blazer. No player in the franchise’s history had accomplished that. One particular offensive rebound — leading to a bucket and a foul — triggered memories of Wallace a decade ago. Where was this when ‘Sheed was in his prime? He’s one of my favorite players ever, but I can’t get past him never averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds (let alone nine) for a single year. More on his rebounding in a bit.

Aldridge has been on an absolute tear recently, averaging 13 rebounds in his last 10 games along with 25.9 points, 2.9 assists, just 1.3 turnovers, and 1.5 fouls. The rebounding numbers are a little misleading since Aldridge is the only rebounder in the top 25 to grab less than 30 percent of contested boards, according to SportVU, but it’s nonetheless impressive.

We know now that Wallace never became elite on the glass, but Aldridge had only been an average rebounder going into this season, similar to ‘Sheed at the same stage of his career. Because of that, I wanted to look at the two forwards who came to Portland ten years apart and their rebounding, specifically between the ages of 25 to 28 when both came into their own as players. 

We’ll start with their rebounding stats per-36 minutes:

Player Season ORB DRB TRB PTS
Rasheed Wallace 2000-03 1.7 5.8 7.4 17.8
LaMarcus Aldridge 2011-14 2.7 5.7 8.4 20.6

Adding field goal attempts, free throws, etc. was tempting, but those stats don’t necessarily make rebounding much worse if at all. (You’ll see in the next graph that ‘Sheed’s rebounding actually improved when he started taking threes.) From the per-36 numbers, though, neither player’s rebounding stats are all that impressive. Wallace’s look quite terrible.

We can see if those numbers by either player deceive or confirm how they look in a table showing the percentage of rebounds they grab while on the court:

Player  Season Age G PER 3PAr ORB% DRB% TRB% USG%
Rasheed Wallace 1999-00 25 81 18.1 0.048 5.6% 17.2% 11.7% 21.9%
Rasheed Wallace 2000-01 26 77 20.9 0.138 6.2% 17.9% 12.2% 23.4%
Rasheed Wallace 2001-02 27 79 19.3 0.246 5.3% 20.4% 12.8% 23.7%
Rasheed Wallace 2002-03 28 74 18.5 0.281 5.1% 19.6% 12.3% 23.3%
Total 2000-03   311 19.2 0.182 5.6% 18.8% 12.3% 23.1%
LaMarcus Aldridge
2010-11 25 81 21.5 0.016 10.1% 17.2% 13.5% 25.7%
LaMarcus Aldridge
2011-12 26 55 22.7 0.012 8.6% 17.5% 12.9% 27.0%
LaMarcus Aldridge 2012-13 27 74 20.4 0.011 7.2% 20.9% 14.0% 26.5%
LaMarcus Aldridge 2013-14 28 23 23.8 0.004 6.7% 24.7% 15.8 28.7%
Total 2011-14   233 21.6 0.012 8.5% 19.1% 13.7% 26.5%

Worth noting: Last night, Aldridge nearly doubled his percentages coming into the game, getting 12.2 percent of available offensive rebounds, 45 percent of defensive ones, and 29.2 percent total.

Neither player’s total rebounding percentage over a four-year span lights up the league, though. Among the 290 forwards and centers from 2011 to 2014 (minimum 40 games played), Aldridge is ranked 119th. As for Wallace, from 2000 to 2003 (minimum 50 games), he was 163rd out of 279. Aldridge sits between the top-third and top-half of the league, Wallace lies between the bottom-half and bottom-third with a percentage less than Eddy Curry‘s, post-surgery Tom Gugliotta‘s, Keith Van Horn‘s, and Dirk Nowitzki‘s, among other players not known for their rebounding either.

What separates Aldridge from Wallace a decade ago is the offensive glass, even if Aldridge’s seems to be declining each season. Like mentioned earlier, Wallace’s rebounding percentages increased when he started taking threes, but the offensive rebounding dipped slightly. He was 226th out of 279 forwards and centers in offensive rebounding percentage while Aldridge is currently 125th out of 290, a clear difference between terrible and average.

Rasheed  Wallace in Detroit. (Keith Allison via Flickr)

Rasheed Wallace as a Piston in 2008. (Keith Allison via Flickr)

Personnel also affects rebounding totals. There’s just not as many rebounds available when playing alongside Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace, which Aldridge occasionally did during 2011 and 2012. His rebounding improved when playing alongside J.J. Hickson and Nicholas Batum, the former replaced by Robin Lopez this season. 

It’s a similar case for Wallace, who played with Brian Grant (traded after ’00) and Arvydas Sabonis in through ’01 before improving in defensive rebounding with Dale Davis at center. Sabonis came back in ’03 to play a limited role.

Regardless, Portland was a top-10 team in total rebound percentage from ’00 to ’03, according to NBA.com. They were also in the top-eight each year in offensive rebounding and no worse than 12th in defensive boards.  The Blazers from ’11 to ’14 were hot and cold on the glass, though. In their seasons as a playoff team — ’11 and likely ’14 — they’ve been both the best offensive rebounding teams and at stopping the fast break. In their lottery-bound seasons of ’12 and ’13, however, they were a bottom-10 team in each category. Defensive rebounding percentage over those four seasons has been consistently below average, never above 18th.

In the years following ‘Sheed’s stint with Portland, his rebounding percentages fluctuated. They were often higher in Detroit but dipping in Boston. (Bill Simmons was especially not happy with his performance as a Celtic.) As for his cup of coffee with New York, I pretend it doesn’t really exist.

Meanwhile, Aldridge’s rebounding used to be something that neither jumped out nor was worth getting too frustrated about. Through one-fourth of this season, it’s helped him become an MVP candidate.

Can he keep it up?

All statistics via Basketball-Reference unless noted otherwise.

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