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Why Do the Trail Blazers Foul So Much?

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The Blazers are no stranger to personal fouls. When did that start and what can they do about it?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question revolves around those pesky personal fouls. If you’ve got a Portland Trail Blazers question, send it to blazersub@gmail.com!

Dave,

WHY ARE THE BLAZERS COMMITTING SO MANY FOULS AAAAAUUUGHHHHHH D:

Buh

Best Guess: They turned the AI to “Hack-a-Jordan” in last year’s playoffs and forgot to turn it off.

Seriously, Buh, if that is your real name, this is not an isolated problem. Granted, it was worse last week when you actually submitted this question. The Blazers were dead last in the league in fouls committed...yet another obstacle impeding their supposed defensive revolution. But that was only Act 1, Scene 1 of Small Sample Size Theater. With a few more games under their belts the Blazers have risen all the way to 26th worst in the league in fouls committed and opponent free throws allowed. It’s not much, but it’s progress.

I want to say—have said, in fact—that extending the defense is part of the reason for foul proliferation. That’s partially true. Portland’s bigs can move outside but they have trouble figuring out to do once they get there. It’s not like they’re going to strip or intimidate opponents. They’re still not getting help from guards. They’re still not communicating/coordinating consistently. Al-Farouq Aminu is the only player with enough chops to have earned a defensive reputation. Not surprisingly, he’s doing fine in the foul department. Almost everybody else out there is a walking whistle magnet.

The farther out Portland’s mediocre defenders get on the court, the more likely they are to be seen and penalized for their lack of defensive prowess. Whenever the opponents call a screen play involving a Portland center-guard combo, a whistle is a decent possibility.

But here’s the dirty little secret to this discussion: the problem isn’t new this season, just more obvious. The 2015-16 Blazers—basically the same team minus Evan Turner—finished 26th in the league in fouls committed and 27th in free throws allowed...pretty much the exact position they’re in now. Lest you think this is a ref conspiracy against the Trail Blazers, the year before—with considerably different personnel, a different style, and more defensive integrity--Portland ranked 2nd best in the league in fouls committed and 7th in free throws allowed. It’s not the uniform, it’s the guys in them and how they’re forced to play.

What can the Blazers do to solve this? The most logical route would be getting better defenders. Failing that, fouls may be the price of admission whether the Blazers push out or hang back. They need to find a way to compensate for them...make the dance worth the price. Turnovers would be a nice bonus, So far they’re forcing the same 13.3 this year that they were last. That’s not an impressive number.

I have no doubt the Blazers spent all summer mapping out their defensive evolution. If there’s a next level on the horizon, they sure haven’t reached it yet. The experiment needs more time. If we’re still talking about these same issues at the All-Star break, we might need to consider the possibility that this combination of players doesn’t have a go-to defensive mode. We’re not there yet, though. Hold on and hope for fewer fouls.

Don’t forget: all questions accepted at blazersub@gmail.com!

—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard