Sitting at Summer League from the NBA executive section watching a bunch of players unlikely to make the league is now part of Chauncey Billups' job as the Blazers’ new head coach.
He’s tasked with hopefully finding a player worth taking a chance on. Whether it’s veterans like Michael Beasley, Kenneth Faried, and Emmanuel Mudiay. Or some youth by the names of Antonio Blakeney or Kobi Simmons.
All are possibilities and decisions the team will have to make as they enter year one of the Billups experiment. What the team does will have some effect on Damian Lillard’s feelings towards the organization.
Despite the limited moves made this offseason, Billups is very optimistic about what the team could become.
“It was already a very good team before I showed up. I just want to try and enhance it. I feel like the biggest thing I want to try and do is defensively. We have to be a lot better. It was a poor defensive team last year. Offensively they were really special. If we want to take that jump, we gotta be better defensively.
“I expect for us to be a lot more competitive," Billups told ESPN. "One through five we’re gonna challenge everybody to communicate and take those personal challenges. If they do, like they should because everybody wants to win, then we will be a better team.”
Billups being forward calling the team’s defense “poor” is exactly what they’ve become the last few seasons on that side of the court.
Each of their last four regular-season finishes in defensive efficiency has ended lower than the previous years.
- 2017-’18: sixth
- 2018-’19: 16th
- 2019-’20: 27th
- 2020-’21: 29th
The team was also in the bottom 20 in opponent's field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, turnovers, and points.
Their defense needs much improvement. Will there be a huge change this upcoming season? That’s unlikely. Where the optimism lies is the team can’t really do much worse, having finished second to last a season ago. With there being an emphasis on that side of the ball, the only way is up.
Offensively, the Blazers are one of the top teams in the league and have been for the last few years. Last season alone the team finished top five in points per game and offensive efficiency.
“I think we can be a better passing team,” Billups said. “A lot of time last year they just depended on Dame to be Dame and CJ to be special. We were one of the worst teams at creating corner three-point shots. That’s the best three-point shot in the game. The only way you do that is to play with great pace, space, and drive and kick and get paint touches. That's gonna be something that’s very important for how I want our team to play. That’s the only way you break down defenses. We’ll be a better ball movement team which will make us harder to guard.”
The corner three was the team's least attempted front-court shot a season ago. Although they weren't too reliant on shooting from the corner, they were efficient -- right corner (34.6%) and left corner (45%).
Due to the team being an isolation-heavy team because of the styles of Lillard and CJ McCollum, their passing takes a hit. They finished first in isolation plays and points and unsurprisingly were last in passes made and assists per game.
Fixing a team with a pre-existing issue while the core of the roster could change is a lot for a first-year coach. Despite having a 17-year career, which included All-Star and All-NBA appearances, Billups is a neophyte to the coaching industry. Such so, that he’s open about it and brought in a veteran at his new job to be his guiding light.
“My biggest challenge will be not knowing a lot of things,” Billups said. “Which is why it was important for me to get Scott Brooks on my staff. A former head coach, who’s a current head coach, in all honesty. So many things I wouldn’t even know that I didn’t know, now I will, having a guy like Scotty. Being able to bounce things off him.”
There are a lot of question marks with the Blazers and hopefully, most will be answered at some point next season. Whether it’s the status of Lillard and McCollum, the team’s defense, or Billups’ ability to coach. The news cycle with the team seems to be a revolving door.