Much like the Washington Wizards, Portland’s backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum get the headlines, but lately their defense wins the games.
During this latest hot streak, the Trail Blazers are second in Defensive Rating and Rebounds, and first in Net Rating and +/-.
One recent factor has been the emergence of 7’0” Zach Collins off the bench: he’s played over 25 minutes in 3 of the last 4 games, and went 5 of 6 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors.
On offense the Trail Blazers elite backcourt has a pattern of favoring pull-up jumpers due to their lack of size: especially McCollum.
Trail Blazers 2-point shot selection per game
McCollum at 6’3”, 190 lbs and Lillard at 6’3”, 195 lbs, match up physically to Tyler Johnson’s 6’4”, 190 lbs and Goran Dragic’s 6’3”, 190 lbs, but their styles on shot selection are very different from Portland’s duo.
Since the Blazers are last in the NBA in FG% under 5 feet from the rim, 54%, and next-to-last in assists per game, 19.4, in the last 9 games, the guards tend to favor pull-up jumpers outside the painted area to maximize their potential.
The clip below shows Lillard did to the Warriors what Isaiah Thomas did to the Heat when defenders don’t challenge dangerous marksmen at the 3-point line.
McCollum makes the same pull-up jumper on the other side of the court for 3 points.
The Trail Blazers lost by 20 points when confronted by the Detroit Pistons big frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Anthony Tolliver.
Later Portland lost 115-96 to the Utah Jazz with Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and Royce O’Neale leading the charge to outrebound the Blazers 58 to 37.
In this game Lillard (39) and McCollum (22) combined for 61 points, but the Jazz let water rise to its own level and not have the rest of the team beat them.
The Trail Blazers strengths lie outside the paint even on defense, with Lilliard holding players to -9.5% under their average and Shabazz Napier holding his opponents off the bench to -15.4% less than their normal percentage.
The Wizards’ had Bradley Beal, but the Trail Blazers have more weapons in their arsenal as they climb up the Western Conference standings since the All-Star Break.
On the Miami Heat defensive end, Josh Richardson’s numbers have noticeably slipped in 2018, maybe because of playing too many minutes, for the DIFF% stat: Jan. -8.6, Feb. -0.3, Mar. +8.6.