I’ve been reading a lot of discussion about how bad the Blazers’ defense is this year, and I’m not sure that’s true. If you just look at points in the paint and the fact that opposing teams are running layup drills against us it looks really bad, but if you look a little deeper it starts to look better.
I think Stotts is playing the percentages on defense, and actually not doing a bad job. The two things that determine the amount of points an opponent gets are number of possessions and points per possession.
Number of possessions:
The Blazers are 5th in rebounding percentage and 8th in fewest turnovers. In other words, they limit the number of times the other team has the ball. They aren’t elite in this category, but above average.
Points per possession:
This is where it seems counterintuitive. Even though teams seem like they’re scoring at will against us right at the rim, they aren’t actually being very efficient. The Blazers opponents shoot the 6th fewest free throws and 4th fewest 3 pointers. When teams do shoot the 3 they hit at the worst rate in the league. So while our paint defense is terrible our opponents points per possession is basically league average. It’s the difference between FG% and TS%.
Add the points per possession to the relatively low amount of possessions opponents get and you have a slightly above average defense.
Stotts isn’t double teaming down low which is why you see these huge numbers being put up by opposing bigs. He’s letting them go one on one while everyone else stays with their man to stop the 3, and that method seems to be working ok so far.
Obviously there are all the caveats about sample size and opponent quality, but I think you can see Stotts’ strategy in these numbers. Protect the paint as well as you can without giving up extra points in the form of 3s and free throws. Obviously this strategy won’t always work but I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom defensively. I’m not saying we’re good defensively, but maybe we’re not as bad as it looks.