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Revelations from Summer League: Swanigan Shines, Layman Struggles for Blazers

With Pat Connaughton and Zach Collins ailing, Portland got an extended look at the remainder of their roster against San Antonio. With one exception, it wasn’t pretty.

The Portland Trail Blazers lost their second straight contest in the Las Vegas Summer League on Tuesday, this time to a group of scrappy youngsters from the San Antonio Spurs. Taking in all the action from UNLV’s Cox Pavilion was Blazer’s Edge writer Steve Dewald. Here are his observations from Portland's defeat.

Perimeter defense rears its ugly head

The Spurs built a considerable first half lead leaning on efficient 3-point shooting: 46.7% from the arc before intermission. In the observations from the Sunday's contest, we noted that Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan looked competent moving laterally in single coverage on the perimeter. The Spurs forced Portland bigs to rotate against open shooters today and the results were mixed. Both Collins and Swanigan were a step late closing out; they still have to work on screen switching.

Portland’s wings had a different issue: they couldn’t stop penetration. Jake Layman, Nick Johnson, Jorge Gutierrez, and R.J. Hunter all took turns trying to contain Bryn Forbes, failing multiple times. Forbes scored 35 points in 34 minutes, a 2017 Summer League high.

After Collins departed the game due to injury, poor perimeter defense left Swanigan on an island down low against all comers. On one drive, Johnson allowed Forbes to get by him at the top of the arc, forcing Swanigan to shift under the basket. The rookie did his job, staying with his man until the last moment, sliding over to cover at the rim, altering the shot while staying vertical to avoid being whistled for a foul. Unfortunately, that near-perfect sequence ended with Swanigan’s man getting an uncontested put-back. Even when they won, they lost.

Swanigan shows off his offensive skills

Portland’s rookie from Purdue once again proved the brightest spot on the roster. “Biggie” brought out all his weapons against the Spurs. He corralled five offensive rebounds while matched up against the larger Shayne Whittington. After two games shooting fadeaway jumpers in the post, Swanigan completed a back-to-the-basket finish with a true power move. He converted on two beautifully-executed pick-and-pop plays. the most impressive at the top of the arc, where he set a hard pick then buried a fluid 3-pointer.

Layman struggles to adapt

After Collins and Pat Connaughton left the game in the second quarter, Jake Layman had to play out of position. Facing smaller defenders, Layman couldn't free himself on the perimeter. Against inside men, he struggled to convert through collision and contact.

Layman was able to complete another highlight-worthy dunk:

That pretty play leavened a 1-9 shooting performance from the field with three rebounds, three turnovers, and five personal fouls. Leaning hard on Summer League stats is a mistake, but Layman’s lack of versatility in this game was concerning. The mismatches went the wrong way.

After Tuesday's loss to the Spurs, the Trail Blazers are guaranteed to play in at least one more contest in Vegas. We’ll bring you the announcement when the schedule is announced.