The Portland Trail Blazers have had a problem with interior defense all season. They lack a solid rim protector and regularly surrender points around the basket against speedy guards.
In last night's game against Milwaukee Bucks, starting center Mason Plumlee showed two flashes of defensive prowess that may give Portland fans hope going forward. On the first play, Plumlee recovered from a bad turnover and blocked Kris Middleton's fastbreak tomahawk dunk attempt. As noted by Bucks color commentator John McGlocklin, usually plays like this result in a foul; instead Plumlee used his exceptional athleticism to meet Middleton at the apex of his dunk attempt and cleanly block the shot.
On the second play, Michael Carter-Williams goes around Damian Lillard, but Plumlee offers weakside help and blocks Carter Williams' dunk attempt. To initiate play, Plumlee maintained good defensive spacing and kept his "head on a swivel." This allowed Plumlee to recognize that Lillard had been beat off the dribble, and that his defensive assignment (John Henson) was not a threat. He then shows great range by making it to the rim in time to make a play on the ball, and manages to maintain verticality on his jump to avoid the foul the foul on the body. Overall, it's a great defensive play.
Going forward, the Blazers will need to decide if the centers currently on their roster have the skill and athleticism to become paint defenders, or if they will need to aggressively pursue more defensive-minded big men in the offseason. These plays demonstrate that Plumlee has the raw athleticism, range, and court awareness to develop into at least an average defender. If Plumlee and the coaching staff can integrate his skills and translate flashes of defensive potential into consistency, it will greatly help the Blazers' rebuild.
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