Blazers' Freeland finds value in extra offensive possessions

Passing out for 3-point shots part of benefits

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer

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The Portland Trail Blazers have found a great deal of success on offense.

They are meticulous and machine-like in how they run their offense. They walk the fine line of structure and improvisation better than almost any team in the league.

However, while head coach Terry Stotts has not preached it, the Blazers have become one of the league's best offensive rebounding teams which helps fuel their offense on the times they do miss.

Portland's big men — namely LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland — have helped fuel Portland's attack on the offensive glass. The Blazers are second in the league in offensive rebound rate.

Lopez and Aldridge are having career seasons on the glass, however, it's been interesting to see the ongoing development of Freeland into a dirty work guy.

"Joel is an extreme competitor," Damian Lillard said. "In practice, you see the same things you see in the game. He's a perfectionist with the verticality. We always talk about one day he's going to get dunked on."

While Freeland has done most of his work with second units, the second-year big man has also been called upon in big moments when Lopez has been in foul trouble.

In Portland's second game in Denver, Freeland closed the game with the four other starters and in their dramatic win against Cleveland on Dec. 17, foul trouble on Lopez forced him to close again.

Portland won, prompting Lopez to give Freeland some love on Twitter after the game.

One skill Freeland has developed more since coming to the league is offensive rebounding, knowing that it would help him stay on the court.

In addition to that, Freeland has proven adept at finding three-point shooters off of misses.

"Joel has really gotten into that," Stotts said. "He takes a lot of pride in that. If you look at his reaction after he gets a rebound and somebody makes a three, he's as proud of that as if he scored it himself."

Seventeen of Freeland's 25 assists have led to three-pointers this season.

"It helps our team a lot and it's one of the easiest shots in the game," Freeland said. "If I can get an offensive rebound, kick it out, most of the time the defense will be drawn in the middle of the paint so they are going to be wide open on the three-point line."

Stotts, while not preaching attacking the offensive boards, has told his big men to look for open shooters if they don't have a clean look at a putback right away.

"Those are some of the best threes in the game," Stotts said. "All of the defenders are in the paint so you kick it out, they don't have time to scramble to that shooter or the next shooters."

The Blazers lead the NBA in second chance points, averaging more than 17.3 points per game, which is helped not only by getting putbacks around the basket but getting open three-pointers.

Freeland has continued to make his presence felt with the Blazers and his ability to find open three-point shooters when things don't go right offensively has helped his value even more.

He's gone from a well-paid bench warmer to a rotation piece in the preseason. As the season has evolved, now he's proving to be a dependable part of one of the NBA's best teams.