Well, it's that time again. The 2013-14 season is slowly approaching and for the Portland Trail Blazers, it means a stellar revamped roster that's equipped for the making of a strong 2014 playoff push.
Most of the team's newly acquired ammo will come off the bench and provide the necessary fire power and rest for starters. The addition of Mo Williams, CJ McCollum, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and Earl Watson is a massive upgrade from last year's second unit.
Those acquisition, alone, should pencil-in the Trail Blazers into the playoffs.
However, if this team is serious about competing in more than 89 games this year (7 preseason + 82 regular season games), it's going to have to be a drastic change on the defensive end.
Head coach Terry Stotts said this past offseason that they will instill a different set of defensive principles this year. He didn't elaborate at the time, but believe it's safe to say that the guards will benefit heavily from such a change.
Reason being is most of the time perimeter defenders are told to shade their opponent to one particular side, knowing that you have help behind you. Often the plan is to force them to go baseline as most coaches hate giving up the middle.
Without a rim protector all season long last year, the Trail Blazers' perimeter defenders felt like they had to keep their man in front of them in order to have a chance at a successful defensive stand.
Now, last year, the defensive scheme may have been to force an offensive player to one side of the court, however, it was apparent that the backcourt didn't have confidence in their backside.
Thus, more pressure placed on the perimeter defenders.
No offense to the 6'9” JJ Hickson, but he played the role of a non shot-blocking center that lacked key defensive instincts.
Robin Lopez is where I'm going with all of this.
“All I want to do is block shots and give my team a chance defensively,” Lopez told CSNNW.com in July.
He won't wow you with his numbers as a whole, and there isn't a statline, except for blocks, that will quantify his impact on the defensive end. His impact will be internally.
His teammates will know there's a 7'0” tree lurking in the middle with his outstretched hands waiting to swat that round orange ball into the third-row seating area.
Lopez will alter shots, make them second guess, and most importantly, disrupt rhythm. Last season, dunks and layups came too easy for opposing wings once they got past the first line of the Trail Blazers' defense.
Defense is something that takes heart, will, and desire. You either have it or you don't.
Damian Lillard's on-ball defense was criticized immensely. Part of it was simply due to the high-echelon of point guards we have in this league. The other part was that he was left on an island in his first year due to lack of backside help.
It's going to help that Lillard labored on his defense this offseason by working on playing angles and moving his feet. Even more, his defense will improve because of the big fella.
“He's going to help us,” Lillard said in July. “Having him back there will make it easier for us, knowing we got help. It's a huge advantage for us to have. It only makes us that much better.”
Keep in mind, offense was never entirely the issue last year. The Trail Blazers put out one of the more potent offensive starting lineups on a nightly basis. Yes, the bench disappointed, but just as significant was the poor defensive chemistry.
With Lopez, this team will be better defensively. And without having played a game yet, internally they already feel like they're better. It starts on the inside, before positive results are witnessed by a grander audience.
“Defense is what I'm concerned with. That's where I make my mark,” Lopez said. “My best basketball is ahead of me and I couldn't be happier to be in a situation where they're going to use me for what I do best, play defense.”