I’ve never been one to put much stock in the public comments of coaches or players or general managers. That said, the importance of “scrap” in Nate’s vocabulary is significant enough to merit more attention. The problem here seems to be that Nate already has his team of “scrappers.” “Scrap” just isn’t important enough to make an NBA team’s defense good.
The Blazers are scrappy
From an eye-test perspective, a team that pays a guy 35 million over 5 years for appearing scrappy while allowing a ton of points better look scrappy. Indeed, the Blazers do generally have a lot of scrappy triers. Andre Miller in his time was an old guy overachiever relying on veteran smarts to produce the best he could. Marcus Camby and Rudy Fernandez… who could have been more scrappy than that!?!? Flopping and active and all that.
Scrap is hard to measure, but the best we can probably do in terms of measuring it is something like hustle-board stats. Offensive rebounds, turnovers forced, having Patty Mills on your team. By these measures, the Blazers are very, very scrappy. Their offensive rebounding prowess is legendary dating back to the Oden-Prz (both healthy) season, and they’ve remained strong in that area, rating 3rd despite fairly sub-optimal personnel in that category.
As far as turnovers forced, Nate and Bob Ociepka’s SOS strategy seems to pretty much have the intended effect. The Blazers rated 2nd in turnovers forced. They also drew nearly twice as many offensive fouls as they committed. I think everyone would agree that drawing a charge is the scrappiest of scrappy plays. That’s why college referees allow a defender to draw a charge while moving!
Scrappiness isn’t enough?
Despite all this scrap (and scrap should help more on defense than offense, right?) the Blazers have pretty much stagnated in the middle of the NBA in defensive rating. And for a playoff team, “middle of the NBA” is really pretty bad, since a variety of teams like the Warriors and Wolves don’t really try on defense.
Part of this, I think, is down to the fundamental flaw of prioritizing turnovers over a solid defensive scheme (I know AK is all over this). Forcing turnovers is only 25% of defense. It’s true that a team can expend additional effort, or create a scheme that both does a good job creating turnovers and forces difficult shots. However, in the Blazers’ case that’s not happening. The Blazers were well below average in effective field goal percentage allowed, ahead of only the Knicks among playoff teams.
It’s not clear that the Blazers would definitely be a very good eFG defense team if they deemphasized turnovers. Before 2010-11, the team was worse at forcing turnovers, but not significantly better at eFG defense.
In any case though, the continuing emphasis on “scrap” is both a hilarious and mockable cliche and a worrisome commitment to a flawed outlook on defensive strategy. Does Nate seriously just think that more hustle and scrap will bridge the gap between the Blazers and the competent playoff defenses in Boston, Milwaukee, Philly and Los Angeles? His inaction on anything related to field goal defense along with his public comments sadly indicate that’s the case. With this scheme, and this coaching staff, it’s likely the defense will hold back the team from greater aspirations no matter how excellent the personnel. Emphasizing 25% of the game over 40% is just no way to run a railroad.