Terry Stotts and his defensive dilemma: To change or not to change?

Terry Stotts and his defensive dilemma: To change or not to change?

It was somewhat a conflicted Terry Stotts this summer when it came time for him to address the defensive blueprint of this season’s Trail Blazers.

The Blazers’ coach admitted his team’s defense for much of last season was bad. Historically bad.

But after a February trade that brought in 7-foot center Jusuf Nurkic, the team’s defense dramatically improved – going from 26th out of 30 teams to tied for 10th in the NBA over the final 26 games, when Portland went 18-8.

All told, the Blazers finished the season with the 21st ranked defensive rating, just ahead of Cleveland and just behind Washington.

It left the sixth-year Portland coach feeling as if he was in the spin cycle, not knowing which team or which time frame to believe … and more importantly, whether it was his system, his personnel or just happenstance that led to the wide disparity.

“I think myself, and we as a staff, have struggled with where we are, and who we are, defensively,’’ Stotts said Tuesday after the Blazers’ first practice of the season.

Perhaps most vexing was his team had a similar Jekyll and Hyde defensive trait the season before, when only after three poor defensive months did a January turnaround on the defensive end propel the Blazers into the fifth seed in the West.

“So, was that success for real?’’ Stotts asked of the strong defensive turnarounds the last two seasons. “I mean, 25 games is a good sample size. So, do we do what we do better because we’ve shown that it can work? Or do we need to change things up?’’

Last season, as the team was foundering as the NBA’s worst defense in December, he did change things up by opting to trap teams like Chicago and Minnesota which struggled from the three-point line. The decision, in part, came from a suggestion from the team’s big men, who felt an aggressive trapping style better fit their skillset and strengths.

It worked for stretches, but not enough for Stotts to make a complete overhaul.

“There was a cry for us to be more aggressive last year with active bigs and that didn’t work, but you know, we tried,’’ Stotts said. “So it’s challenging to find, for lack of better word, a defensive system that is appropriate for us because we had one. And now, is that still the one for us, or not?’’

Stotts’ has more or less kept the same defensive system which he implemented his second season, when the team acquired center Robin Lopez. Because Lopez was a cerebral player and a fearless rim protector, Stotts used a pick-and-roll defense that kept his big back and invited the ball handler to take a contested mid-range jump shot.

Outside of the pick-and-roll, a Stotts’ defense is generally considered conservative: His team’s don’t gamble for steals, rarely double team and are more cognizant of staying with shooters than leaving to help stop penetration.

Those principles led to defensive stability for two seasons with the group of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Lopez. And over the last two season, there have been stretches – about 20 to 25 games each season – in which the system has been effective.

“I believe in the system we had, with the people we had …  you could be a good defensive team,’’ Stotts said. “Maybe we had better defensive players, I don’t know. But we showed that what we were doing, you could be successful.’’

So that leads us back to this summer, and Stotts’ dilemma about his defensive system. Was it the system? The personnel? Or simply the need to do what they do better, for longer periods?

“What weighed on me was the inconsistency,” Stotts said.

So it came down to a question for Stotts, one that even he is probably not sure of the answer.

“Were we a good defensive team last year or not?’’ Stotts asked rhetorically. “That’s probably the question. If we were a poor defensive team then maybe you make changes. But were the last 25 games with Nurk for real? Then we were a good defensive team. So that’s where the question lies.’’

By the time Tuesday’s first practice arrived, Stotts had made his decision: stick with the same defensive plan, with a few “tweaks” that will cater to certain player tendencies.

Also, he wants this season to improve upon the Blazers forcing turnovers.

“I’d like to be a little bit more aggressive … one of the things we have struggled with is turnovers. Can we create more turnovers?’’ Stotts said. “I think we can create more turnovers maybe by being more aggressive on the ball, but also maybe by being better on the weakside by having more focus and alertness.’’

When Tuesday’s practice started, it was with defense, a less-than-subtle reminder of its importance.

“I think our team is better committed to being defensive,’’ Stotts said, realizing as he said it that it might ring hollow. “I think you guys have heard that for six years now, it’s nothing new.’’ 

