Links: Blazers' Defense, Statistics Examined

Maddie Meyer

A rundown of various Portland Trail Blazers links as the team continues to receive a lot of attention thanks to a 9-2 start to the season.

Here's a rundown of various Portland Trail Blazers links as the team continues to receive a lot of attention thanks to a 9-2 start to the season.

Blazers.com is running a new roundtable feature with writers covering the team. Dave participated in this week's edition. Keep an eye out for future editions.

Zach Lowe of Grantland.com digs into Portland's early defensive numbers, examining how changes to the team's pick-and-roll coverage and the general philosophy of encouraging mid-range shots have played out so far...

No team has allowed fewer corner 3s - attempts or makes. Portland opponents have hit just 0.9 corner 3s per game, a remarkable early number. "Teams are shooting well from the midrange against us," Stotts says, "but we try to keep the bigger picture in mind."

Again, that speaks well of the synergy between Stotts and Portland's stats people. A classic numbers-vs.-coaches battle involves coaches trying to design defenses that thwart everything, a goal analytics-oriented folks tend to find fanciful. Only Indiana has allowed fewer opponent assists per game than Portland, indicating the Blazers are executing their goal of getting teams to go one-on-one against them. (The link to Indiana is not a coincidence, and touches on another Portland trend: The Blazers aren't going small much despite having a classic small-ball power forward in Dorell Wright. Vogel and the Pacers have steadfastly kept two big men on the floor at all times, even against small-ball teams, another approach that Stotts says he likes.)

Sitting back like this has also limited Portland's fouling, and it has helped the team's rebounding by keeping both bigs closer to the basket. Portland has allowed just 99.7 points per 100 possessions in the 266 minutes Lopez and Aldridge have shared the floor, equivalent to a top-five team mark, and it has rebounded 76.8 percent of opponent misses in those minutes. That would have led the league last season, a very encouraging sign given the preseason rebounding worries.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com takes a look at Portland's early stats on both ends...

Blazers' coach Terry Stotts isn't going to get caught up in the percentages or where the Blazers' shots are coming. He understands that he's got a jump-shooting team and just cares about how those shots come about.

"I'm not necessarily concerned about our points in the paint, offensively," Stotts said Monday. "My concern is that we get good threes. Preferably, we get threes off the pass, in rhythm, and have confidence to shoot them."

His belief is that better ball movement leads to more open shots and, therefore, a higher shooting percentage.

Ian Thomsen of SI.com has a feature piece on LaMarcus Aldridge, who reflects on being "shopped" by the Blazers in trades a few years ago and on the decline of Brandon Roy...

"It was rumors," Aldridge said of the trade talk, "but my agent was hearing the same thing too. They didn't pull any triggers, of course, but it definitely hurt when I heard about them shopping me -- it was for an older guy that needed less of a role, didn't want as much as I wanted. Because I was still young, I wanted more. Maybe they wanted a guy that could just fit in and pass and not want more.''

...

"I don't think that no more," he said. "I've seen some pretty tragic things happen in Portland. Guys think they have forever to play this game, their health is guaranteed, but I've seen guys go from being a top-two player, 2-guard-wise, to can't even practice.''

Howard Megdal of Sports On Earth looks at Wesley Matthews' hot start...

But that he's done so at 27, just weeks after a nightmarish preseason that included 26 percent shooting and an irregular heartbeat scare, has only added to the unexpected nature of his breakout.

"I never thought about it, until you just said it," Matthews said of doing this after the most difficult few weeks of his career, after a beat in apparent realization, as we chatted by his locker prior to Monday night's game. "I guess, yeah, it's kinda cool, especially to have the preseason that I did, with so many people wondering about my shot. And then to have the health scare right before the last preseason game, the first time the starters were all playing together, at the same time, a lot of uncertainty after that, it's nice to be able to just block it out.

"God works in funny ways. I was kind of stressed in the preseason. Once that was over, it was like a new door opened. And I'm trying to make the most of it."

Jessica Camerato of HoopsWorld.com has a piece on Damian Lillard's evolution in his second season...

The reality is, Lillard's life had changed. As last season progressed, he began to encounter celebrities who recognized him. When he met Lil Wayne at an event in Florida, no introduction was necessary. "He said what's up and congratulations," recalled Lillard. Then there was the run-in with his childhood idol, the former NBA player he only dreamed of meeting as a young kid growing up in Oakland.


"When we played the Hawks in Atlanta last year we bumped into Allen Iverson and he knew who I was," Lillard said. "I wasn't going to say anything to him because a bunch of people ran up to him. Eventually we turned and made eye contact and he shook my hand. It was cool. He was my favorite player so it was cool that he knew who I was."

Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com has some follow-up notes about the team's decision to explore new jerseys and a new court design for future seasons...

One possibility is that the team will look to a more retro feel, as preliminary feedback has been positive regarding throwback uniforms. Moving away from the tradition red, black and white colors the team has used since its founding unlikely, but Hankins notes that at this stage in the process, nothing is even close to decided.

"The idea of vintage uniforms is a popular look around the NBA," wrote Hankins. "In fact, we are blessed as an organization to have so many good uniforms in our past to look at as inspiration and much of the feedback we've seen so far indicates that fans would like us to at least look in that direction. While we haven't even started the process of imagining what new uniforms will look like and won't until we get results back from this most recent survey, you can guarantee that we will make the fan's voices a part of the process."

Erik Gundersen of The Columbian checks in with Nicolas Batum...

