Lowe: Portland’s Conservative Defense Historic In Not Forcing Turnovers

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 years ago

A very enlightening piece, as per usual, from Grantland’s Zach Lowe focusing on NBA teams that utilize conservative defensive schemes, their reasons for doing so and the risks involved. Lowe uses the Timberwolves, a team that rarely commits fouls, and the Trail Blazers, a team that almost never forces turnovers, as examples, highlighting the positives and negatives of each approach. Like most of Lowe’s work, it’s incredibly approachable for even the casual NBA fan who doesn’t necessarily have a background or interest in advanced analytics and basketball theory.

The entire article is worth reading, but I found this part particularly interesting …

The Blazers over the summer reconstructed their base defense to play a more conservative style, aimed at forcing as many midrange jumpers as possible. Their big men mostly sag back against pick-and-rolls, and they stick very close to opposing shooters dotting the perimeter. Some teams have those defenders along the arc dart into the paint to provide help, or at least the threatening impression of help, but Portland’s guys stay close to home.

It’s working! Only four teams allow more midrange jumpers than Portland, and nobody, not even the Bulls, allows fewer corner 3-point attempts per game, according to NBA.com. Rejoice, hipster doughnut-eaters of the world!

But wait … the Blazers, despite this fairly healthy shot distribution profile, are not very good at defense. They’re 22nd in points allowed per possession. They can pile up all the wins in the world, but they’re not sniffing a championship with a bottom-10 defense. There are a few things behind the struggle, but here’s a big one: The Blazers almost never force turnovers. They simply don’t do the sorts of things that produce turnovers — aggressive help in the passing lanes, frenzied traps, packing the paint to force risky inside-out passes around the horn. Portland has forced turnovers on just 11 percent of opponent possessions, per Basketball-Reference. That would be the third-lowest turnover rate in the entire history of the league.

Conservatism can be healthy for an NBA defense. Coaches preach it all the time: Stay home, don’t gamble, don’t reach yourself into a foul. Let’s force them into a long jumper, clean the rebound, and move on with life. If they make it, they make it. What can we do?

The Trail Blazers readily admit they don’t force many turnovers, as it’s not at all uncommon for Terry Stotts to point that out to the media when asked about his team’s defense (in fact, I think both he and Wesley Matthews made that point in their post-game comments after the victory versus the Knicks on Wednesday). But reading that the third-lowest turnover rate in NBA history was still surprising. The thing is, half of the teams with similar turnover rates that Lowe references weren’t half bad, which I think is kind of the point.

As for why the Trail Blazers don’t gamble, my guess, which Lowe addresses in the piece, is that while Portland’s bench is improved this season, there’s still enough of a drop off from the starting unit that the chance of getting into foul trouble isn’t worth the risk associated with forcing turnovers. That can seem like a self-fulfilling prophesy if you believe, as many do, that NBA teams known for playing tough defense get away with being more physical than their more offensive-minded counterparts, but I’m not sure there’s much the Trail Blazers can do about that.

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Podcast: The Rip City Report, Finalized Roster Edition

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…

On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.

You can find the Rip City Report on SoundcloudiTunes and Stitcher. Thanks as always for listening.

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VIDEO: McCollum Brothers Talk Tournament, Who’s Mom’s Favorite on ESPN

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
2 days ago

Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.

But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.


“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”

Sounds about right.

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Stotts Talks Super Teams And Suits On The Doug Gottlieb Show

Casey Holdahl
by Casey Holdahl
5 days ago

On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.

You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…

On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”

On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”

On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”

His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”

On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”

On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”

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