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Caleb Swanigan Impresses on Defense, Proving His “Steal” Label

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After a Summer League that saw him dominate on offense, it’s Swanigan’s defense that’s catching eyes.

NBA: Preseason-Toronto Raptors at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

In college, Caleb Swanigan saw himself losing out on crunch-time minutes because of his inability to guard, so he worked to get better. That improved defensive ability has translated to the highest of levels, according to head coach Terry Stotts (via David Woods of the Indy Star):

“He’s pretty advanced, particularly defensively,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “Even though I knew he was a scorer and rebounder, he has a good basketball IQ. He’s made an impression on everybody.

He is a rookie. He needs to get better. Just like a lot of young players, he has a lot of room to grow.”

Swanigan returned to his home state of Indiana last Friday when the Blazers played the Pacers, and the forward finished with two points in nine minutes. He’s not too worried about his playing time:

“Getting into an NBA game as a rookie is a good starting point for anybody,” Swanigan said. “There’s a lot of guys now trying to fight to get in the league. There’s a lot of guys on the brink, and a lot of guys who did not play.”

For the season, he’s averaging five points, four rebounds and two assists per game. And he’s learning under one the best mentors in the league in Damian Lillard.

Teammate Noah Vonleh, who played at nearby Indiana University, watched Swanigan at Purdue and already considers him a “steal”:

“He ended up slipping in the draft. We ended up getting a steal in him,” Vonleh said. “I think he’s way beyond his years. He knows the game pretty well. He’s adjusted to the NBA style pretty fast. He’s knowing our coverages, knowing our plays. I feel like he’s always one step ahead.”

Higher-profile rookies like Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr. and De’Aaron Fox have hoarded the buzz (and rightfully so). But Swanigan is coming into a team that’s made the playoffs recently—cough, cough Lakers and Kings—so minutes won’t always be there in plenty.

He’s still enjoying his experience, and he’s bringing it whenever he does get on the court.

“Getting paid to have fun,” he said. “I hope that never stops.”