Expectations in Portland are high for Trail Blazers rookies Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, with many fans calling for them to play early and often. Swanigan, especially, caught the eyes of his audience with breakout summer league campaign while Collins sat with injury. The two will surely have opportunities to prove themselves in the coming season, but President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey joined Trail Blazers studio analyst Michael Holton on the phone to warn that, although talented players, Collins and Swanigan will have to earn their court time like everyone else.
“Look, both Caleb and Zach are going to be very, very good players in this league. It’s why we drafted them; it’s why we moved up to get Zach Collins. You know, it’s not a matter of if, it’s when. But, like I said, right now, as you pointed out, Michael, we have Jusuf Nurkic, who’s a franchise center; we have Ed Davis coming back, Meyers [Leonard] is a vet, Noah [Vonleh] is going to be back—hopefully by week two of the regular season—who finished really strong, and we’ve had great lineups with Farouq [Aminu] at four as well.
“So, I think the positive is that, one, these guys are going to be on a team that wins, which is huge in the league, you know, to experience winning as soon as possible, and they’re also going to have to earn their minutes because we’re trying to win games. We’re not strictly in a development mode. I think Zach is in a very similar position to CJ [McCollum] in that, while we drafted him tenth, which would normally indicate a lottery rebuilding team that’s in a youth mode, he’s really joining a team that’s been in the playoffs four consecutive years that’s looking to win and advance and be a factor in the playoffs. So, the opportunity isn’t just given to him, it’s going to have to be earned.”
Portland’s plethora of midlevel frontcourt players should provide just enough room for the rookies to get some run, but don’t expect them to be go-to rotation players right away. Both Olshey and head coach Terry Stotts were careful to temper expectations at Media Day last week, saying that development will happen behind the scenes before opportunities arise.