Transcript: Neil Olshey On What Lillard Needs To Improve And Why Aldridge Isn't Soft
By caseyholdahl Posted in: Blazers, damianlillard, j.j.hickson, LaMarcusAldridge, meyersleonard, NicolasBatum, NolanSmith, Raptors, ronnieprice, sashapavlovic, Spurs, victorclaver, WesleyMatthews
Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey Justin Termine and Mateen Cleaves on "Off The Dribble" on SiriusXM Sports to discuss the 2012 Draft, what skills Damian Lillard needs to improve upon, making the playoffs vs. rebuilding, resigning Nicolas Batum, hiring Terry Stotts and why LaMarcus Aldridge is anything but soft. You can listen to the interview
here or read the transcript below (questions are paraphrased, answers are as near verbatim as possible).
Congratulations on the win last night.
"Thank you. Nothing like bringing a MASH unit to war."
What's your take on the first 21 games of the season?
"Well you know, we've got some work to do, for sure. But I think Terry and the staff are doing a great job of mixing in some of the younger guys we've brought in this year -- we had a couple of rookies that had been stashed overseas from the previous regimes -- and we brought them over and they're getting an opportunity. Our two draft picks, clearly Damian Lillard is off to a great start and Meyers Leonard is developing even a little bit quicker than we had anticipated. We preserved some cap room for next summer, we've got our first round pick, we've got three second's, we've got a lot of deal-making tools. The sooner we get educated on our roster, the sooner we''ll be able to make some moves and accelerate the learning curve here."
Why did you decide to draft Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard?
"Mateen, look, you were a great point guard. There's so much more too it that just your physical ability. And being around the kid, the way he carries himself, his composure, his maturity, his feel for the game and his work ethic. It's such a leadership position, as you know, and I just really felt when I met the kid and spent time with him and watched him interact with my staff, my owner and our coaches at the time, that he was the kind of guy you could hand the ball to Day One, just like a Kyrie Irving or a Westbrook, a D.Rose. I'm not comparing him to those players but that's what those organizations did as well and I really felt like he had the kind of gravitas and composure where opening night he could take the ball and there were going to be some bumps in the road but once we lived through them he was a franchise-caliber point guard."
What are some of the things Lillard does need to work on?
"Look, I think understanding and anticipating all the different defenses. As Mateen will attest, guys are blitzing him more now, they're throwing multiple coverages at him. From a learning standpoint I think he's got to pick up on where his outlasts are, where his pressure releases are against those coverages. I think that's part of the learning curve.
"The other side of it is, to be honest with you, is how to deliver the ball to players who are as athletic as the guys in the NBA. I didn't care anything about the stigma of drafting a guy from Weber State, but the reality of the level of player he's used to playing with is not the Meyers Leonard, JJ Hickson, LaMarcus Aldridge level athletes and I think right now he's delivering the ball in ways where guys have to catch below the rim and finish. And I think the more he gets used to being a lob passer off penetration, knowing guys can finish above the rim, his efficiency in terms of assist-to-turnover will go up as well."
I also liked the Will Barton pick. Is Meyers Leonard the "center of the future" in Portland?
"I hope so Mateen. We drafted him with that in mind. Clearly he's farther down the road than Damian. Damian was a fourth-year junior that had the ball from the time he was a freshman. Meyers barely played as a freshman, had a very good sophomore year. You know how it is. Bigs develop slower. It takes time. The number of reads and rotations they have to make in multiple pick and roll coverages, regardless of just defending the post one on one against a higher caliber of player, it takes some time. But Terry's done a great job of living through some of the bumps and bruises with him and getting him out there, getting him significant minutes with our core players. I think he's better today after 20 game, he'll be better after 40. I hope that we have the answer in June that we don't need to go hunt in free agency for a center because he's the guy we're going to go forward with."
Status of Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.
"It's day to day. They're both tough guys. They've been playing through some stuff to begin with and I think last night it just reached the point where, as tough as they are and as much as they wanted to go, it actually would have hurt to have them on the floor due to their limited mobility. We got a little bit lucky. We got a break in the schedule, we don't play until Thursday, so they've been getting treatment almost around the clock and hopefully they'll be ready for Thursday night."
Talk about the addition of Ronnie Price.
"We kind of signed Ronnie for two reasons. One, we weren't sure about Nolan Smith, if he was ready to be a full-time backup. And the other was he and Damian were very close. They worked out together quite a bit in Utah. Ronnie is a classy guy, he's a competitor, he's a real leader in the locker room and off the court. And he was just one of those kind of guys, from a mentor standpoint, we really felt like he would help was the transition for Damian into the NBA. You know, the good thing about Ronnie is whether he plays 35 minutes or doesn't play at all like last night, he's the same guy walking back into the locker room the next day from a leadership standpoint and I think he'll accelerate the learning curve for Damian in terms of what the league is about."
LaMarcus Aldridge has been accused of being a little bit soft. What's your take on the criticism in Portland in regards to that.
