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Five Things We Learned About The Blazers From Las Vegas Summer League

What conclusions can be drawn from the Portland Trail Blazers' five games in Las Vegas?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Friday night was the last Portland Trail Blazers basketball game we'll see until the NBA's annual three-month hibernation is over.

So, with that in mind, here are five things to take from the team's 2-3 record in this year's Las Vegas Summer League:

1. The C.J. McCollum/Will Barton battle is a real one

Though McCollum and Barton are two very different players -- C.J. smoother, Thrill more athletic -- there seems to be a brewing battle between the two that continued in Las Vegas. Though not necessarily intentional, there are going to be some serious questions as to who should deserve playing time as a backcourt backup.

There are two main layers to this conversation. For starters, it's more than likely that Steve Blake is a guy that's going to get playing time in the upcoming season. Though signing a small deal, Blake is a guy that can knock down open threes (which is critical to Portland's offense succeeding) and generally doesn't make huge mistakes. He's limited in a number of ways -- mostly age-induced -- but his presence on the floor could be important to the team's development.

The second layer revolves around working with Blake. Not only is he going to take minutes away from McCollum and Barton, but Blake will also need to fit with whomever is his running mate. Or, C.J. and Thrill may need to fit with Blake, depending on how Terry Stotts runs his rotation. Either way, this will be a battle to watch over the summer.

2. Meyers Leonard still has some work to do

If we learned anything from this Summer League, it's that Meyers Leonard still doesn't look ready to contribute. And it starts to beg the question: Will he ever be?

There are a few things that are really working against Leonard in this situation. First, the lottery pick from a few years back went from starting in a few games during his rookie year to only nabbing garbage minutes last season. The games in Vegas didn't exactly make a strong statement in his favor either. Realistically, Leonard needs to some level of progress before he is ready to contribute at a high level.

The second issue is one of roster makeup. Though the old saying goes, "You can never have too many big men," the reality is that Portland has a number of bigs in front of Leonard, including his Summer League running mates Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland, plus newly-acquired big man Chris Kaman (more on this later). It would be tough for Leonard to get minutes on most teams, but in Portland it's going to be even harder.

He doesn't seem ready for the speed of the game and is still a project. Thus, the bleak future of Leonard in Portland is obviously a major takeaway from Vegas.

3. This team is still really young

Let's face it: At least three, if not four players we watched in Summer League are likely to be rotation players for the Trail Blazers. Between Robinson, Freeland, Barton, McCollum and potentially Leonard, these are all guys that should get some run come the regular season.

That's a lot, especially on a team that just made it to the conference semifinals.

Neil Olshey addressed some of this in the offseason when he signed Blake and Kaman. But even though those two will bolster a starting unit that gained a ton of valuable postseason experience last year, there's still some development that needs to occur. It's for this reason that you can't entirely rule out Leonard from making some sort of contribution to this team.

Needless to say, whoever can develop the quickest will get the playing time. The question will be whether there will be much regard to the respective ceilings of those players. Judging from last season, it likely won't be much, which bodes well for Freeland and Robinson.

4. Frontcourt minutes will be difficult to manage

If you didn't think it was obvious by the earlier part of this story, it should be now: if you're a big on the Blazers that isn't named LaMarcus Aldridge or Robin Lopez, you're going to really earn your minutes. Between Robinson, Kaman, Freeland and Leonard, there could be as many as one or maybe two guys that are actually going to get regular playing time.

This isn't a bad thing at all. In fact, having this many big men is a huge luxury for the Blazers. The problem is, each has significant downfalls. Robinson continued to show the tremendous athleticism and upside he possesses in Las Vegas, yet still made head-scratching mistakes. Freeland seemed to be the most polished of the Summer Leaguers, but doesn't have near the flash of his counterparts. Leonard is athletic and doesn't know what to do with it. And Kaman is an unknown quantity, given his health questions and the fact that he's new to the team, even as a vet.

Blazers coaches are going to have some big decisions to make in the fall. All four of the available big men have different skills and issues. Summer League may have ruled out Leonard, but the other two continue to stay firmly in the conversation for playing time.

5. You can't win big in Summer League, but you can lose big

This is probably the most important takeaway from Vegas this year: you can't play yourself into the rotation come October, but you could potentially play yourself out of it. At the very least, what happened in Summer League added a lot more questions than answers.

The biggest reflection of this was after the Trail Blazers were pummeled by Atlanta in their second-to-last game. Coach David Vanterpool didn't hold back in his post-game comments, saying he "didn't see respect for the game." That's about as critical as you can get.

Thus is the theme of Summer League: it's difficult to remember the highest points of the tournament, but the bad moments stick out like a sore thumb. Yes, people will remember the acrobatic plays that Will Barton made, but that might be the only positive thing that'll stick. What about the times that Thomas Robinson had a great box out to get a rebound? Or when Joel Freeland set a great screen to free McCollum? Maybe when Will Barton made the extra pass instead of taking a shot himself? Unlikely you remember that.

But the times when you cringed after air balls, errant passes out of bounds and a plethora of defensive miscues? Those are hard to forget.

In short, just like at the Vegas slots, it difficult to win big, but losing can come in a hurry.

This year's Summer League wasn't nearly as anticipated for the Blazers as others have been in recent years. With no new draft picks (and the shadow of names like Wiggins and Parker), this was an opportunity for guys that didn't get much time during the NBA season to show how their games improved -- and how they could potentially help the Blazers' effort to make another playoff run.

In the end, as was maybe expected, it seems like the team left with more questions than answers.