If you don’t know already, here’s a great tidbit of basketball-related news:
The NBA Pre-Season has kicked off.
With their first game against the super stacked L.A. Lakers on Wednesday, the Portland Trail Blazers are in for a long night of ups, downs, missed assignments and, likely, head scratching rookie errors.
But before we even delve into possible match-up nightmares (Kobe vs. Wesley, Howard vs. Hickson, etc.), there’s so much going on in Training Camp that I feel obligated to talk about.
Offense Defense First
We’ve been calling him an offensive mastermind this whole time, but multiple reports have confirmed that coach Terry Stotts is firmly instilling solid, unbreakable defensive principles into this young Blazer squad.
The scheme? Not what you’d think.
“The backbone of Stotts’ defensive philosophy is playing ‘aggressive’ and being ‘solid,’” OregonLive’s Joe Freeman reported.
The Blazers will not do a lot of gambling. They will rarely switch. Creating steals is not a priority, but protecting the paint, rebounding, contesting every shot and limiting offensive penetration is. And in a drastic change from recent seasons, the Blazers will play a different and more aggressive style when guarding the pick and roll, the most widely used offensive tactic in the NBA.
The Blazers’ big men will “show” on pick and rolls, meaning they will dart out from behind a screen in an effort to slow or frustrate the opposing guard instead of sagging back and reacting. All the while, Blazers guards will fight through screens and climb over top of them rather than drift behind and search for their man in the aftermath.
Defense has always been something that the Portland Trail Blazers have prided themselves on, and seeing coach Stotts drilling these principles into the young core of guys they have is only a testament to the good things that are ahead.
I truly don’t mean to steal all of Freeman’s quotes, but he did an excellent job of getting the full scoop on the new defense that the 2012-2013 Portland Trail Blazers will show on Wednesday against the Lakers.
“I think our defense this year is all about fighting and wanting to play defense,” Nolan Smith told Freeman.
“At the same time, we’re keeping it simple. Coach wants to put it on each player to lock up, keep your man in front, guard your man and play hard. It’s all about just wanting to do it. So far, our guys have been wanting to play defense.”
Portland’s got two above average wing defenders in Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Damian Lillard will have some problems early on guarding top-tier guards like Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, but he’ll catch on as the season progresses. LaMarcus Aldridge can hold his own in the low-post, and J.J. Hickson, though under-sized, spent a lot of time at center in Cleveland, filling in for none other than the oft-injured Shaquille O’Neal.
Meyers Leonard off the bench is a wild card, but Portland’s got the potential to be one of the top defensive teams in the NBA.
Bravo, Coach Stotts, for teaching these young guns defense before anything.
And speaking of Leonard, Hickson will start on Wednesday, but it doesn’t absolutely rule the rook out for future battles for the starting position.
Will Barton Still Nursing Injury
Last Wednesday, we learned that Will Barton was listed day-to-day after straining his right hamstring. Barton came back to workout on Sunday and, apparently, aggravated his injury, thus keeping him sidelined for the pre-season opener against Los Angeles.
Barton, a 6’5″ guard out of Memphis, has been referred to as a sleeper pick at No. 40 in the second round. A dynamic scorer, he would have filled the void that Elliot Williams, another Memphis alum, has left after undergoing surgery on that Achilles injury.
The sooner Barton gets healthy, the better.
Tune in Wednesday morning for a full scale, in-depth analysis of the Blazers’ pre-season opener against the revitalized L.A. Lakers, featuring some of the best players in the NBA.
For our sake, let’s hope the bloodshed is kept to a minimum.