The Portland Trail Blazers have struggled this season to capitalize on their success from last season and the biggest area of concern is on the defensive end. The Blazers were supposed to take a large leap forward this year but it appears they hit reverse instead. Although the Blazers were not a good defensive team last season, they have regressed this season giving up open shots to their opponents because of poor rotations, lack of communication, and trust.
Through the course of 36 games the Blazers are giving up 110.9 to be ranked 29th in the league, their opponents are shooting 38% from three for 28th in the league, and they are allowing a league high 28 free throws. These are all signs of a poor defensive team. Good team defense involves more than having talented defensive players, it boils down to effort, communication, and trust. These three components are lacking in the Blazers’ defense.
When the Toronto Raptors ran a pick and roll against the Blazers recently, they got a wipe open three because both Al-Farouq Aminu and Mo Harkless failed to communicate who should close out to DeMar DeRozan. Neither did and DeRozan knocked down the trey ball.
When the San Antonio Spurs ran a post up play for LaMarcus Aldridge the Blazers switched and had Mason Plumlee fronting (Fronting is a defensive strategy where the post defender is playing in front of the offensive player) Aldridge to make it a difficult post entry pass. Noah Vonleh was on the weakside and was in position if the Spurs tried to throw the ball over the top of the fronting Plumlee. The Spurs are able to get the ball to Aldridge and Plumlee took away the middle and forced him baseline. Plumlee trusted his teammate to give baseline help but Vonleh never came over and Aldridge got one of the easiest lay-ups in his career.
When the Blazers doubled DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings, they gave up an easy shot to Omer Casspi because they were not in good position to rotate properly. When Allen Crabbe went to double Cousins, Shabazz Napier turned his back when he should be at the free throw line ready to at least slow down Casspi when the ball was kicked out to him. Casspi was able to fake out a recovering Crabbe and get in the lane for a bucket.
The Blazers might want to rethink how they rotate off of double teams. The diagram below illustrates when a team rotates so the defender who goes to double will rotate to the opposite corner, while X1 rotates to the pass at the top of the key, and X3 rotates to the wing. This type of full rotation would cut down on the amount of open shots the Blazers give up.
The best defensive teams are able to effectively communicate their rotations and trust that when they go to help, their teammates will be in the right positions. The Blazers have not been able to get on the right page defensively, the above examples showed their inability to communicate, are not in position to help, and a simpler rotation will be able to help them rotate. If the Blazers are able to regain that trust and communicate with each other on the defensive side of the ball they will be able to work their way back into the playoffs in the west.
- Rapid Descent – The Los Angeles Clippers are experience a huge bit of turmoil as they have been hit with the injury bug and have lost six straight games. They are now in a four tie for fourth place and are 4.5 games out of third place. They’ll need to get healthy quick in the New Year to make up some crowds. The last place they want to finish is fourth or fifth and have to play Golden State in the second round of the playoffs.
- Youth Movement – The Spurs are quietly rebuilding their roster while on track for another 60-win season. Young players like DeJounte Murray, Jonathan Simmons, and Dewayne Dedmon can become key pieces around the Spurs young superstar Kawhi Leonard.
- Knicks Sliding – Nine games ago the New York Knicks were third in the East at 14-10, now after dropping four straight are now 16-17 and if the playoffs started today would be outside and looking in.
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