Watching the games recently I've had a feeling that our defense is getting better, also saw some other fans on the internet and even a reporter (I forgot who) mentioning this trend. I'd like some statistical proof so here's what I've done.
I grabbed the game log data from the basketball-reference.com and calculated the possession, offensive/defensive efficiency and team/opponent effective FG% for each game. It's very easy because B-R.com provide the data in csv format so all calculation is done in Excel.
I put the result together in this google spreadsheet, feel free to download, modify and publish any way you'd like.
Now let me get to the bottom line first:
During the first 67 games, Defensive efficiency: 110.0, opponent's effective FG%: 50.6%
During the final 15 games, Defensive efficiency: 102.5, opponent's effective FG%: 46.6%
For the entire season, Defensive efficiency: 108.9, opponent's effective FG%: 49.9%
Now I've got to admit my efficiency numbers can't quite match the ones on B-R.com. ( eFG% has no such problem) But the discrepancy is less than 1% plus my number is higher (which means worse defense) than B-R.com. So my analysis should still be very accurate and even slightly pessimistic.
To give you an idea about these numbers:
First 67 games -
110.0 D efficiency ranks 22nd
50.6% opp efg% ranks 20th in the league.
Final 15 games -
102.5 D efficiency ranks 4th (behind only Orlando, Cleveland and Boston)
46.6% opp efg% ranks 2nd in the league (behind only Orlando)
Now why do I pick the final 15 games, which start from the road game in Indiana at March 18th? Am I cherry-picking numbers just to support my argument?
1. That was the game where Greg Oden came back. Although I don't want to call this a "Greg Oden saves our team defense single-handedly" post because I've seen marked improvement in defense from a lot of players. Still his presence and better condition/judgement is one of the key differences.
2. That was during the 5-games-in-7-days road trip, which most people (including me) think is the starting point of our late-season surge. Except for the forgettable first game in Atlanta, all other games are either easy win or an almost upset in Cleveland. Defense definitely played an very important role in it.
3. I think it should be fair to consider 15 games in 29 days as a large enough sample to define a trend. This stretch also includes some of the best & worst teams in the league.
You can point out that we take advantage of some weak opponents but I'd say, come on, we're just doing the exact same thing as other defensive powerhouse have been doing. Teams like Orlando, Cleveland and Boston have been blowing out bad teams all year long and numbers from those games definitely helped their brilliant season-average defensive efficiency. Taking away those kinds of games would hurt Blazers' number a lot, just as much as Orlando's, Cleveland's and Boston's.
Besides numbers, I have some observation on how our defense has been improved on the court:
1. First and foremost, we handled the pick-and-roll a lot better. Especially Oden, he is much better in backpedaling and controlling the space against the guard coming off the screen. Przybilla is already a master in this area and Oden should be able to do even better in the future thanks to his superior athleticism.
2. Our weakside help is also better in picking up the roller (opposing big man), which allowed Joel or LMA to occasionally use more aggressive strategies like "hedge" or "trap" against the opposing guard.
3. All these factors enabled us to switch slightly less (although not as few as I'd like to see) and thus created less mismatch against us.
4. In the non-pick-and-roll situation, our help defense in the paint has also been improved . I'd like to point out one player especially - Roy. He was already a very good 1-on-1 defender but recently his help D has been spectacular. I've seen him roaming in the paint more often to double-team, pick up the penetrator or disrupt the passing lane. Aldridge is another guy who's been better in this area.
5. Generally our defensive rotation have been much more crisper. Transition D is better as well. I've seen less defensive lapse, less wide-open under the basket and less coast-to-coast one-man fastbreak.
Of course, 15 game is only 15 game. This Blazers team haven't proven they can sustain this kind of intensity for all 82 games. But I can safely say the improvement in D compared to earlier this season has truly been leaps and bounds.