Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Batum, Lillard, Full-Court Press

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Dave Deckard of Blazersedge.com takes on expectations for two of the Trail Blazers' top starters and talks about the joy and pain of pressure defense.

Dave,

There has been a lot of discussion about Nicolas Batum's inconsistency. Do you think there is something inherently better about a player being consistent?

Bill

Not inherently, because you can be consistently bad too.  If I suited up for the Blazers at 6'3", slow, and on the high side of 40, what happened to me on the court would be pretty consistent.  It just wouldn't be pretty.

But at a certain point in a player's development--usually starting around the 4th year and certainly by the 6th or 7th--what he brings every night becomes more indicative that his "potential".  Isolated highlight performances are for the fans.  What matters to your teammates, and the team's bottom line, is how much they can depend on you.

Basketball is not like the long jump, where only your best momentary effort stands and everything else is thrown out.  It's more like a symphony.  You may be able to play a few measures more beautifully than anyone but if you're massacring a note or two every eight bars around that sublime effort, you've ruined the performance.

Kobe Bryant and Brandon Roy both had amazing, transcendent nights: scoring 40+, hitting game winners, leading their team to victory.  When they weren't scoring 40 they still averaged over 20.  That's what ended up making them special.  Reduce that to 14 or 11 and they don't have the same impact even if you leave in their high-scoring nights.

This is triply true on defense, where a missed assignment from one player all but invalidates the effort of the other four.

In a guy's first or second year I get as excited about flashes of greatness as anyone.  But at a certain point if a guy can do it, you have to ask why he isn't doing it every night.  The NBA season is long and the playoffs are near-interminable.  Over the course of 100 games your opponents will inevitably figure out how to take away your best.  Despite the highlight reel claims, you don't get to glory in the NBA by registering a career night every outing.  In the long run you win because when the opponent takes away everything you want to do, your baseline is better than his baseline.  You can tolerate vacillation if the high-end is great enough, especially from a player or two off the bench.  But for your big-minute, key roster guys consistency is important.

Dave,

What should we expect to see Damian Lillard in the 2013-214 NBA season, that the casual fan could see with the eye test and also the more advance basketball fan could tell as well?

Colbymac92

Defense will probably be a good eye-test subject.  The Blazers will need to keep Robin Lopez near the hoop in order for him to be effective.  Opposing teams are going to try and draw Lopez and Lillard into perimeter pick and roll situations.  Lillard can't just assume that Robin will take care of things on a switch.  Slow feet will get Lopez slaughtered or in foul trouble.  Watch how Damian stays with his man, fights through screens or goes under them depending on the situation.

Reduced to its most basic components defense is a two-step process: make a smart decision, give full effort.  The permutations can get quite complex but if those two basics aren't there, nothing else matters.  Watch Damian's simple decisions and watch how much energy he's pouring into the defense.

Statistically you want to look for continued efficiency, maybe a small uptick in field goal percentage, especially from three-point land.  Damian is a good enough distance shooter; he just needs to feel when to take them and when to look elsewhere.  Drawing fouls would be another potential growth area, perhaps his best chance of a significant increase in overall scoring.  Three-point percentage, free throw attempts, and True Shooting Percentage are the categories to watch.

Dave,

I've been reading They Call Me Coach this week. John Wooden was such an unbelieveable person and coach. It is a great read. My question: UCLA teams in the mid 60's played a full-court zone press defense with great success. Do you think this type of defense would work in the NBA today?

Andy

Every year a coach or two promises to revolutionize his team's defense by pressing more.  It's the equivalent of presidential candidates promising to add new programs without raising taxes by collecting the delinquent and mis-filed taxes already owed to the government.  "If we get every dime coming to us, we can afford all my ideas!"  (As if previous administrations have just been ignoring taxes...)  It doesn't work.  You can't catch enough evaders with cash on hand to make up the difference.  It's the same way with the full-court press.

The press works for a couple of reasons:  you're more athletic/well-conditioned than your opponent and you surprise them.  The first is seldom true in the NBA.  The second can happen, but only for a trip or two down the court.  Otherwise NBA guards can either dribble through or pass over your press.  If you cover man-to-man without trapping a good point guard won't get that bothered.  If you trap with an extra man you only create a turnover 1 time in 10.  The other 9 trips down the floor the opponent has a 4-on-3 mismatch against your remaining defenders.  Those aren't good odds.

