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Talking Prospects With Chad Buchanan


In case you missed it on Friday, I put up a lengthy interview with Portland's Director of NBA Scouting Mike Born.  The interview took place at roughly the halfway point of Summer League and Born gave us his first-half impressions of each of the five potential Blazers.

This post is part two of what has turned into a three part series of conversations with Portland's scouting brain trust from Las Vegas.  Here, I chatted with Portland's Director of College Scouting Chad Buchanan immediately after Portland's victory in its fifth game of the week on Sunday afternoon. 

As I wrote last week, the idea with these interviews is very straightforward: a brain dump from one of the men tasked with evaluating and selecting future Trail Blazers.  

Once again, I've left the transcript pretty much unedited so you can get a sense for how Buchanan talks and responds to questions. We discuss each of the five key players -- Dante Cunningham, Jeff Pendergraph, Luke Babbitt, Patty Mills and Armon Johnson -- as well as a bunch of other topics, including who else might get an NBA training camp invite and where the team stands with its evaluation of Mills.

Going back through typing this up, I kept an eye out for when Buchanan agreed with Born and when the two scouts highlighted different aspects of a player's games. Putting those two evaluations side by side feels like a good window into how they make collaborative scouting decisions. It's important to note that with a larger body of work (having watched all five Summer League games rather than just two) Buchanan was a little bit more critical or detailed in his analysis of player shortcomings than Born might have been. But the two clearly share a goal of finding a fit based on what a player can do rather than panning what a player might not be able to do. 

Click through for the full transcript. It's another long one. I hope you enjoy.

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter

My questions are paraphrased and bolded.  Chad Buchanan's answers are in blockquote.

You already know I'm a big Dante Cunningham guy this week.  It feels like I'm not the only one this week.  Why is he drawing so much praise, what did he add to his game and what else is there for him to work on?

Dante stayed kind of in his zone for the most part, sticking to his strengths. Pick and pop, mid-range jumper, he did put it on the deck a little bit more, which I think he's trying to put it on the deck a little more which I think he's trying to add to his game.

I Still want to see him step out and shoot the corner three. Which is something we asked him to work on this offseason.  You didn't get to see much of that this week. I think that's the next step of his evolution, to be able to put it on the deck and shoot the NBA three.

His energy, his motor, his hustle was the heart of our team. Guys fed off of him and he was more vocal this week than he typically was during the season and that becomes part of his makeup. I think he's going to be a very valuable piece for us off the bench.

One thing that stood out today and on Thursday night is his off-ball defense and how hard he is working to deny his man position on defense early in possessions.

Yep, yep. He's great at fronting the post. He's a little undersized to guard some of those physical fours but he's got quickness, he's got more quickness than some of those guys so he can front them and get under their skin a little bit. He's got some versatility that he can guard a four or a three, he's very active.  You never see Dante standing still or feel like he's a step slow defensively, being in position. Because he's always anticipating, always reading the ball, I think he had a great week on both ends of the floor.

With Jeff Pendergraph I think there's been some disappointment among fans this week. What were his positives this week and how did he wind up doing compared to your expectations?

I think the positives for him is that he continues to be the battling, physical presence in the paint that we saw from him this season. I think he was looking to be more aggressive on the block with the ball. Obviously the results weren't as good as he or we probably wanted to see. But the fact that he's out there trying to expand his game is good because this is the time of year to do it.

Like I told you last night we're not going to be running plays for him on the block. He knows that and he knows that he's out there to play off of other guys. The more simple he keeps the game the better for him. This is the week where you step outside your box a little bit. I think you saw that from Jeff and you can see that he's probably, his ceiling, isn't as high as some of these other guys.

How close is he to his ceiling? Is he there? Is he nudging up against that ceiling like, "This is who he is"?

