Here's our continuing look at the season just past in statistics. This post covers the defensive side of the ball.
It's important to remember to switch your thinking a little bit when looking at these stats. First of all, remember this is defense so the word "ALLOWED" should be after most of these headings. It's cumbersome to put it in so I'm going to let you do it mentally. Also keep in mind that unless you're talking about inherently defensive stats like blocks or steals, a negative number in the Net Change is good. In other words the "-2.1" in Points in the Paint means we allowed 2.1 fewer points in the paint this year, which is a positive development despite the negative sign in front of the number.
Also keep in mind Portland's pace was slow compared to most of the league, so value the numbers accordingly. Part of why the Blazers ranked 4th in points allowed, for instance, is because they played so slowly compared to much of the league. Fewer trips up and down mean fewer attempts and thus fewer points.
|Points per Game||94.1||4th||96.3||-2.2|
|Points in Paint*||38.1||11th*||40.2||-2.1|
|Field Goal ATT||76.9||2nd||80.7||-3.8|
|Field Goal Makes||35.4||7th||36.4||-1.0|
|Field Goal %||46.0%||17th||45.1%||+0.9%|
|Free Throws ATT||21.7||4th||22.3||-0.6|
|Free Throws Made||17.4||6th||17.1||+0.3|
*Stats with an asterisk were only available with the six playoff games included. As thus they do not match up precisely one-to-one with the rest of the stats presented, which only include the regular season. However they're close enough to give you the idea. The decimal points and ranks may be a tiny bit off since the Houston games were factored in, but the overall trend is still visible in the numbers.
An obvious trend emerges from even a casual trip through the numbers. The gaudy defensive rankings for the Blazers all come in categories affected severely by pace. When you look at the percentage stats, which indicate stopping power rather than sheer number of attempts, the Blazers come in at a relatively mediocre level. The Blazers allowed teams to shoot better overall, from the three-point arc, and in effective field goal percentage this year than they did last year. The overall scoring went down because opponents got so many fewer attempts. It ended up being a net plus for the team scoring-wise but it's a difficult strategy to pursue for a couple of reasons. First, how do you get better? You can't keep slowing the pace further and further. Second, a team which is able to control tempo on you is going to expose you. Most of the good teams in the league can do exactly that.
This year saw improvement in the opportunistic stats, steals, blocks, and turnovers forced. The raw numbers are still low because of pace but if you measure the number of steals, blocks, and forced turnovers compared to the number of overall possessions the Blazers actually drift into mediocre territory instead of looking anemic. They're in the lower teens in steals, the upper teens in turnovers forced, and top ten in blocks. For a team that's been downright bad in those categories for years, this is good news.
Any way you look at it, fewer fast break points and fewer points in the paint are a positive for Portland. Both were fertile fields for disaster in the Blazers' down years.
This still feels and reads like a defense that is compensating rather than changing the course of games. However cracking the top third of the league in overall efficiency means you're compensating fairly well. We saw the Blazers choose to defend certain types of shots at the expense of others this season, which is a huge improvement over not being able to defend any kind of shot at all. However the defense won't become contention-worthy until we do less poison picking and instead refuse to have anything shoved down our throats altogether. (Or at least get closer to that ideal.)
What were your impressions of the Blazer defense this season? What do you make of the stats? What's already good and what needs to improve? How many of those improvements do you think will happen naturally and how many require more direct action, either changing strategy or personnel?
Comment to your heart's content below.