The Portland Trail Blazers have seemingly found a diamond in the rough with Caleb Swanigan, the 26th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft out of Purdue. The power forward has appeared in 13 games thus far, including three starts. He has also greatly outperformed the team’s other rookie, 10th overall selection Zach Collins. But how do his numbers compare to the other 24 first rounders who have appeared in at least three games this season? On the surface, the stats aren’t anything special, but when you dig a little deeper, they indicate that he more than holds his own.
*Stats as of November 20th
As you can see, through November 20th the Indianapolis native ranked near the bottom of first rounders in minutes played per game, with 10.4. The Lakers’ Lonzo Ball ranked first in the category, tripling Swanigan’s minutes. With the crowded Blazers front court, this is no surprise, but does help explain his underwhelming traditional stat line. He is averaging three rebounds a night, tied with De’Aaron Fox for 11th among first rounders, and ahead of the 22nd pick Jarrett Allen of the Nets, among others. This is especially impressive considering that Allen averages nearly four more minutes a game. The Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen leads the category.
Scoring-wise, Swanigan isn’t doing much, ranking 20th among the first rounders with just under three points per game, behind fellow big men Allen and Bam Adebayo, the 14th overall pick by the Heat. Kyle Kuzma, who was drafted one spot behind Swanigan, is the surprise first round scoring leader.
Caleb is also near the bottom in field goal percentage, shooting just over 34%, right behind the Hornets Malik Monk, the 11th pick in the draft. Biggie does rank above the top two picks in the draft, Markelle Fultz and Ball, though Fultz has been limited to just four games due to injury. The Hawks’ John Collins leads first rounders with an impressive 57% field goal percentage. The rookie’s PER of 7.29 is comparable to lottery picks Josh Jackson and Monk, and is ahead of Justin Jackson, whom the Blazers originally drafted at 15th overall. Kuzma also leads first rounders in PER.
While these numbers are all fairly pedestrian, where Swanigan stands out is on the defensive end of the court. Swanigan is tied for seventh among first rounders who have played at least 10 games with a defensive rating of 101.9. That ranks ahead of players like Donovan Mitchell, Kuzma, John Collins, Monk, and Adebayo. Caleb has recorded just three blocks on the season, but remains active on the defensive end, so there is room for his shot blocking to improve as the season progresses.
When looking at these numbers, it is important to remember that the big man’s minutes aren’t comparable to most of the lottery picks, so it’s not fair to look at a guy like Josh Jackson (averaging about nine points and four rebounds) and say that he’s having a better season, because Jackson is averaging twice as many minutes a night. When considering Caleb’s edge on Jackson at the defensive end, you could actually make the case that Swanigan is having the better season. Considering Jackson was picked fourth and Swanigan 26th, that’s quite impressive.
Overall, Swanigan isn’t in the running for rookie of the year, and likely won’t be. However, he is plugging away and performing admirably, especially for being such a late pick. He has been better defensively than many of this year’s lottery picks, and while he has work to do on the offensive end, he has likely exceeded expectations normally reserved for a late first round pick. While he has recently fallen out of the rotation His hustle and aggression have made him a fan favorite amongst Blazers fans, and could lead to more minutes in the near future.