He's always going to be a dirty work, role player in our league. That's how coaches are going to utilize him. That's how he is going to best help the team win. He knows that, he understands that. But as a player you feel like you can add more and you want to try to add more and you should. You don't want to settle into who you are. I think Jeff is always going to be that guy off your bench who will provide some toughness, rebound his position, fight you defensively, keep it simple on offense.  

That's what we saw from him when we drafted him, that's what we saw during the season and we encourage him to improve in some of these areas offensively. And you saw him try to do it and it's a challenge for guys if you've never been a low post go-to guy, which Jeff never really was, you don't just develop that overnight in one offseason.

He's getting in foul trouble, especially earlier this week and his fouls per 48 minutes were pretty high during the year. I see some of that as match-ups because he's kind of stuck between being a 4 and being a 5. Are the fouls an issue resulting from problems with his defensive fundamentals or something else?  And then what are you trying to focus on with him: his hands, his feet, positioning...  ?

Jeff is very quick off the floor vertically but if he's not down in his stance he can not be as quick as he needs to be laterally. That's when you see him get in trouble position-wise. He picks up a foul here and there. Jeff also knows he's going to be playing limited minutes so he's going to make his presence felt. Defensively that's where you see him get in some foul trouble, picking up some fouls where he's not moving his feet, or he's just chugging a guy, knocking a guy, that's part of his game. He wants to establish his presence.  Some of those fouls are done with a purpose, to let people know, no easy buckets.

If he can improve his lateral quickness it will help him defensively, especially defending the pick and rolls. He's always been great at rebounding his area and the more you can improve laterally the more you're going to get boards out of your area.  He's always a smart position defender but sometimes his feet don't let him get to where he needs to get to. That's an area he's focusing on this summer too. I think he's always going to be a physical paint defender, that's ultimately what he is.

When you look at Luke Babbitt, if he had tonight's performance during the first game of the Summer League everyone might have been hyping him up as a big star in Las Vegas.  It seems like he started off slow this week, gets into his own head a little bit, settled down tonight and has a great shooting night. Is tonight something he can build off of and what do you make of his earlier struggles?

We told Luke early on, even before the first game, that we just want to see you get better with each game, we want to see progression because it's going to be an adjustment for Armon Johnson, him, those rookies. It's adjustments getting thrown out here with pros and NBA players. We just told him that we need to see some progression from you. I think we saw that. Settling in to when to shoot and when to pass was what he had trouble with early on and I think you saw him the last two games settling into when do I look for mine and when do I swing the ball and when do I penetrate and get another guy a shot.

You can just see his confidence. We always say don't let your head get in the way of your feet. If you start thinking too much about what you want to do or try to do, it slows you down. You've just got to react. Luke is a smart, intelligent player. Just telling him: react to what the defense gives you. Stay aggressive, you're a good shooter, you're going to make shots. I think Luke is very hard on himself which is a good trait to have because he expects a lot out of himself. He finished the week strong but I'm sure he would tell you he has a lot of work to do. Which he does. He's the type of kid, he's going to put in the work. He got a little taste of it this week and until you get into an NBA training camp, though, it's still going to be an adjustment. He got a feel for some areas that he needs to address.

Positionally are we pretty sure he's a three now?

Yeah. I think it's going to have to be a very certain match-up for him to play at four. There are not many backup fours that he would match-up with. He's skilled enough and shoots well enough to be a three though.

What skills has he been able to transition to the Summer League level this week?

His midrange game was his bread and butter in college and he didn't have a lot of success with that this week. But the one thing about Luke is that he understands spacing on the floor which for a shooter you've got to have that. You've got to understand how much separation do I need to have from the ball, or from my man, or from my teammate to get myself in position to force that defender to make a decision. Luke has really picked that up.

If you watched him today he knew when to space himself away from Patty or from Armon and I think that's a skill that will translate for him getting shots because he's always been so used to playing with the ball in his hands, where he's going to break down guys off the dribble and now he's learning to play without the ball and get into a position where he can catch and shoot it. He's going to have guys around him who will get him opportunities. He's got a post up game that I think we will utilize here going forward.

