The Portland Trail Blazers have had defensive issues for a while now. In light of these issues, is Terry Stotts still the right person to coach this team?
The Portland Trail Blazers, under Terry Stotts, are a terrible defensive team. This has been the case for a while, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Is Stotts still the right person to coach this team?
Terry Stotts has coached the Blazers for eight seasons, with the 2021 season being his ninth. He has made the playoffs in seven out of eight seasons, and only once since his first season in charge has the team finished with a record below .500. Stotts has done a great job overall with this team.
But, as this team tries to take the next step to legitimate title contention, it’s only fair that questions are asked about the defense.
The Blazers are a terrible defensive team in a lot of ways. They have only had one positive defensive season in the last six seasons, and in some of these seasons, this can’t be blamed on personnel.
Here is where they have ranked defensively in the last six years.
25th, 27th, 16th, 7th, 25th, 20th.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can’t be used as excuses for the Blazers’ terrible defense. These guys were given max and supermax extensions to be the key building blocks of this team. They aren’t awful defenders. Lillard may not be able to defend in the post, or defend bigger twos, but he is a league-average defender who can defend opposing guards at a decent level. He is a good team defender as well.
Like Lillard, McCollum isn’t strong, but he is a good team defender, and doesn’t get blown up as a man defender. He is slightly below average as a man defender, but doesn’t embarrass himself.
Other NBA teams have had small backcourts and still been able to have league average defenses.
If this team is to jump into the realms of championship contention, then every part of the team and any issues should be questioned.
In the 2020 season, the Blazers conceded the second-most threes in the league, and conceded the second-worst percentage.
In the 2021 season, they have so far conceded the ninth-most threes, and have the 18th worst percentage. This isn’t terrible, but, is below average in the league, and as we touched on after the win against the Toronto Raptors in their most recent game, the Blazers just gave up 19 three-pointers. Most of these were wide-open looks as well.
One of the biggest problems, is the drop coverage pick and roll defense that Stotts insists on running. In this season and last season, the Blazers have been getting torched from the three-point line as the big drops back on every screen action.
Though the bigs the Blazers have had in Hassan Whiteside, Jusuf Nurkic, and Enes Kanter aren’t great at defending in space, dropping them back on ball screens means that you will concede threes more often than not. Why does Stotts persist in running this scheme?
When playing against guys like Steph Curry, Stotts doesn’t alter his defensive coverages. He doesn’t hedge in the pick and roll, he doesn’t try and trap a player like Curry and force the ball out of his hands. He just runs the same coverage. An out of form Curry torched the Blazers for 62 points this season, as they persisted with running their conservative drop coverage.
As far as in-game adjustments go, even if a shooter is torching the Blazers like they were just a week or so ago, Stotts doesn’t change his coverage.
Stotts doesn’t seem to want to change his coverages if they aren’t working.
This may be the most concerning part of the way he coaches defensively; not being willing to make adjustments even when your schemes aren’t working.
If Stotts isn’t willing to make changes to his defense, is he still the right person for this job?
Sometimes in the NBA, some coaches take a team from point A to point B and then move on when it’s time for someone else to take that team to the next level.
Stotts is an excellent developmental coach. He has developed two max salary guards in Lillard and McCollum, while also having one of the best track records in the league when developing second-round picks. Just because he is a great developer of talent doesn’t mean he is the best person to take this team to the next level.
If this team wants to challenge for a title, then they need to take a good hard look at their defense. Stotts needs to be brutal when assessing this defense, and make changes when it isn’t working.
If the Blazers continue to have a terrible defensive season, then maybe it’s time to look at a coaching change. If players are held to account for their defense, the coach should be as well.