Apparently playing consecutive games in New York City gets you some extra national attention. Yesterday we looked at ESPN’s Zach Lowe analysis of the Trail Blazers’ early season struggles as well as his anecdote about Evan Turner’s contract. Chris Mannix of The Vertical also weighed in with some thoughts on the Trail Blazers’ start to the season.
Like Lowe, Mannix focuses on Portland’s defense, which he calls “the worst defense in the NBA.”
The Blazers were far from a lockdown team last season; they relied on being fundamentally sound and choking opponents off in transition. They applied good ball pressure and benefited from the addition of Mason Plumlee, part of the post-LaMarcus Aldridge makeover who proved to be a capable deterrent around the rim. Yet this season Portland is surrendering 3.3 points more per 100 possessions. Terry Stotts effectively reads from a checklist: “Individual defense, transition defense, pick-and-roll defense, defensive rebounding, communication, just to start,” Stotts said, when asked to define the areas where the Blazers are struggling.
Mannix excuses some of the defensive struggles on Al-Farouq Aminu’s absence and the implications that has for Terry Stotts’ rotations:
Aminu’s absence — he has missed eight games with a calf injury — has not only robbed Portland of its best perimeter defender, but it’s forced Stotts to mix and match his frontcourt based on defensive assignments. Plumlee, Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis have been moved around like chess pieces, robbing the Blazers of some of the benefits of a largely returning roster.
“Everybody gives us something different,” Plumlee said. “The stability is a little off. We get late in the season, I think we’re going to be good with all frontcourts. We’re all finding out how to play with each other and how to be most effective. I think the lineups are only going to get better in that sense.”
Mannix also points out that Aminu’s return won’t fix the Portland’s inability to rebound or help the poor shooting off the bench by Turner and Allen Crabbe.
Aminu is a decent rebounder, but his return won’t resolve the Blazers’ rebounding issues. Portland ranks in the bottom five in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, a season removed from ranking in the upper half of the league in both categories. That’s effort, and too often the Blazers have failed to win the battles in the trenches.
He advises holding off judgment until Aminu returns and Turner has more time to adjust to his new team, but suggests that the Trail Blazers may not be any better than a slightly-above-.500 team:
Maybe the expectations for Portland were too high. The win over the Clippers, coupled with a handful of hellacious games against the Warriors in which Lillard gave Stephen Curry his best I-got-your-MVP-right-here snarl, created the perception that this team was ready to rise. But the roster is still backcourt dependent and likely will continue to be all season. Prior to Tuesday, Portland’s winning percentage was 53.3 percent; last season it was 53.7. Until a frontcourt scorer emerges — or is acquired — this may be the type of team the Blazers are going to be.