He's a sneaky offensive rebounder too. He gets in there, has the quick put-back, good touch.

He is. He is.

I think he's going to be a spread three but he's going to be a guy you can isolate on the block. If he has a smaller three on him, he played a lot of back to the basket in high school, he did a little in college. So he's got a feel for how to play down there. We saw tonight he had a little back to the basket move. I think that's an area of his game that we'll try to cultivate and then defensively I thought he improved as the week went on.  

He's still learning.Part of it is that he doesn't know that Morris Almond, for example, has a quick trigger and can catch-and-shoot and just needs a little space. Part of it is learning the personnel and tendencies and that kind of goes back to his basketball IQ. He'll pick that up quickly. He's going to have to learn to guard the dribble. Guys are going to try to attack him off the bounce. That's something he's going to have to adjust to. When to give a guy space, if he's an attacker, when to get up under guys, when to give them less room on help if its a shooter, that's just part of learning your opponents and learning the NBA game. He's too smart of a kid to not pick it up.

How far away is he from really contributing? Or, how many minutes can you foresee him playing this year?

I think Luke is capable of contributing right away. I think his shooting, if you put him out on the floor with Jerryd, a guy who needs some room to do what he does, I think he's going to be a viable guy off of our bench. He's not ready to step in and play major minutes but he's a guy that you're going to see gradually build and figure things out, figure out his teammates, figure out his position and see his role grow and grow more and more as the season progresses and over his first couple of years.  

I don't expect him to come in day 1 and play 20-25 minutes. I don't think Luke expects that he either, he knows he has a learning curve ahead of him. Guys with his intelligence and ability to shoot the ball tend to find a way onto the floor. As long as he's making shots, which I think he will, he's going to find some minutes for us. 

With Armon Johnson we've written a lot about his strengths this week. He had a very impressive week. What were some things that made you raise your eyebrows?

I would say that maybe raised our eyebrows was how and when he passed the ball. He's better in pick and roll. They didn't run a ton of it in Nevada for us to see that skill. We thought he could do it because he has the size and strength with the ball in his hands to get to spots you need to get to in a pick and roll situation. I think his passing off of that -- he's one of those guys as a point guard it's the most important trait to be successful in this league, to be able to play with your head up and the ball in your hands. Armon can do that. He's confident with the ball, he's strong with it. His vision coming off of the pick and roll was better than we anticipated it being.

Looking at other things he did well, I thought he defended multiple positions, he defended ones and twos, did a great job on both positions. I think his shot selection was very good for the most part. I didn't feel like he forced a whole lot. He's a great finisher. In college he could overpower guys around the hole, smaller guards, and that was one thing you felt like was going to translate. It did here. Let's see if it can translate against NBA guards.  

Weaknesses for him... obviously he's got to become more of a threat to shoot the ball with some range. Otherwise, if you're not a threat to shoot it, guys are going to go under the ball screen on pick and rolls and now you've got less room to operate with if you're an attacker like he is. That's the one thing for him that will dictate how high of a ceiling he reaches in our league. 

What is his ceiling?

I think he has the potential to be a very, very good backup point guard in our league. In the right situation he could blossom into a starting point guard. It's all going to be dictated by his shooting. I think you look at a guy like Eric Snow, Greg Anthony was a better shooter coming out. Those kind of guys. I think Eric Snow is a pretty good comp. He's kind of a physical guard who could run your team and play pick and roll. He defended his position, competed, was tough. Was never really a guy who you worried about him beating you necessarily. He's going to be a piece to help beat you he's not going to be a guy that teams are going to scheme to defend.

We talked about that if his shooting every developed could he become a Derek Fisher type of player down the road. Derek obviously developed into a tremendous shooter and that's something that goes back to Armon's ceiling. It will be determined by his jumper and he knows that too.

Now that Summer League is over where does Patty Mills stand in relation to making the team and what did you see from him this week?

