Didn’t See This Coming
As I sit here writing my weekly analysis of Terry Stotts and the Portland Trail Blazers, the team tucked away in the Pacific Northwest sits atop not just the Western Conference, but the entire NBA with the league’s best record.
At 21-4, the Blazers are half a game ahead of the Indiana Pacers. Nobody saw this coming, and I mean absolutely nobody.
Because of the success of this team, we’re going to step away from the usual template of this piece. Typically we examine what the coach has done right, what he can improve and what to look forward to next week.
This time, however, there’s only one question on my mind: Is Stotts a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate?
The easy answer is yes, but let’s look at why. First and foremost, he has this team winning on the road. The Blazers had just 11 wins away from the Rose Garden all last year, yet it has found a way to match that total in its first 13 road outings this season.
The other thing Stotts has done is allow his team to dominate the three-point line. Every roster in the NBA wants the freedom to launch from downtown, but few coaches have the guts to let their teams do it.
Perimeter domination doesn’t just translate on offense, though. Stotts’ defensive sets have earned a ton of recognition this season, and it’s easy to see why.
As unique as it sounds, the team is avoiding double teaming at all cost — even against players such as Dwight Howard — and giving up easy looks at the rim. What was once a flaw — points allowed in the paint — is now a scheme to allow his roster to lock down the three-point line defensively.
Take the nationally televised game against Houston, for instance. Stotts and his team gave up 32 points and 17 rebounds to Howard. However, the Rockets — a team making the third-most three-pointers in the NBA — were held to just five on the night, as they made just 25 percent of their total attempts.
It’s risky to say the least, but Stotts is a numbers guy, and when you know you have the fire power to outscore twos with threes, it’s easy to give up on traditional tactics and rewrite the book on successful defense.
Getting back to the question at hand, we want to know if Stotts is a legitimate candidate for Coach of the Year. Fans in Portland will scream yes, but you have to look at the competition to know where each coach ranks.
First and foremost, you have to start with Frank Vogel out East. What he’s doing with the Pacers is remarkable, as a team that was supposed to be very good is downright dominant.
Then again, if you want to talk about expectations, Stotts earns the nod, as the Blazers were expected to fight for their playoff lives all season long.
Outside of Vogel, your next two options have to be Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs and Scott Brooks with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Both teams are finding ways to dominate a tough Western Conference, and both are true contenders at this point in the process.
All that said, consider this: The Trail Blazers have taken down every team they’ve faced in the eight spots behind them (in the NBA standings), and that includes San Antonio, OKC and yes, Indiana.
If the Trail Blazers drop off the face of the earth between now and April, say goodbye to Stotts’ chances of winning the award. Being in Portland keeps him out of the national market, and if the team is struggling even a little bit, talks of this award will disappear more quickly than they arrived.
But if the winning continues and the team stays in the top three in a tough Western Conference, look for Stotts to be a serious contender for Coach of the Year at the end of the season.