Presses do work well to shake your opponent out of their offensive timing.  If they want to get the ball down the floor quickly--perhaps because their halfcourt sets are slow--you can delay them.  If they want to run the offense solely through their point guard you can take the ball out of his hands for a while.  But as a full-time strategy the full-court press isn't that effective.  You end up tiring out your team and giving up easy buckets more than you disrupt the other guy.

Hi Dave,

Have I missed a thread where all the good reasons to get Jason Collins: he's a veteran locker room presence, a solid big man defender (Blazers currently have 0 of those), a decent rebounder, a huge PR victory for the Blazers, instant fan favorite in p-town (LGBT friendly :), get shot down and his acquisition is immediately shelved as a demonstrably bad idea?

Otherwise, why don't the Blazers sign Collins to the vet minimum?

Or at least, why is he not in the conversation?

Will

The Blazers could use another center for sure.  Collins hasn't been in the discussion for two reasons:

1.  He's old, hasn't been good in recent years, and his defensive impact isn't that great.

2.  Portland already has, like, 20 guys on the training camp invite list, 3/4 of whom have guaranteed contracts.  If the guy could play, he'd probably get a better chance with another team.

Dave,

You've been so serious this summer!  Have you got any stories about the wacky side of blogging?  Something funny or a horror story about meeting a player or something unusual?  We need something lighter!

Paul

Oddly enough, not too much wacky happens when I'm watching games and writing about them.  But I suppose I can share a story from another field.

Back in the day (2000-2002) I got the chance to be part of the development team for the T9 predictive text feature on early mobile phones.  Back before phones had full keyboards or touchscreens you have to enter letters from the 1-9 keys, each key representing 3-4 letters.  You remember...tap twice on 2 for "B", three times on 7 for "R", etc.  Some older phones still do this.  It's a pain.

T9 allowed you to skip the multiple taps.  It would cross-reference the most common words in the language, adapt to the words you used most often, and guess which word you meant when you tapped the keys.  It went through several iterations but the upshot is that eventually after a tap or two T9 would offer you a word.  If that was the word you wanted you just hit a button and moved on to the rest without having to type the whole thing.

I'm not a coder or algorithm guru.  I wasn't high in the process, just a QC-tester.  It wasn't much but it was a cool way to make a few bucks and play with some new phones.  This meant long hours in a cubicle typing in words, recording predictions, checking to see if they were in the right order, proofing compatibility with different phones and OS combos...thrilling stuff.  It was doubly thrilling after a certain weekend when I went hill-hiking and got into a bunch of poison oak or whatever.  It was all over my hands and forearms, which itched like heck and were semi-swollen.  Naturally every...single...aspect of the job involved typing and use of the hands.

This also happened to be the Monday when a new update came out which needed to be thoroughly debugged.  We were supposed to file a detailed report on every issue we found, down to the smallest snafu.  I had found 8 within a 15-minute span.  Since typing was driving me crazy, I shortcut most of those reports, filing them but not getting detailed.  Naturally this was the exact moment that the company president decided to stage one of his "I'm really one of you" trips and visit the QC folks.  (sigh)

Company presidents are usually pretty nice, but not one of them will be thrilled with finding 8 obvious bugs in 15 minutes in the latest release of their T9 baby.  They'll be even less thrilled when their peon employee delivering this news isn't following procedure himself.  When the guy came and hung his arms over my cubicle wall the potential for someone getting in trouble--the programmers or me--was high.

The prez asked how it was going.  I said, "Not so well.  I found 8 bugs in the last few minutes."  He asked if I was recording them properly.  I started to mutter something but then, "Whoops!  Found another one right there!"  I began recording THAT one diligently.  He noticed my halting, one-fingered typing and my rash-covered hands and said, "Geez!  What happened there?"  I explained the hiking and the itchy bushes and he sighed in mock relief, saying, "Good!  I was afraid finding all those bugs in such a short time was making you allergic."

I said, "Nope. I got nine T9 problems, but this itch ain't one."

Ahem.

Errrr....keep those Mailbag questions coming to the address below!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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