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Thoughts from Monday's Practice

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Fun practice today.  We got to see the Blazers work through some things on both offense and defense -- from a team standpoint. Because it's a hot topic, I thought I'd start with the units that we were seeing working together...

  • Black Team ("first team"): Sergio, Brandon, Martell, Aldridge, Oden
  • White Team ("second team"): Bayless, Rudy, Troutlaw, Ike, Przybilla
  • Red Team ("third team"): Tatum, Jackson, Batum, Randolph, Hill
  • Blake and Channing were out injured.

Obligatory note: Nate said at the end of last week not to read too much into that.  So, alright.  But I thought you'd like to know that's where they were at again today.

We were allowed to watch more than usual today, which was a nice treat.  When we entered, the guys were going through 4 on 4.  Essentially, the point guard would check it up at the top of the key, two post men would set screens and a wing would run off the screens looking to get the ball and either shoot or attack the basket.  The teams would go for about 6 or 7 reps and then rotate offense/defense.

The points of emphasis on defense were not surprising: pressure the ball, help if someone gets caught on a screen, do not foul a jumpshooter (Nate got into Batum a bit for this), and step out to bump dribblers that are trying to curl off of picks. 

Ike was having a bit of trouble with that last one.  Last Thursday, KP noted that he has spoken with Ike about the importance of team defense.  Indeed.

Most of the coaching aimed to emphasize the basics of team defense:

-- Nate told Greg to increase his volume when calling out picks: "I heard you... but still.. be LOUDER."

-- Switch on screens more frequently when the shot clock is running down, so as to not let a shooter get a clean look after playing solid team defense for an entire possession. 

-- Especially when the first team was playing defense, there was a concerted effort to trap the ball in the corners and force a long diagonal pass across court.  They were going after Bayless pretty good in this type of situation.  The weakside defender was instructed to be on his toes for that pass, presumably to intercept it and take it to the house.  Slip and slide.

-- Avoid leaving a shooter wide open in the corner while taking a swat at a player who is penetrating into the key.  Nate said something to the effect of, "We'd rather have a contested 2 than an easy 3."  This was said while Greg was playing defense in the middle, and for a lot of wing defenders not collapsing might be a little bit counterintuitive.  It's hard to let someone run unscathed towards the rim.  But with Greg in there, doing so would be counterproductive.  The implication was that all 2's going to the hoop when Greg is in the game will end up being contested.  So, wings, just let the big fella handle it and stick with your man.

On the offensive side of things, the main point of emphasis seemed to be on the wings working to get open by using off-ball screens effectively.  Nate got on Martell a little bit for not using the picks rigorously enough, but Batum was guarding him and Martell didn't exactly need a pick to get any shot he wanted. 

Some other random observations:

At one point, Nate had Rudy and Bayless switch spots on defense, so Rudy could get some reps guarding the point and Bayless could run the gauntlet of screens guarding the wing.  This only happened for a few reps, the rest of the time they were in their usual spots.

When the first team was on defense, the second team really struggled to score. Even with both Bayless and Travis (or Rudy) on the court, the 2nd team often found itself unable to get a shot up in 24 seconds or simply taking contested shots that weren't falling. 

Greg looked quick today on both sides of the ball.  At one point, playing offense, he was coming clear out to the 3 point line to set screens.  It wasn't the lumbering move to set a pick that we're used to from most centers in the league.  It was quick out to the 3 point line, set his feet, then quick back to the basket. 

My favorite sequence of the day occurred when Batum was guarding Brandon with the ball near the 3 point line, and Greg came through to set a pick.  Well before Greg even got there, Batum was looking over both of his shoulders, trying to sense where the pick was coming from.  Nate blew the play dead and told Nic that his job was to concentrate on the dribbler and control the ball, and not worry about getting hit.  Nic nodded in agreement but it was a funny moment.  "Easy for you to say coach, you don't have Big Greg rolling up on your blind side about to lay the wood to you."  That scene underscored how good Brandon is with the ball too, because he wasn't tipping off the direction of the screen with his eyes or his body.  So, imagine you are Nic: you've got a brick wall showing up to your left or right side, and you know it's coming, but you don't know when it's coming and you have no idea from which direction it's coming, but when it comes, your man is pretty much guaranteed to fly by you instantly.  Well, jeez, coach, of course there's a temptation to check the rearview mirror.  Nic will not be the only person in that position this year.

Speaking of Brandon, he again looked smooth with the ball, and he and LaMarcus are looking very, very fluid together.  They are doing the small things, like ball handoffs, essentially without eye contact, just based on a familiarity with each other.  It's a beautiful thing to watch.

Last but not least: the Sergiomaniacs can rejoice.  Sergio took Tatum to the rack from the left elbow, drawing all sorts of defensive attention, and then flipped the ball behind his right ear to Greg who was standing wide open and ready for the pass on the left baseline.  Greg caught the quick pass and threw down a big slam. 

It was the play of the day.

-- Ben (benjamin.golliver@gmail.com)

PS... if you've read this far you deserve a treat.  KP just wrote back about our Thanks KP post to say, "I read it the other day and I am very appreciative of all the comments. When I looked it was at over 180 comments." 

Really, really good stuff Bedgers!  If you left a message, your voice was heard.  How many teams' fanbases can say that?