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The Portland Trail Blazers Defense: What’s Wrong?

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I tried to wait on writing an article like this. After the preseason, I thought the Blazers would have a revamped defense. I was willing to write it off as rust through the first five games. After game 10, I thought to myself, “Don’t worry Vivan, it’ll get sorted out eventually!” But after Monday night’s loss to OKC, I can’t hold back anymore.

Let’s take a look at the Portland Trail Blazers defense, and exactly what’s going wrong.

Is it Personnel?

No. Despite the injuries to Zach Collins, Jusuf Nurkic, C.J. McCollum (possibly the worst defensive starter, no disrespect intended), Robert Covington, Rodney Hood and Derrick Jones Jr., the Blazers have consistently performed poorly on the defensive end.

The Blazers were generally a bottom five ranked defense with a healthy roster, and peaked at the 23rd rated defense before suffering a slew of injuries. Despite the 9-8 record (which hopefully improves as Damian Lillard carries a poor roster yet again), the Blazers defense is so bad, that if the offense was a step slower, they might as well be 0-17. Currently, the Blazers are still a bottom 5 ranked defense, which leads me to believe personnel is not the issue.

Bucket for Bucket

That’s how the Blazers have had to play games this season, almost like an underpowered Brooklyn Nets team. If at any point the offense falters, the Blazers find themselves down nearly 20 within minutes.

Speaking of buckets, the Portland Trail Blazers are allowing opponents to score an average 116.25 points per game. To make things worse, opponents are absolutely scorching Portland, shooting 47.2% from the field, 37.0% from deep and 78.7% from the line. Opponents get to the line over 25 times a game vs Portland and hit over 13 threes per game.

What is Stotts’ Scheme?

The Portland Trail Blazers defense was supposed to be shored up over the offseason, and combine elements of previous defenses the Blazers had implemented with newer defensive elements. The hopes were that it would be a perfect storm of off-ball and on-ball clamps, but it has been anything but.

The Portland Trail Blazers drop the big a ridiculous amount of times, which allows players like Stephen Curry to erupt for 62 points.

Along with that, they run a poorly constructed zone defense that has worked sporadically throughout the season. More often than not, it leads to a corner three burning a wing or guard, a demoralizing sight for the players and fans.

Finally, what’s with the hesitance to double-team? The Blazers rarely adjust on defense, which allows players to fry the Blazers’ defenders and seek out one on one matchups far too often. Part of Stephen Curry dropping 62 points was the Blazers failing to double-team him properly, with a second defender being either non-committal or not present.

Two of the many flaws in the Portland Trail blazers defense scheme: Dropping the big AND not doubling?
The Trail Blazers attempting to guard the greatest shooter of all time in single coverage with the big man about 20 feet away from him.

It’s so sad to see as a fan, considering Damian Lillard has probably drawn the most double-teams – or been top 3 in doubles faced at the very least – in the NBA up to this point.

Laziness

Too often are the Portland Trail Blazers’ players lazy and slow on defense. In transition, it’s rare that anyone besides Derrick Jones Jr. and Robert Covington get back properly. In the zone, there are so many failed rotations each game that it’s not even worth to count. In the paint, there’s too many unnecessary fouls and easy buckets given. On the perimeter, the man almost always gets his hand up late, which is part of why the Blazers are lit on fire from the arc.

The lackadaisical approach to defense goes throughout the Blazers’ personnel. Terry Stotts himself rarely makes adequate adjustments out of a timeout. Players like C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard have improved a bit, but are certainly not as focused on the defensive end as they are on offense. For what it’s worth, Lillard seems to be fairing better out of the two, but as a 6’2 scoring machine, he’ll never be some big plus on that end.

Jusuf Nurkic is always a step slow and seems to have lost his effectiveness as an anchor. Enes Kanter is usually a sieve (though he’s been better in the last 3 games). In the paint, both have been backed down and bodied, and they have been too slow to recover in Stotts’ “drop the big” schemes.

Anfernee Simons gets lost on defense too much, and Rodney Hood still seems to be fighting rust on both ends after missing nearly a season with a torn achilles.

Carmelo Anthony, in my opinion, has been the worst defender up to this point. He has good hands when standing near the paint, but gets burned on the perimeter and on drives just about every possession.

Derrick Jones Jr., Gary Trent Jr., and Robert Covington are the only players who have put in major work on defense, and it takes more than three players (two of which are currently nursing injuries) to carry a 15 man roster’s defense.

Conclusion

I’m really not sure what to make of this defense other than that it is very, very bad. There’s not a single thing the Blazers do on defense at even an average level, and it’s hurting a stellar offensive team team that could be contenders with even a mediocre defense.


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Vivan is a high school senior and aspiring computer scientist/engineer, with a passion for watching sports, especially the Portland Trail Blazers, and analyzing film and numbers.