"The Portland papers, and we've had the same writers that have been here forever, I don't know what they're looking at because the guy is all banged up. His back is jacked up, his wrist is messed up, he plays every night. He's been asked to do a lot more this year in terms of facilitating throughout he pinch post because that's the offensive system we're running. It's not his natural position; he's a left block, left elbow player. And I think he's adopted well. Look, he's averaging more field goal attempts than he ever has, he's averaging more assists that he ever has, he's a higher usage player. Last night, we clearly had an advantage down low, he went down low. There are nights when we feel like we open the floor up more if he's away from the basket at the high post or the elbow. He's sacrificed his own game for that and a little bit of his efficiency. I think what happens, and Mateen can attest to this, when you bring in a new coach and a new system it's going to take 20 or 25 games for everybody to learn the system and then once everybody gets how we want to play, now we can tweak it and run more isolation and get him more touches in his sweet spot and that's what you've seen the last six or seven games. His efficiency has gone through the roof because he's getting more touches in his comfort zone. LaMarcus is anything but soft. The guy had 12 rebounds last night, he's guarding fours, he's guarding fives, he's playing a ton of minutes, he's playing hurt. He's gone from being a part of a veteran core to being the franchise player and the leader in the locker room. That's not the easiest adjustment either because we've got ever opposing defense schemed to stop him. He was getting double and tripled all night last night, be battled through it, he had a high efficiency game, he got to the line, he was eight for eight from the line. All but seven of his attempts last night were in the paint, so anybody who thinks LaMarcus Aldridge is soft hasn't been around our organization or they're not very cognizant of what is going on around our league."
Is this a rebuilding year or do you guys still have your sights set on making the playoffs?
"Look, every team in this league is trying to make the playoffs. What you don't want to do is sacrifice long term sustainability for a one year entree into the playoffs. There's plenty of examples around the league of teams that kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater, got into the playoffs, got their butts kicked in the first round and then turned around, they had no cap flexibility, no draft picks, they had a bunch of contracts weighing them down they couldn't get rid of and the run was over. I think the goal here is to build something where we can go on a five to seven year run and build it the right way. So any piece, any deal that I can generate or will be brought to me that will accelerate things and move the needle forward faster, we're going to do. But at the end of the day, look, the organization invested five first round picks before I even got here in guys that have not really gotten an opportunity to play yet and we need to see what they have. You use two first rounder and a second rounder in Will Barton this year, so we've got a lot of, either five rookies and then three guys who never got an opportunity to play before Terry got here and we have to see what we have. The last thing you want to do is go spend seven or eight million dollars on a player and find out you have a rookie whose better. So like I said, I think there's a learning curve this year. We need to see what we have, we need to develop our assets, we need to continue to groom Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge and get them to get to the next level, but look, next summer we're going to have $13 million in cap room, we're going to have a first (round pick), three seconds, we have an aggressive owner who's willing to spend whatever it takes to win. So the only thing we want to do is we don't want to race to the middle. We want to make moves that put us up at the upper echelon of the Western Conference when this thing comes together for a sustainable period of time, not make a bunch of incremental moves that maybe let us slide into eighth to go get swept in the first round and then be back to the drawing board again."
What does Nicolas Batum do that is so important for you?
"Well look, he's a dynamic wing player. He's clearly far better than anybody we thought would be available on the free agent market had we not matched the offer sheet. We have an owner that. he wants to build. He doesn't want to rebuild; he wants to build and he doesn't want to take a step backwards basketball-wise. We just felt like Nicolas was just coming into his prime, it's the first year he's going to be a full-time starter, he makes a huge impact on the defensive end of the floor, he can go for big numbers and I really felt like the kind of system that Terry Stotts was going to run was absolutely suited for his skill set. He's off to a career year as well. Nicolas is a part of the core. Shoot, he's only a year older than our rookie. He's got a high ceiling, he hasn't come anywhere near reaching his potential yet, he's excited to be back. And like I said, we wanted to build from where we were, not break it down and build back up. We had the luxury of, Chad Buchanan did a great job at the trade deadline a year before acquiring a pick for Gerald Wallace that turned into Damian Lillard and we were able to get another nice piece at the five spot with Meyers. We brought in some guys that right now are role players but I think one of two of them can turn into rotation players with minutes and opportunity."
How concerned are you about rebounding as you move forward?
"It's definitely an area of concern. We're not finishing off possessions, we're not defensive rebounding at the rate we need to. JJ Hickson has given us a lift in that area. With Meyers it's a matter of knowing, having a better feel for where the ball is coming off the rim and I think some of it is he gets lost in pick and roll rotations and he's caught out of position. He's so used to doing things with his length and athleticism and at this level you've got to just control your box out assignment. Like I said, I think our wings need to rebound better. That goes to everybody. Our guards need to control people crashing the glass, but it's definitely something we tried to address last offseason and it's something we'll continue to look to address through the trade deadline and next summer."
What made Terry Stotts the right fit for the Trail Blazers?
"I think we took a little bit of a different approach. We put the roster together first and then hired the best coach we thought would fit it. I thought Terry would be a great partner; he and I had a relationship prior to this. We'd been on the floor together working with players. I think he has a great … he gets great respect from his players. I thought he would know how to utilize LaMarcus to the best of his ability and I think I felt like we have a lot of pieces very similar to the Dallas team that won the championship in terms of skill set and style of play and we really felt like when he implemented that offense, it was going to heighten the value and production of guys like Wes Matthews and Nic Batum, which was really important to us to make sure those guys took the next step in their development as players. I also knew he'd be open to playing younger players. That had been his history. With the number of young guys we have he would give them an opportunity. He's a teacher first, he's a great communicator, he's got a terrific staff of guys around him that like to be on the court, he likes to be on the court. Like I said, I think that's what we were looking for, someone to teach these guys how to play. He's been terrific so far. There's only two things you can ask from a coach, and that's are players receptive to his teaching, which our guys are, and are they willing to compete and battle for him every night. Being 4-0 in overtime games and coming back -- I think we set a record coming back from the biggest fourth quarter deficit since 2000 -- on the road on the fifth game of a road trip against Charlotte and that means a lot. These guys are in the gym, they're listening to Terry, they want to hear what he has to say, they're getting better every day. We go down, we lose two starters last night, we bring in one guy who was done in the D-League 24 hours earlier and Sasha, who hasn't has much of a chance, and we still get a quality home win. So Terry has done a great job, his staff has been terrific and we couldn't be happier with how quickly our players are developing."