Entering into the 2021-22 NBA Season, the Portland Trail Blazers promised better defense under new Head Coach Chauncey Billups. 23 games into the campaign, they have yet to deliver. As of December 4th, the Blazers rank 30th in defensive efficiency, 29th in opponent shooting percentage, and 28th in opponent three-point percentage. Those rankings are actually lower than the 29th , 25th, and 21st positions that got Head Coach Terry Stotts fired at the end of 2020-21.
This week Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer submitted a video chronicling Portland’s abysmal performance so far, running down the myriad ways in which the Blazers’ defense is falling short as part of his series The Void.
The video is here:
While lamenting the lack of support the franchise is giving superstar point guard Damian Lillard, O’Connor lists the following shortcomings:
- Lack of perimeter stoppers
- Lack of lateral foot speed from defensive forward Robert Covington
- Duplication between Lillard and CJ McCollum, particularly in their defensive shortcomings
- Portland’s lack of reaction when opponents beat Jusuf Nurkic’s “blitz” action against screens, leaving them vulnerable to corner threes or passes for dunks/layups
- Possible overuse of the blitz
- The futility of doing anything else, as the Blazers are still 29th on defense when using more conservative schemes
There’s more, but it gets depressing.
To underline the point, here’s O’Connor’s chart showing one of the core issues:
The Blazers started using an aggressive P&R defense under Billups hoping to fix things. They blitz or show on P&Rs more often than all teams, but they also allow more points per chance than anyone when they do.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) December 2, 2021
Nothing is working. Portland has a roster issue, not a scheme issue. https://t.co/3jL2LackTh pic.twitter.com/Sy0cwFCFct
It shows that Portland goes aggressive with the blitz far more than any other NBA team, also allowing more points per possession than anyone else when they employ that scheme.
In the process of taking apart the defense, O’Connor cites the potential of Norman Powell (offense and defense) and Anfernee Simons (offense) to replace McCollum, should the latter be traded.
These themes have been echoed in many places at Blazer’s Edge since before the season started, but the issues have become evident enough now to bring notice well beyond Portland.