"It's different this year," Batum said. "I'm having fun right now with those guys and it's pretty cool. I know that if I pass the ball to somebody, they will create something and something good is going to happen."

Batum is playing how he wants to play. He's still a threat on the offensive end with his shooting and playmaking, but now is more able to do more things as well as continue to find his way in this league.

"We do have more scorers on the court. I think him as a facilitator is still important," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "But to be a good facilitator you have to look for your shot in rhythm and keep the defense honest."

Paul Flannery of SB Nation on the Blazers' start...

Last week, the Portland Trail Blazers held off Phoenix when Damian Lillard glided in for a layup at the buzzer. Other than Lillard's uncanny knack for doing fantastic things at the buzzer, it was a completely unremarkable game. There were almost 100 missed shots, 19 clanked three-pointers and 30 turnovers, all of which made for a truly forgettable evening.

But to Blazers' coach Terry Stotts, there was another more important takeaway: his team won with defense. Portland's defense isn't awful. It's mediocre, ranking 19th in defensive rating coming into play Monday night. Despite a big front line led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez that cleans up on the offensive glass, the Blazers are a pedestrian 17th in defensive rebounding percentage. It's an improvement from last season's sieve-like squad, but not one that fits the mold of a contender.

SkySports.com checks in with Blazers forward/center Joel Freeland...

The 26-year-old forward sat out this summer's EuroBasket in Slovenia in order to focus on his career with the Portland Trail Blazers following his rookie season in the NBA, but has told Britain coach Joe Prunty he will be back next year.

"I'm always willing to help the national squad," Freeland said. "The only reason I took the summer off last year was for personal reasons.

...

Freeland spoke to Prunty, an assistant coach with Brooklyn, on Monday night as the Blazers enjoyed a 108-98 win over the Nets to extend their winning streak to seven.

"I had a long conversation with him," he said. "He's a great guy, he's very down to earth. We had a good conversation. I congratulated them on how well they did in EuroBasket, it was great to get those two wins.He was telling me to do keep doing what I'm doing, everybody is noticing the hard work that I'm putting in and my energy on the floor. I'll stay in contact with him during the season."

Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com writes that Wesley Matthews shouldn't lose too much sleep over the All-Star ballot snub...

The Trail Blazers' Wesley Matthews is upset that he's not on the NBA's official All-Star Game ballot this season. I get it. Given the quality of some of the players on the ballot from other teams, he's getting a raw deal. And I appreciate it that he's used that as motivation to build the foundation for what could become, by far, his best season in the NBA.

But I'm a realist and I'm pretty sure he wasn't going to get voted into the game by the fans, anyway. Just as I'm sure that even his high-profile teammates LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard aren't going to get voted onto the All-Star Game starting lineups by the fans, at least not until this team is advancing to a conference title series. It just doesn't work that way.

Julian Reed of Rip City Project isn't so sure how the Blazers could swing a deal for Omer Asik...

The obvious answer is Matthews, but he'd be playing behind Harden and probably couldn't make a huge difference to the Rockets' D. Plus, it's not as if Wes is a game-changing defender. Wes and a pick? Maybe Morey's super high on Meyers Leonard? Please?

Houston also doesn't have much of anyone to play the power forward position. Dwight at the four went badly, they clearly don't trust (CTRL-C, CTRL-V) Donatas Motiejunas with minutes yet, and Terrence Jones is undersized. The problem is that the Blazers don't have a lot to offer on that front. Aldridge is off the table, we got Thomas Robinson from them, and I doubt the Rockets would want Freeland enough to part with Asik. Matthews and Freeland might work, but I imagine someone would want Asik more than that.

Shlomo Sprung of Sheridan Hoops has a lengthy piece on the Blazers with quotes all around...

Mo Williams leads the second unit as the team's much-needed third guard and backcourt complement to Lillard. The team also added sharpshooter Dorell Wright, former top-five pick Thomas Robinson and Watson, fortifying what had been the NBA's worst bench last season.

"I'm still playing the starters a lot of minutes, as everybody points out, but in reality I think the bench has been very effective," Stotts said.

Center Robin Lopez is the only new addition to the starting lineup, arriving in an offseason trade with New Orleans.

"I'm surprised how quickly I've developed a rapport with the guys here," he told Sheridan Hoops. "It's just been really easy. Good people. I wasn't here last year but just what I can gather from this season, I think everyone's very locked in and we're only going to grow more comfortable."

The Blazers announced Wednesday that they will be raising money for typhoon relief efforts in the Philippines.

Earlier this month, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, displacing more than 600,000 people and affecting the lives of millions of people around the world. In an effort to support those experiencing hardship, the Portland Trail Blazers have teamed up with local non-profits and corporate partners to raise funds for the relief efforts in the South Pacific.

The make it better Foundation will donate its portion of funds raised from the 5050 Rip City Raffle during Friday night's game against the Chicago Bulls. The Trail Blazers will match the amount donated by the make it better Foundation with a donation of their own.

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation will match the sum donation of the Trail Blazers and the Seattle Seahawks, who held a collection during last Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings.

The team will present a check to the American Red Cross during the first timeout in the fourth quarter of Friday night's game. The check will include donations from the make it better Foundation, Portland Trail Blazers and Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, as well as donations from team partners Moda Health, adidas and Columbia Distributing.

I talked about the Blazers' start to the season on Tuesday with OPB's Think Out Loud.

PS Thanks to Kelsoballa in the FanShots.

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

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