Slump masked jump in defensive rating

Some of the media coverage and broadcast commentators have mentioned that the Blazers have increased their defense after the All Start break. But the team was mired in a slump and the injuries were piling up. It was an interesting note, but not worthy of examination.

Today I started looking at the defensive rating numbers on NBA's advanced stats page and it tells a pretty interesting story that I think has been obscured by the injuries and the slump. And that's the Blazer's sudden jump into the top 10 in defense.

From the start of the season until before the All Star break, the Blazers had one of the worst defenses in the league.

Before All Star Break:

This is the narrative we've heard all year. The Blazers are great on offense, but terrible on defense and that will limit how far they can go in the playoffs.

What's interesting is what happened after the All Star break.

After All Star Break (Feb 16 to Apr 3):

The big jump in defensive rating was surprising to me. And while the all star break isn't that far in the past, it still represents 23 games so small sample size is unlikely to be the culprit here.

I started looking for any indication of a gradual increase in defensive rating before the all star break, but couldn't find any indication:

The biggest problem has been that the increase in defensive rating couldn't overcome the drop in offensive rating that started around the same time LaMarcus came back from his first injury and was playing poorly.

Since LMA's return (exceedingly small sample size warning), the numbers look great.

Mar 26-Apr 3, Last four games since LMA's return

So the big questions are:

  • Did the All Star break really mark a significant change in the quality of Blazers defense that was missed amongst the din of injuries and games lost?
  • If it did mark a defensive turnaround, what caused the change?
  • Will that defensive improvement persist?

Finally, if it does persist, what does it means for the team's chances of going farther into the playoff. Maybe our understanding of the team needs to be updated.

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