Blazers takeaway No. 3: Importance of a defensive-minded wing
Both teams have lockdown wing defenders, which has played a significant role in their respective finals runs. Denver has Aaron Gordon and what, at the time, were underrated free-agent signings in Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Miami has its superstar in Jimmy Butler.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said this regarding Butler and Adebayo’s two-way skill sets: “If your best players aren’t defenders, it’s hard to create a good defense. We have Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. They care about defending and doing the tough things. It is pretty easy to figure out the rest of the stuff.”
That’s something Portland needs to address, since Lillard isn’t known for his defense. The Blazers should consider Spoelstra’s comment if they bring in a co-star to pair with Lillard. Celtics wing Jaylen Brown comes to mind as someone who could be a great fit as a two-way co-star at the wing position.
This also factors into Portland’s offseason decision of whether or not to retain restricted free agent Matisse Thybulle. As someone with two NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections, he could be a key role player for the Blazers if they want to go deep into the playoffs.
Just look at Denver’s and Miami’s respective paths to the finals: The Nuggets had to go through superstar forwards in Kevin Durant and LeBron James, while the Heat faced (a limited) Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown.
That’s not even mentioning the other superstar wings in the Western Conference alone, including Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Brandon Ingram. Luka Doncic is a guard, but at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, he would likely be better defended by someone with more size, like Thybulle.
Because of this, Thybulle could be nice to keep around.