Key #1: Defensive Improvements
A lack of quality defense has plagued Portland for years. It finally looks like they have a defensive identity. Portland’s defense is incredibly versatile with Jerami Grant, Josh Hart, and Justice Winslow being three high-quality defenders. These players can guard multiple positions and cover up for some of the defensive shortcomings that Lillard and Simons may have.
Portland put their new defensive abilities on display on opening night when they clinched the game with a small ball lineup of Lillard, Simons, Hart, Grant, and Winslow. They had Winslow guarding Domantas Sabonis, and he proved to be more than capable of guarding the bigger post player.
Jusuf Nurkic is a capable post defender, but he has a tendency to foul, and Portland has no proven centers behind him. Having guys that can guard bigger opponents will be key when Nurkic heads to the bench.
Along with the newfound versatility, Portland is playing defense with tremendous intensity. A lot of this can be credited to the infectious energy Josh Hart plays with. Hart has established himself as one of the best hustle players in the league– 10.3 rebounds per game and he’s only 6’5!
The defense isn’t perfect, particularly in guarding the pick and roll, but this Portland team is showing some real promise on that end of the floor. The defense should also get a boost when Gary Payton II gets healthy and makes his Blazer debut.