So much talk around Blazerland to begin the year surrounds around skepticism of the team’s interior defense.
These concerns, though, aren’t confined just to Portland.
This week, Chris Barnewall of Rufus on Fire—an SB Nation affiliate covering the Charlotte Bobcats—delved into the tape of a game the ‘Cats played against the New Orleans Pelicans earlier this season. In his words, "One of their [Charlotte’s] main issues was their interior defense was dreadful."
Sound familiar, Blazer fans?
A preface to his analysis is that we are still just a few games into this season. And, as this Blazer’s Edge author wrote last week, you generally can’t extrapolate too much for the first few weeks. Yet in light of glaring defensive issues to start the year (and preseason concerns on paper), this topic remains one of the hottest on Blazer’s Edge.
Barnewall’s analysis came after a string of games in which the Bobcats couldn’t contain some of the worst offensive teams within five feet of the basket: New Orleans and Cleveland.
The piece is a visual analysis of Charlotte’s lackluster efforts on defense. The Bobcats, now 3-3 to start the year, never could quite get on the same page when trying to defend New Orleans. The end result was a 21-point defeat, conceding 25 points and eight rebounds to Davis.
There were three points of emphasis Barnewall makes: One-on-one defense, playing the pick-and-roll and ball-watching. Each problem turned into a number of poor results, from easy baskets in the lane to kick-outs to open shooters.
Of all these troubles, communication—or lack thereof—seemed to be the key point. Though not explicitly said by Barnewall, it is often true that no communication when a post defender is one-on-one gets them zero help. Execution of the pick-and-roll can also be improved by better communication between the guard and the big. Finally, ball-watching can usually be translated to "let’s keep the talking to a minimum and see how the offense is going to beat us on this possession."
On the home front, the Portland Trail Blazers’ struggle with interior defense is no secret. In their first game of the year, the Blazers made Miles Plumlee look like a Top 15 player in the league. Their only other loss this year came at the hands of the Houston Rockets and Dwight Howard, arguably the most dominant big man in the NBA today. And, although he did much of his damage from the perimeter, DeMarcus Cousins made the Blazers pay from the inside in the second half on Friday night.
A lot of what the Blazers are facing is a personnel problem: They feature two centers in Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland, but both have shown foul issues to start the year. Additionally, no one has truly asserted himself as another post option.
If Barnewall implies anything in his piece about the Bobcats, it’s that improved communication may be the key to improved success on defense in Charlotte.
That may also be the case in Portland.
There’s obviously a certain amount of success a team can have defensively that’s based on athleticism. Players like Dwight Howard and LeBron James became elite on that side of the ball in large part because of their athletic prowess. But playing true team defense requires terrific communication between all five players on the floor.
This also isn’t to say that the team is "dreadful" defensively, or will stay that way all year. However, with so many new faces and the season being so young, these problems certainly aren’t unexpected.
The options to improve are just like any other problem: veteran leadership, coaching, playing more minutes together both at practice and in games. Whatever it takes, development on defense will be paramount to the team’s success.
If communication is truly the root of all successes and failures on defense, it will be the biggest factor in determining the ceiling of this team on that end of the floor.
In turn, it could become the most important part of this team’s season-long success.