The Portland Trail Blazers were one of five teams that ranked among the bottom five in points per possession against pick-and-roll ball handlers and roll men in 2020-21. According to Jason Quick of The Athletic, the Blazers have made that a point of attack during training camp, starting with a reconsideration of their pick-and-roll coverages.
As has been the case since his hiring, Billups is preaching more aggressiveness defensively on ball screens, as opposed to the more conservative drop coverage they ran under the previous regime.
“Billups’ first plan of action is changing how the Blazers defend basketball’s most-used play: the pick-and-roll. Billups wants the Blazers’ big men to guard the pick-and-roll at the level of the screen to help prevent the guard from penetrating. It is a more aggressive tactic than Portland employed under coach Terry Stotts, who asked the big to retreat and protect the rim, thus allowing the guard free reign to work in space.”
Two players, Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic, spoke glowingly of it. One important tenet in Billups’ new scheme will be simplicity, something Quick also notes:
“One aspect of the new pick-and-roll defense is to simplify the calls. Instead of players calling out colors or code names to indicate which side the screen is being set, they will simply say “left” or “right.”
“Simplest in the league,” Billups said. “Some people say ‘Blue … Down … Ice …We are going right and left. You can’t mess that up.”
The spotlight, in particular, will be on Jusuf Nurkic. As Quick mentions through a Billups comment, the responsibility of hedging and recovering will require the Bosnian center to be in arguably the best shape of his career.
Over the rest of the article, Quick hits on how the Blazers plan to preserve the now-31-year-old Lillard, Nurkic’s off-court situation, and insight on the Blazers’ assistant coaching staff, among much else.