Notes: Rookie Zach Collins did not practice Tuesday because he was in the NBA concussion protocol after being elbowed in the jaw on Friday by Isaiah Briscoe. He said he expected to be cleared later on Tuesday and be ready to participate in Wednesday's practice ... Veteran big man Ed Davis took part in full-contact practice for the first time since February, when he left the team to have season-ending surgery on his left shoulder. "Ed had his bounce back,'' Stotts said. "Ed looked like the Ed from two years ago: he was lively, energetic … it was really good to see him out there.''

Wade Baldwin feels good about his chances

Wade Baldwin feels good about his chances

Wade Baldwin, who earned 2nd Team All-Summer League honors, said his goal was to go ‘full throttle’ and show during Summer League that he deserves to be on this Trail Blazers roster.

The deadline for the Blazers to make a decision on Baldwin’s guaranteed contract is July 18th at 11:59pm, when the clock strikes midnight, his contract becomes guaranteed.

While sporting his Championship shirt proudly, Baldwin told the media he feels good about his chances.

“I think I put myself in the best position possible in terms of accomplishments that I’ve made. In terms of being a winner, coming in here undefeated,” Baldwin said.

One person who will have some say in that is head coach Terry Stotts.
Over the last few years, the final day of Las Vegas Summer League for the Trail Blazers meant Stotts would offer up his thoughts and talk with the media members that were still around, and yes even after the team wins a Summer League Championship.

“I was really pleased with how we played, not how well we played. Obviously, it was a good week, but more importantly, we’re going to have six guys from this team that are going to be on our team and it was how they came together, how they played, they shared the ball. It was different guys, different nights, it was very encouraging,” Stotts said.

Yes, Stotts did say six players from this roster.
So, was that just a subconscious slip or is Wade Baldwin a member of this team next season? Baldwin averaged 13.4 points and 7.4 assists (3rd best in Summer League) in 25.4 minutes per game.   “It’s a team decision and I’ve talked with Neil and obviously the decision has to be made soon. It’s not my position to say what’s going to happen,” Stotts said.

[WATCH: The Scoop Postgame Show]
 

Blazer fans have been wondering who could take backup point guard minutes with Shabazz Napier now heading to Brooklyn.

After Baldwin led this Summer League team on both offense and defense, it would make sense for him to stick with Portland.
“The resume is out there. It’s up for whatever team it is or Portland to make a decision on what they want to do with me. I felt like I left it all out there and did the best I could,” Baldwin said with a smile.

One young guy who will be back in a Blazers uniform next season is Zach Collins, who finished Summer League averaging 8.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but it’s not his play that he attributes a lot of the team’s success to this year.

“We have a really good leader in Wade Baldwin at the point guard position and that’s huge coming into Summer League, being able to control the game. Summer League sometimes is really chaotic, he did a really good job of being our floor general,” Collins said.  

For a Blazers team who has lacked defensive intensity at the guard position, Baldwin would be a great asset to have coming off the bench. 

Let the countdown begin for Blazer fans waiting to see if the guy who gave James Harden fits in the regular season last year and now that same guy who led this summer league team to a championship will be back with the Blazers.

We have just hours left of Baldwin Watch 2018.

 

Trail Blazers Outsiders celebrate the Summer League Title

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Trail Blazers Outsiders celebrate the Summer League Title

Joe, Shain and Dan held a special postgame edition of the Outsiders on Tuesday night to celebrate the Summer League Championship!

If you missed the show, check out the link below, join them in a toast and enjoy the look back at the Summer League run.

Blazers Outsiders

BLAZERS WIN THE LAS VEGAS SUMMER LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP! It’s time to celebrate with the Outsiders.

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Scoop from Las Vegas as fans react to the Trail Blazer Summer League Title

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The Scoop from Las Vegas as fans react to the Trail Blazer Summer League Title

There may not be a parade for this Championship but the Trail Blazers Summer League Team was very proud of their tournament win on Tuesday night. 

