I'm back from Las Vegas, Summer League, and a short vacation. I'm way behind on my inbox questions so this will be Mailbag week here at Blazer's Edge. Let us begin!
You have said that wins and losses don't matter in summer league but you can still color me disappointed that the Blazers didn't win more games this year. Seeing our performance in Vegas worried me. Am I wrong in worrying that our rookies couldn't beat other teams rookies? What does that say about the growth of the team?
I don't think you need to worry but you do need to be realistic. Wins and losses don't matter but it's probably fair to expect more out of this group than they ended up showing. You know the deal with most Summer League teams. They field one or two first-round draft picks or sophomore prospects, maybe a couple lower-rotation guys, and a whole bunch of players just trying to make it in the league. The Blazers played seven guys who will make the roster this year. At least three of those will be expected to play key reserve roles. Two of them, C.J. McCollum and Meyers Leonard, look to be linchpins for the future.
Most of Portland's Summer League participants showed something individually...flashes of qualities that endeared them to the Blazers. But every one of them is a work in progress, and by "in progress" we're talking a couple years minimum to settle in, if they ever do. McCollum was the standout but he'll have to adjust his game to NBA players.. He's not going to be a quick fit unless you just toss him the rock and say, "Score!" Leonard's improvement was evident, but incremental. Robinson can rebound but has a long way to go in every other aspect of his game. Freeland, Claver, and Barton are what they are. Added together they don't equate to a revolutionary bunch. They're not bad, but they're young, somewhat limited, and we're going to spend the next season watching them play through mistakes.
Collectively Portland's youngsters tended towards vanilla with the occasional sprinkled dunk or three-pointer. Some of the players you'd expect to be the most energized were the last down the court on multiple occasions. The team communicated for a while but then stopped talking and executing the basis when the opposition got tough or attention spans waned. Perhaps it was a function of players already knowing they'd made the team versus hungrier guys but other teams played harder, committed for longer. It's not like the Blazers were less experienced or hadn't played as long together. Hopefully they weren't less talented either. They just lacked that "grab the moment" vibe, individually and as a team. The main team gets that way sometimes as well...a little too white collar, riding with it a little too much, viewing scoring as the means to success instead of a complete game.
I wasn't disappointed in the Summer League performance, let alone the win-loss record. I just didn't see anything that would convince me that the short-term fortunes of the team will turn around based on these players. They're in the middle...not worrisome but not that exciting either.
How concerned should the Blazers be about McCollum's ability to run the backup PG position next year? While there have been many bright spots to his play, it seems when he gets pressured that there is cause for concern.
Again, he's a work in progress. McCollum's ability to get off a shot with little daylight off a screen is impressive. So is his confidence shooting. Those two aspects practically ensure that he's going to find a spot in this league. Anything guarded off the dribble will be more suspect. Plenty of folks have commented on his issues with play-making and court vision, but some of that will develop.
McCollum will have to figure out how and when he can score consistently outside of screens. Just as importantly, the Blazers are going to have to figure out how and when to use him. He's not an automatic backup point. He is a fine backup two-guard but his minutes will depend on understanding the game and not getting blown away on defense. At first they're going to need to choose his spots as much as he'll have to choose his shots. Hopefully the menu will expand for him and the team as his career progresses. Just don't expect him to be an instant fit at point guard or an instant starter at the two.
I read John Canzano saying Meyers Leonard would be a star someday. I don't see it based on his play so far in the season and Summer league. What's your call? How do you see Meyers fitting in?
I think Canzano is creating a little bit of a false dichotomy, shuffling people into two camps ("stiff or star") regarding Leonard. I don't believe he's one or the other. It depends on what side of the court you're watching.
Every time I see Leonard on the offensive end I'm surprised by his soft touch, his passing ability, the way he makes himself available to receive passes as well. His post game needs work. He needs some help with fundamentals. But dang, this kid can put it in the basket in some tricky ways for a 7-footer. He's not going to get shots blocked. He's going to be a threat out to the 18-20 foot range before his career is through. He's not going to be a 20-point per game guy but there's untapped potential there. If you want to stretch that to "star", well, his offense will be good enough to put him in conversation with the good offensive centers in this league. That's how he's going to make his money.
As we've chronicled, he tends more towards "stiff" defensively. But that's an unfair label the same way "star" isn't quite right on the offensive end. He's not dogging it out there most plays. He's seeing the floor and trying to get in the right position. He just can't close the deal when he gets there. He intimidates nobody. His best move is the foul. Guys who start like that seldom develop into lockdown defenders.
The league has plenty of offensively-oriented guys. It's just rarer at center nowadays, as there are few gifted offensive pivots. Fives are expected to cover for power forwards and point guards, many of whom play poor defense but make up for it with flashy scoring. Leonard will be that rare bird who scores as a center and needs someone around him to pick up the defense and rebounding.
How well that will serve the Blazers depends on how they build from here. He won't be good enough to anchor the team around. It's not like you can get a couple of defensive-minded, rebound-heavy forwards and call it good. But he could be a nice piece, probably along with a defensive center on the roster, if the team needs a little extra scoring punch. If they go all scorers and no defense at the smaller positions, though, that's a tougher sell.
As for Canzano's assertion that Leonard could start a playoff game for the Blazers...sure, I believe it, especially if he has the right backup behind him. But that's not a high bar. Kendrick Perkins starts playoff games for the Thunder. Plenty of low seeds get along without dominant centers. It remains to be seen whether the Blazers can cover for Leonard's weaknesses enough to carry them through a deeper playoff run.
I love T-Rob's board work. Tell me this guy is going to be a star as promised in the draft!
As I've said repeatedly, I love his board work too. I love watching him trace and chase the ball. He has a gift there.
I'd like to see Robinson as a Jerome Kersey kind of guy: tough, energetic, bending games with his hustle. I think that take-no-prisoners attitude would maximize his gifts and disguise his weaknesses. Unfortunately I don't see that in him yet. I see a guy who thinks a little too much about getting in his offense, who doesn't have the fundamentals or skill to get good shots, who really doesn't even have a go-to move to justify that approach. I also see a guy who hustles more as he's fed the ball more instead of hustling first in order to get his opportunities. I don't foresee that working for him.
He needs growth in three ways before we can even project him being reliable, let alone a star. He has to develop his fundamentals, read the game better, and commit to contributing no matter what's going on around him so that he's shaping the game instead of being shaped by it. Those things are possible, but it's a long way to go from here. For now he's a rebounder. That's his start. We'll see what kind of career he can build on it.
Keep those questions coming to the e-mail address below. More tomorrow and all week!