A work in progress: Portland’s defensive struggles and improvements

Through four games, the Portland Trail Blazers have had stretches of great play on both ends of the floor. However, one trend has emerged that appears to be more of the same from last year and that is that Portland’s opponents have been getting to the rim and scoring in the paint.

“We’re still giving up too much at the rim,” head coach Terry Stotts said. “That’s similar to last year. We’re giving up too many shots at the rim and they are converting at a high rate so that’s similar to last year.”

While the scoring at the rim is similar in some respects to last year, Portland’s pick and roll defense has not been as egregious as it was at times last year when it seemed every opposing big man would roll to the hoop for a dunk.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Stotts said.  “Our half court pick and roll defense has been consistent in all four games. You look at the points in the paint, shots at the rim, those come in a lot of different situations.”

Those “situations” are points in transition, points coming from putbacks on offensive rebounds and basic individual defense that have hurt the Blazers.

“Yeah I mean we got to get back on defense,” said forward Nicolas Batum. “Sometimes we try to go to the offensive rebound and we leave the floor open to the fast break.”

Batum adds that the Blazers must be better at communicating defensively in transition situations when guys are match-ed up on players they aren’t normally guarding in half court situations.

“We have to communicate sometimes especially when you have those guys, sometimes we got lost,” Batum said when talking about transition breakdowns against Houston.

Damian Lillard says that everybody on the perimeter, including himself, shares the blame for not getting back quickly enough.

“We all on the perimeter and a shot goes up and we’re watching the ball to see if Robin, LA or Nico tip the ball out and we get another possession. A lot of times the other team gets the ball they already took off the other way,” Lillard said.

Stotts was pleased with their work in transition against Denver and San Antonio, calling those performances “exceptional.”

While the defense in many different phases of the game has led to Portland allowing the most attempts at the rim per game in the league thus far and ranked 28th in defensive efficiency, Portland has taken some baby steps compared to last season.

Portland is happy with the way they’ve defended the three-point line and forced more midrange jumpers.

When looking at opponent’s effective field goal percentage (eFG%), a metric that includes the value of three-point shots, the Blazers are about average and rank 18th in the league, an improvement from last season when they were 26th.

“Right now, we’re evolving,” said Stotts.

Stotts, nor his players are happy with their defense overall by any means.

There is still lots of basketball to be played, more possessions to defend and some dust that still has to settle before anyone can say that there is no hope for a defense that is still very much a work in progress.


Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen

Erik Gundersen is the Trail Blazers beat reporter for The Columbian. He's a graduate of the Allen School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon in addition earning a degree in Spanish. He's covered the NBA for four seasons. You can also occasionally find his work on ESPN.com's NBA section for their TrueCities series. He also fist-bumped with Kanye West once. Follow @BlazerBanter on twitter for more Blazers and NBA news.

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