The Scoop was live streaming postgame as fans weighed in what this means, player evaluations, and how any of this might translate to the regular season:

Summer League Scoop Postgame

Your Portland Trail Blazers are the 2018 NBA Summer League Champs!!! The Blazers beat the Lakers, 91-73 #RipCity How you feeling, Scoop Nation!?

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Trail Blazers waive Georgios Papagiannis

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Trail Blazers waive Georgios Papagiannis

The Trail Blazers have waived big man Georgios Papagiannis.

He plans to sign with Greece's Panathinaikos, which was first reported by Eurohoops. 

According to Eurohoops, "Panathinaikos has already included Papagiannis in the club’s long-term plans and are ready to add him with a three-year contract."

Papagiannis was first acquired by Panathinaikos when he was 17 years old and spent two seasons with the team before joining the NBA.

The 7'1" big appeared in 6 games during the Las Vegas Summer League where he averaged 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds in just 7.5 minutes per game. 

Portland acquired Papagiannis this past March after he was waived by the Sacramento Kings, who drafted him in 2016 with the 13th overall pick.

Papagiannis appeared in just one game for the Blazers, playing four minutes of a 96-94 loss to the Houston Rockets 

He averaged 4.1 points and 3.2 rebounds over the course of 39 appearances over two seasons in the NBA.

Trail Blazers Are Summer League Champions!

Trail Blazers Are Summer League Champions!

LAS VEGAS - The Trail Blazers got revenge on the LA Lakers to pull out a victory in the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League Championship Game by a score of 91-73. 

It was a rematch of last year's summer league finale, but this time the Trail Blazers came out on top thanks to a strong defensive performance that held the Lakers to just 14.3% from the 3 point line. 

Players and Coaches had talked all week about how winning NBA Summer League was a goal for this team from the beginning, and tonight they finished what they started. 

Summer League MVP Josh Hart was ejected after his second technical with 4:45 to go in the game, but the Lakers trailed big at that time anyways. 

Portland finished the summer league a perfect 7-0 including both pool play and the tournament. 

BOX SCORE: Portland 91, LA 73

Be sure to follow us on social media for all kinds of postgame videos, a special interview with Head Coach Terry Stotts, and photos from the ceremony!

POSTGAME LINKS:
The Scoop Postgame Show
Trail Blazers Outsiders - Live Stream
Trail Blazers waive Georgios Papagiannis
Why did this summer league team click?

 

Wade Baldwin earns All-NBA Summer League Second Team honors

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Wade Baldwin earns All-NBA Summer League Second Team honors

The following is a press release from the NBA:

 

LAS VEGAS, July 17, 2018 – The Los Angeles Lakers’ Josh Hart today was named Most Valuable Player of MGM Resorts NBA Summer League 2018.  The 6-5 guard also headlines the All-NBA Summer League Teams.

 

MGM Resorts NBA Summer League, an 82-game, 12-day event showcasing all 30 NBA teams for the first time, culminates tonight when the top-seeded Lakers face the second-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in the Championship Game at 10:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.  The meeting is a rematch of last summer’s Championship Game, which was won by the Lakers.

 

In this year’s competition, Hart is averaging an NBA Summer League-leading 24.2 points (on 47.1 percent shooting from the field), 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals in six games.  He scored 27 points and added six rebounds, three assists and three steals in the Lakers’ 109-92 victory over the New York Knicks on July 10.  In the tournament semifinals on July 16, Hart recorded 37 points and nine rebounds to lead the Lakers past the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-109 in double overtime.

 

Joining Hart on the MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League First Team are Chicago Bulls forward Wendell Carter Jr., Knicks forward Kevin Knox, Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton and Milwaukee Bucks center Christian Wood.

 

The All-NBA Summer League Second Team is composed of Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, Trail Blazers guard Wade Baldwin IV, Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr., Lakers forward Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young.

 

A media panel selected Hart as MVP and voted for the MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League Teams.

