The Portland Trail Blazers struggled on defense last season, but they covered it up by playing great offense. Let us examine the numbers to see what we can surmise about their defense and what that means for this season.
The Portland Trail Blazers rated poorly in just about every defensive category. They allowed 104.3 points per game ranking 11th worst in the NBA. If you view defensive rating (the number of points allowed per 100 possessions) the Blazers permitted 105.6 points rating 10th worst in the NBA. Stats courtesy of NBA.com.
The Blazers clearly allowed a lot of points last season, but it goes deeper than that. If you read the defensive box score plus/minus from last season, the Blazers had five players who rated as a positive contributor. A positive contribution means you are above the league average in the statistic. 0.0 is league average, meaning the Blazers have only five about average defenders on the roster last season.
Let us now view what the new additions bring to the table on defense.
Evan Turner, the new $70 million man, brings some up and down defense statistics. His traditional defensive stats are nothing to get excited about. He averages 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, and 4.6 defensive rebounds in 28.6 minutes per game for his career. His career average defensive box score plus/minus is positive 0.5. That is a positive for the Blazers, but not turning around their fortunes solely.
Festus Ezeli is a positive defensive contributor, but other factors will make it hard for him to make a huge impact. Ezeli’s career average defensive box score plus/minus is 1.9. That is a good solid number, but give Ezeli’s knee troubles and the fact that his value was suppressed this offseason due to injury concerns how many minutes can he actually play? He averages 14.1 minutes per game for his career and I have a hard time believing he can sustain playing more than 20 minutes a night for the long season without succumbing to injury. That will limit the defensive impact he can on the team.
The Backcourt Combo
The starting backcourt is dynamic and explosive on offense, but lacking on the defensive end. Damian Lillard was a negative 2.2 box score plus/minus and C.J. McCollum was a negative 2.0 box score plus/minus. The guards struggle on the defensive end of the floor. I believe they need to offset this strong defensive big in the starting line-up assuring Mason Plumlee and Al-Farouq Aminu starting spots. Starting Turner or Harkless leads to three positive defensive contributors in the starting line-up. Thanks to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com for the defensive statistic help.
The Blazers clearly struggled on defense last season and have continued those struggles into the preseason. The stats are not kind to them. The new additions are an improvement, but it is a limited impact. The backcourt combo is bad defensively.
I know what you are thinking, this does not matter. The Blazers won 44 games last season and advanced to the 2nd round of the playoffs. The point being if the defense is not strong it leaves a smaller margin for error. The Blazers basically have to score 105 points every night to win. They averaged it last year, but what if Lillard or McCollum miss a few games? They are lacking at point guard as it is and playing Shabazz Napier is no defensive solution. They cannot average 105 points a night without those two players making their health and production vital to the team.
This is a situation I am monitoring this season. The team needs to play at least a little better on defense to give me the faith they can not only make the playoffs but win playoff games. If they can improve just a small amount on defense I would feel a lot more comfortable heading into the season.
Here is to hoping the Blazer have good health and improve their defense this season leading to a home court playoff series and playoff wins come this April. Thank you for reading.