If the Portland Trail Blazers want to contend for a championship, they have to get better on defense.
Since the NBA started naming All-Defensive teams in 1969, only the 1975 Golden State Warriors, 1981 Boston Celtics, 1995 Houston Rockets, 2006 Miami Heat and the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers failed to have a single player named to one of the two teams in those championship seasons.
However, all five of those teams had players that either made it prior to or shortly after winning a ring in that season. The 1975 Warriors had Rookie of the Year and soon-to-be second teamer Jamaal Wilkes.
The 1981 Celtics had a precocious Larry Bird, as well as Kevin McHale who would receive honors in later years, and a reserve in M.L. Carr who, despite being overlooked at the tail end of the Celtics’ dynasty, was a key contributor that season, having been named All-Defensive second team in 1979.
The 1995 Houston Rockets were led by former Defensive Player of the Year and MVP Hakeem Olajuwon who willed them to victory. The 2006 Miami Heat were littered with defensive talent in Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton, Dwyane Wade and Alonzo Mourning. Lastly, the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James.
The 1983 4-4-4 Philadelphia 76ers are one of the most successful Playoff teams ever, having ran the table in dominant fashion en route to a memorable championship. Moses Malone, Bobby Jones and Maurice Cheeks were All-Defensive First Team that season.
Therefore, following a trend such as this could be a stepping stone in the right direction for the Blazers in their ascent to championship contention. Having a player or more of such defensive caliber that can also be a major part of the offense spells victory.
Here are five free agents the Blazers could target to help them on the defensive end:
Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
Lopez was a runner up for Defensive Player of the Year this season. HIs rim protection was the best it’s ever been and his 15.9 points per game on only 11.5 shot attempts proves that Lopez can make a difference for any team, despite being 35 years old.
Dillon Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies
Brooks was All-Defensive second team this season. It is evident that he is a great defender. Can he tame his instigation antics? If he can, Portland could use a wing defender of his ilk.
Victor Oladipo, Miami Heat
Oladipo is not too far removed from being one of the premiere shooting guards in the entire league, as a former All-Star and All-Defensive team member. His injuries have sidelined him greatly over the last couple of seasons.
However, players have shown the ability to bounce back from a litany of injuries to still produce effectively. Should the Blazers look to move any combination of their guards other than Lillard, acquiring Oladipo at the salary he’d garner on the open market would not only be a safe investment with little risk, but also yield potentially great results.
Patrick Beverley, Chicago Bulls
Beverley is older, but still a pesky defender that can also make plays when slashing to the rim and leading the break. His defensive accolades speak for themselves.
Thomas Bryant, Denver Nuggets
While Bryant hasn’t been lauded for his defense, he is a capable defender inside.
More importantly, he plays the game with much intensity and passion. He moves very well for his size at 6-10 and has improved his game season-over-season as a polished player.
Backing up Nikola Jokic on the Nuggets is more probably than not, not what Bryant would rather be doing than being an integral piece for another contender. Regardless the role, the Blazers need size and movement at the 5, and Bryant would be a very smart buy as a UFA.