 

MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League First Team

Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago)

Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers)

Kevin Knox (New York)

Collin Sexton (Cleveland)

Christian Wood (Milwaukee)

 

MGM Resorts All-NBA Summer League Second Team

Deandre Ayton (Phoenix)

Wade Baldwin IV (Portland)

Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis)

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Los Angeles Lakers)

Trae Young (Atlanta)

 

Summer League: If you win it, you can say it matters

Summer League: If you win it, you can say it matters

Some thoughts on the morning of the Trail Blazers' Summer League Championship game vs. the Lakers:

There's really only one reason why winning the summer league matters:
1 – If you win it, you can say it matters. And maybe then it does. You can use it to sell tickets for the upcoming season or just get your fan base geeked up about the future. And if you think I’m kidding, just think back to last year’s summer league when none other than Magic Johnson proclaimed, “The Lakers are back!” after his team beat the Trail Blazers in the championship game. Uh, back? Sure they were – back in the doldrums.

Conversely, there are plenty of reasons why winning summer league does NOT matter:
1 – Each team is a collection of players – many of them key contributors – who won’t even be on your team this season. 
2 – While you may care about winning, many of the other teams do not and they sit key players in tourney games just because they’ve played enough and nobody wants to risk injury. Beating those teams means nothing (such as the Blazers tournament game vs. Atlanta).
3 – Well, it just doesn’t matter, you know. No championship parades or rings, no bonuses, no big deal. Get over it. 
3 – Players do like to win. It’s akin to playground games where you want to keep winning to stay on the court. In summer league, you want to keep winning so you have more games to show scouts and front-office personnel you are good enough to play for their team. But that doesn’t mean front offices and coaches like to win.
4 – How many days in Las Vegas are too many? About the time the tournament starts is the time when people suffer from neon fatigue and get irritated by the strange noises those slot machines make.
5 – If it mattered, wouldn’t all the teams try to win?

The Scoop: Streaming from Vegas as Portland heads to the title game

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The Scoop: Streaming from Vegas as Portland heads to the title game

Another day another win for the Trail Blazers as they have advanced to the Summer League Championship for the second season in a row!

I was live streaming from Thomas and Mack following the game, check out The Scoop Postgame show below:

Summer League Scoop Postgame

The Portland Trail Blazers are heading back to the Summer League CHAMPIONSHIP GAME!!! And now, we can all start tweeting out #BeatLA as we gear up for this rematch vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. Hit me up with all of your NBA Summer League thoughts!

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Monday, July 16, 2018

Baldwin's dedication to playing the point paying dividends

Baldwin's dedication to playing the point paying dividends

Wade Baldwin is doing something I really didn't think he could do -- and it's probably doing as much to prove he has a role in the NBA as anything we've seen from him.

I knew he was explosive. Knew that while he isn't yet a big-time shooter, he is certainly a scorer. And we've all seen signs of his defensive promise.

But I had no idea he was going to come out in Summer League and show legitimate point-guard skills. In five games, he's averaged a league-leading 8.4 assists per game while turning the ball over only 1.6 times per game. His willingness to transform from scorer to playmaker also reflects a degree of understanding of what he needed to show in Las Vegas to prove (or improve) his NBA value.

In order to win a roster spot with the Trail Blazers, Baldwin was likely going to have to show that he could serve as a viable point guard option. He's done that, even though it often appears he could score at will in summer league with his ability to get to the basket.

Baldwin has continued to show growth as an all-around player. He's doing his thing as a point guard but still managing to shoot .536 from the field and .385 from three-point range. In two previous summer-league stints while a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, Baldwin shot .286 and .380 from the field and .000 and .333 from three-point territory.

Of course, we temper enthusiasm over those numbers from this summer by reminding ourselves again that this is SUMMER LEAGUE, where mediocre players -- particularly the ones with a couple of seasons in the NBA -- can often look like NBA all-stars. But Baldwin's consistency and patience with the way he's running the team are certainly admirable and promising.

And the big plus he will bring to the regular season is that even if his offensive ability goes off the tracks a little bit, his defense and aggressiveness are going to be there. And that's a very big plus.

He is going to be a very interesting player to keep an eye on this coming season.