A Defensive View of the Portland Trailblazers
You already know about Brandon, LaMarcus, and Greg. They're poised to provide the foundation of a very good team for years to come.
Wade will replace Kobe as the best shooting guard in the NBA within 3 years. Brandon will be right there with him.
LaMarcus is Pao Gasol reincarnated, with time and ability to improve.
Greg Oden is about to lay it on.
All that, and the Blazers are deeper than the Pacific.
The Blazers are for real, winning 54 games last season with the youngest playing rotation in the NBA.
Last year, the Portland Trailblazers ran the most efficient offense in the league. Although they will likely improve by modest degrees on that side of the ball, there's good reason to believe that this year we will see the Blazers make a statement of a different kind, becoming one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Allow me to first define what I believe makes a great defensive team.
The best defensive teams are not always the ones who hold opponents to the fewest points. Good offensive teams often create more possessions. More possessions translate into more points scored.
Points per possession is a more accurate way to measure the true defensive nature of a team. Great scoring teams can also be very good defensive teams, and points allowed is often a deceptive statistic.
Great defensive teams often have that guy who can stop just about anybody. But more than that, they share a common commitment to play team defense, to help, to trap, double up, switch or to lay a guy flat once in a while. The Pistons of the Laimbeer era come to mind.
Unfortunately, the Rockets from last year come to mind as well.
But this year, Portland will be more stingy than in past seasons. Here's why.
Brandon Roy is an offensive machine. But he's shown that when he wants to...when he needs to be...he can be a lock down defender as well. The problem is that he has been forced to take control of the offense too often.
That will change this year, as he plays alongside Andre Miller. Andre will allow Brandon to focus more of his game around stopping his opponent.
Roy's also had his first taste of playoff experience. He understands now, more than before, that defense wins championships. This year, you will see a more mature, more defensive-minded Brandon Roy.
Speaking of Andre Miller, the one big knock against him is that he's not quick enough to guard the quick, elite guards of the NBA. As 1 of 3 improvements to Portland's perimeter defense, he won't need to. He is still a defensive upgrade from Steve Blake.
Miller is strong enough to play great defense against the bigger point guards in the league. He will be good enough to play team defense, and against the Aaron Brooks and Chris Pauls of the league, he will have help.
Nicolas Batum came from nowhere last season to secure a spot on the starting team. He's improving his offensive game in Europe right now, but he is already a proven defensive specialist. Only 20 years old, Batum is primed to become the best small forward defender in the game today.
Those three together will form a new defensive perimeter that will help out...Greg Oden.
With his rookie year behind him, quicker feet, improved conditioning and better instincts, we're going to begin to see the presence in the middle that Portland hoped for. He will get more minutes this year, and he will make a difference.
Lamarcus will improve as the team commits to better defense as a whole. His length next to Greg's is a luxury only one or two other teams in the NBA possess.
And remember, McMillan preaches defense as often as Obama hands out money (not meant to be a political point, just the truth).
Portland's bench probably won't improve defensively by leaps and bounds, but they will be better. Blake is a defensive (and offensive) upgrade over Rodriquez. Pryzbilla is still a rock.
Rudy, Outlaw and Webster still have to prove that they can play on both sides. But all three are still young and logic dictates that they will be better as they mature.
If they don't, Cunningham and Pendergraph stand ready to prove their worth. Both of those guys are defensive upgrades over Channing Frye.
Still, Brandon Roy is the clear leader of this team. Only 25 years old, he has already reached into the realms of the most elite NBA players. He understands that it will take a renewed, team defensive commitment to win it all.
That's why you saw him call for a tough veteran after the playoffs last year. His leadership will influence the rest of the team in a highly positive way.
Don't be too surprised when the biggest surprise of the year will be how much better the Blazers are in terms of their defensive presence. It will be a topic of conversation. We'll see articles written about it.
But most of all, it will be self-evident as the Blazers reach into the 60-plus win category, and place their names among the elite teams in the NBA for the next dozen or so years.
Remember my prediction. The Portland Trailblazers are going to be a much improved defensive team, beginning this year. You heard it here first. It won't be the last.
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