Where he's at right now is that we will scout him in at the World Championships in Turkey. Another team could come in and make an offer on him right now and we would have the rights to match it or not match it. He could take the route -- if he doesn't get an offer from another team -- we could tender him a partial guarantee, a non-guarantee, anything along those lines. Where if he decides that I didn't get an offer from the Blazers but I want to try to make the team, and we offer him that type of situation where he comes in and tries to make our team, he could go that route if he really wants to be with us. Or he could try, another team might come in and offer him something that we decide we're not going to match. It could go that route.

This was a good chance for us to see him play a lot of minutes this week and obviously we're looking at both him and Armon. There are scenarios where we keep both of them too. I think it's something that we'll sit down as a staff this week and talk a lot about how both of those guys played because they both had bright moments this week. Patty can shoot the ball, we know what he is as a kid. We really like him as a person. Our players like him, our coaches like him, he's good for our locker room. He and Armon are very different players. It's a matter of our coaches feeling comfortable with what do they want from that spot.

How big are the differences of opinion on Armon and Patty when you guys are sitting down as a staff talking about those two players? Are you guys pretty much on the same page with how you see them fitting in or are there advocates one way or the other?

I think it kind of depends on all of us. We have different tastes in players so that draws you to one player over another. But then you also have to factor in how do they fit in with our team. Forget about what your individual taste is and what you like. Which guy fits in best with our team. Like I said, maybe it's both of them. There's a possibility of that as well. I think this week both of those guys had moments where they really made statements to us. Like, I'm good enough to be what you want or need me to be.  I think we've all kind of settled into somewhat of a direction but we still need to sit down and discuss it as a group.

What did you make of Patty's turnovers... carelessness, doing too much?

Patty is kind of offensive minded and his turnovers were kind of stationary turnovers where he's not really looking to score the ball. Where guys pressured him and he kind of fumbles the ball or a guy picks his pocket. That's a guy who has always been an attacker. When you're not asked to attack, that's a different skill to be able to hold your ground and position on the floor where you need to be if you're spacing, handle a guy who is pressuring you and being physical with you. That's where a lot of his turnovers came from and he took some risks today. A couple of passes.

Patty and Armon are different guys. Armon is a facilitator, run your team, defend, physical tough guard. Patty is a give you some offense, give you some shooting, he's going to try to push the tempo for you. I think Patty probably felt like the first half today was one of his worst halfs of the week. The one thing about him is that he never loses faith in himself. He never hangs his head. He keeps shooting the ball when he's open. That's critical for the maturity of a point guard and a player in general, to not begin to doubt yourself.  You need that stability and consistency. As a coach that's what you want. You want to know what you're going to get every time in practice and in games and in the locker room. You want consistency and Patty has always given us that.

Is there anyone else on this team that you might invite to training camp or who you think has a chance to make a training camp somewhere?

We're open. There's a couple of guys. I thought Ekene Ibekwe played well. I think he's on the border of being an NBA roster player. He can block shots, he did a great job on the glass tonight. He keeps it simple on offense. It's those guys that are kind of lick 13th, 14th, 15th men that figure out what they do and not try to do anything more. To be really good at one or two things. I think Ekene has figured that out. 

I thought a couple of guys played well for us. Mike Green. He didn't get as many opportunities but he's a heck of a point guard. Reyshawn Terry has really improved since he came out of college. Joe Krabbenhoft -- talk about consistency.  You know what you're going to get from him every night up until the last 45 seconds of Summer League he's going to make you earn everything.

I thought Mike Born put together an excellent team and Kaleb Canales did an excellent job of coaching them. It was just a fun group to be around for all of us and guys played for the right reason. That goes back to Kaleb -- he did a tremendous job of getting guys to accept their role and buy into the team. Dante and Jeff and Patty provided the player leadership. But there's definitely some guys that were on our team that should be in NBA training camps.

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter