Wednesday Practice Report

The theme of Nate McMillan's comments today was his team's defense and, particularly, its poor perimeter defense.  In response to a question from Brian T. Smith, McMillan said...

We're not up close enough. We're not able to get into the ball and do the things (we should be doing).

We're missing key guys. Nic really set the tone for defensively how we played. Now we have guys who are working at that. They're not as good but they're working at it. 

The interesting thing about McMillan's "not close enough" observation is how universal this complaint is among basketball coaches at every level. I've heard it from AAU coaches this summer, college coaches, I can even remember my grade school coaches harping about it.  

No question, the spatial relationship between ball-handler and defender is a building block of any defensive system. So, why do defenders back off?  There are three main reasons why this happens, regardless of what level of basketball you're talking about.  

  • One, they don't trust their footwork or foot speed and give extra space to compensate.  
  • Two, they don't trust or understand their help defense or defensive system and give space to prevent a bigger breakdown.  
  • Three, they are simply not committed to defense on every possession. 

At times over the last week, we've seen all three of those situations.  Steve Blake has given space to prevent getting burned. Martell Webster struggled with forcing players away from their hot spots and towards his teammates. Brandon Roy and Andre Miller take plays off, content to allow jump shots over the top.

I turned back to Nate McMillan for his thoughts on this subject. When he watches game tape what sticks out the most to him?  What is he looking to correct?

Blazersedge: You said guys aren't close enough. Can you pinpoint a reason for that? They don't trust their footwork, their team defense or is it just an effort thing?

I think it's -- you're all of a sudden asking some guys to do something that they haven't had to do [in the past].

Martell [Webster] has now become one of our guys that we are trying to put on the best offensive player. Well, he's been a shooter all of his life. And now going from a mindset of what I do best to what the team needs you to do.

Brandon [Roy] is having to take on some of that this year.

Rudy [Fernandez] has that assignment. Rudy is a scorer. And he's had to take on that assignment because we don't have [Travis] Outlaw, we don't have Nicolas [Batum], he has to become a defender. He has to defend better. Somewhat become a stopper.

Now it puts even more pressure on guys like [Steve] Blake to have to become better defenders on the perimeter.

With that answer I think you get a pretty harsh dose of reality of what this team is facing right now.  Simply put, the Blazers perimeter defense is stretched dangerously thin. 

As McMillan notes, with Nicolas Batum and Travis Outlaw out for a long time, everyone is being asked to do more. Average defenders are now drawing above-average assignments.  Below-average defenders are now drawing average assignments. Wing defenders are playing more minutes and thus are at greater risk for exposure.  

There's no quick fix for that.  Personnel might improve but it's not going to happen overnight.  If you're in Nate McMillan's shoes and you're thinking about ways to improve this team, a minor trade for a perimeter defender might make a lot of sense.  Otherwise, you're faced with the prospect of running out these same players who have struggled defensively for months to come.

That's a tough, tough pill for a coach to swallow. How many hours of tape of bad defense can you watch?

For a second look at the Blazers' recent defensive struggles, Kevin Pelton tackles the subject with graphs over at Basketball Prospectus. His conclusion: teams have simply shot better against the Blazers over the last five games.

Is that a product of weak perimeter defense, luck or both?  Feel free to weigh in down below in the comments.

Some other quick-hitting notes from a nearly empty practice gym today.  I guess there's this Civil War thing going on that has most of the local media distracted. 

  • Patty Mills was in the gym dressed for practice but didn't participate in drills aside from some light shooting.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge did not practice and was receiving treatment in the training room for the knee contusion that kept him out of last night's game. Nate McMillan currently says he is a gametime decision for Saturday.  The Blazers won't practice tomorrow so that will give Aldridge something like 72 hours of time for his knee.  If that's not enough and he misses practice again on Friday it might be time to get a little bit concerned.
  • Greg Oden did not practice due to a tweaked ankle, although he was in the gym getting shots up and had a smile on his face as he joked with coaches.  McMillan seemed pretty confident he would play on Saturday. I think they were mostly just giving the big guy a rest.

-- Ben Golliver | (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com) | Twitter

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