Last season the Trail Blazers shot 38 percent from three for the season, good for fourth best in the NBA. The ability to stroke from three played a huge role on last season's successes. Aside from the obvious benefits of being worth more than a two-point shot, Portland's high-percentage from three forced opposing teams to pay close attention to the perimeter, helping free up the paint for Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. And this season, with Greg Oden looking much more polished and comfortable on the offensive end, outside shooting is going to be even more important. But through the first six games of the preseason, the Blazers have failed to consistently find the mark from long range.
The Trail Blazers shot well from three in the 2008-09 preseason, 40 percent (51 of 126) well to be exact. But through the first six games of the 2009-10 exhibition season the Trail Blazers are shooting just 31 percent (25 of 81) from long range. They're shooting fewer three's as well, 13.5 per game this preseason as opposed to 18 per this time last year. Hard to tell if they're taking fewer triples because they're not shooting as well or if other factors are in play.
Tuesday night's game was no better. Portland shot 2 for 15 from three, which pencils out to 13.3 percent. The absence of Aldridge and Oden from the lineup made it that much harder for shooters on the perimeter to get open, but you'd think at least they'd get luck more than twice in fifteen tries.
There's a number of things you can point to that explain the problem. The team has been without Rudy Fernandez, one of the best if not the best shooter on the team, for most of the preseason. Martell Webster, who challenges Rudy as the team's best three-point specialist, is still getting back into game shape, both from a fitness and tempo perspective. Those two can straight make it rain when healthy and in rhythm, but neither are there yet.
"You’ve got to get your rhythm," said Nate McMillan. "Normally you start out slow and that percentage goes up. A lot of that, I would say, probably are guys legs, they don’t have their legs right now. Rudy is not with us. Martell is a back shooting some three’s. A lot of guys are shooting some three’s. It’s early, but we want to take ‘em if we’re open and I think that percentage will go up."
Then there's Andre Miller. Dre brings a bevy of skills to the point guard position, but three-point shooting isn't one of them. The issue isn't so much that he's missing three's, because he's really not taking all that many, but he is taking away court time from Steve Blake, who was absolutely nails last year from deep. So when you've got one of your best perimeter shooters playing less, it's logical to see a drop off in both attempts and percentage. Also probably worth noting that Blake got a lot of open three's last season thanks to Roy's ability to penetrate then pass out to the perimeter. That SG-to-PG-for-three connection seems less likely with Roy working with Miller in the backcourt.
It's possible that there are some flow issues at play with Miller as well. He's still learning where his teammates like to receive the ball, where they like to spot up. When these kinds of things become second nature, there's a good chance the three-point percentages will improve. Miller's ability to penetrate and kick will eventually help those shooters as well.
But more than anything, guys just aren't making shots, and that's the way it goes sometimes. For every hot streak where the hoop looks like the size of a manhole cover there's a corresponding slump where nothing comes easy. Believe it or not, that's actually good news. Much better to get those cold spells out in preseason. So don't expect shooters to stop shooting any time soon.
"I think we have had some open three’s and we just missed ‘em," said McMillan. "We want to take those. We’ve got guys that can shoot the ball from three so we want to take those shots."