Over the last week of training camp, Portland as a team has discussed how there has been a shift in focus on the defensive end.
With Zach Collins and Hassan Whiteside set to anchor the front court in the starting lineup, the Blazers will have the freedom to be more aggressive on the perimeter, with the confidence that they will have help behind them.
Even though wing Mario Hezonja will mostly be coming off the bench this season, he is still ready to guard any position, and is confident he will be able to guard the best player on the opposing team.
He also believes by applying more pressure on the defensive end, it will free up the Blazers shooters to not have to exert themselves as much at that end of the floor.
“It’s big time,” Hezonja said of being a versatile defender. “It helps a lot of other players be in their roles. You know, they don’t have to do extra stuff. It helps them, especially for CJ [McCollum] and Dame [Lillard], Rodney [Hood], [Kent] Bazemore – all of our shooters. They don’t have to work as much, you know, because I’m yelling, I’m coming behind them.”
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts believes Hezonja will be able to be plugged into certain lineups depending on matchups.
“When teams talk about going small or spreading the floor or whatever, it’s more about how you defend that lineup rather than scoring… If were able to play Zach Collins or Skal [Labissiere], or whoever at four, and still defend the perimeter, then that’s a good lineup for us…. Vice versa if Mario is at the four, he has to guard a bigger player… So, it’s more about your defensive matchups,” Stotts said.
At 6’8”, 220 pounds, Hezonja has fully embraced his versatility to defend multiple positions.
“Now that I’m going to be in the role that I’m going to be in, I’ve got to guard everybody on the court. I’ve just got to talk to my teammates and, you know, establish my presence out there, so they know, they recognize my voice… Then I’m talking to them like where to be and all the switching,” Hezonja said.
“I’m guarding the best players on the opposite team. As I said, I will do anything possible to help this team win the championship, so whatever I’ve got to do, I’ll do it,” Hezonja added.
Is Coach Stotts convinced Hezonja will be able to guard more than the three and four positions?
“To be determined,” Stotts said. “I would expect if we’d be doing a lot of switching, he’d be expected to guard a variety of perimeter players for sure.”