Nestled atop the western conference at 10-5, the Portland Trail Blazers and their defensive system has caught the eye of ESPN’s Zach Lowe.
In his regular “Lowe’s 10 Things” installment, the analyst had much positive critique for a Blazers team that has been performing well on both sides of the basketball thus far, particularly on defense.
Lowe had this to say concerning Portland:
“But Portland ranking No. 7 in points allowed per possession is not smoke and mirrors. The Blazers are stocked with tweener forwards who cover huge amounts of space. With those guys roaming the wings — rotating inside to help, then back out — the Blazers can get away with having Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks corral pick-and-rolls up high in the aggressive system that imploded last season. The wings help on the glass, too,” Lowe pointed out.
“The Blazers are creative, toggling between schemes; Portland has played more zone than everyone but the Miami Heat, and it has allowed a paltry 0.93 points per possession in zone, per Second Spectrum. The Blazers sometimes switch everything with Trendon Watford at center. They nail all the little things.”
Hitting the nail on the head, both Eubanks and Nurkic have been integral in the success of Portland’s defense. They have been able to anchor their efforts in the 2-3 zone when pick-and-rolls have been deployed by opposing teams. In a quasi 2-1-2 zone, both big men have covered much ground from the free throw line extended area of the floor.
The wings have held up their end of the bargain, bothering slashers by crowding driving lanes. Portland has been reliable on the boards, limiting opponents to the fourth-fewest rebounds (41.2) and sixth-fewest second chance points (12.5) per game, while forcing teams to commit the third-most personal fouls per contest (23.1).
While accentuating Portland’s stout defense in points allowed per possession, one area the Blazers have struggled in has been contesting shots. They contest the third-fewest shots per game (46.3), despite holding teams to the eighth-fewest field goal attempts per game (86) – a byproduct of their heavy zone implementation.
They struggled with this in both games against the Miami Heat this season, but will look to sharpen up whatever might be impeding their path to the most elite defense in the league, as they are slated to take on the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, before a four-game road trip in the eastern conference.