With the Trail Blazers’ first Las Vegas Summer League game just one day away, we asked a couple of our own staff writers a few questions about what they expect from Portland’s squad over the course of the next two weeks. After a quiet start to free agency, Blazers fans finally have something to be excited about, so lets get into the discussion.
What do you want to see from Zach Collins in his first action as a member of the Trail Blazers?
Steve Dewald (@SteveDHoops): I know Summer League isn’t the place to watch defense, but Collins’ ability to produce early in his career will be directly tied to his defensive ability. A lack of depth behind Jusuf Nurkic left the Blazers helpless down the stretch last season, and the former Gonzaga standout has a chance to fill that void if he can stay out of foul trouble. Outside of protecting the paint, I am curious to see how Collins defends in space against NBA-caliber athletes. If he succeeds in corralling perimeter players, he could see some time at power forward next to Nurkic.
Offensively, I don’t have inflated expectations, as patience is key with post prospects when it comes to scoring. Collins attempted less than one 3-point shot per game as a freshman, but he managed to connect on 47.6 percent of those attempts. It would be nice to know if that percentage can hold up at a higher volume.
Brian Freeman (@BrianFreeman24): The NBA summer league is a non-ideal place to get a completely fair offensive evaluation of a rookie big man. Most games are combinations of guards over-shooting and guards over-driving. Because of this, I am most curious to see what the mental makeup of Collins is. In college, he was extremely confident and played with a bit of an edge. I would love to see that carry over. I want to see him demand the ball, glare at people, and show some toughness. I want him playing “too hard for just a summer league game.” Not only because you want to see every player play like that, but because he has shown that ability in the past. Most importantly, if he can carry that mindset over to the NBA, that may be the difference in his ability to help the Blazers this year.
I am also intrigued to watch Collins on the defensive side of the ball. I am still looking for that same toughness, but a little bit of lateral quickness would be great to see as well.
Let’s shift to Portland’s other first-round pick, what do you want to see from Caleb Swanigan in Las Vegas?
Steve: Lack of speed was one of the knocks on Swanigan coming into the NBA Draft, and Summer League will give the former Purdue standout a chance to combat those criticisms. The courts on UNLV’s campus can turn into track meets, so it will be interesting to see how the big fella deals with playing at a faster pace compared to the play in the Big Ten.
As far as numbers go, I’d like to see if Swanigan’s rebounding numbers stay consistent when facing taller opponents on a daily basis. If he can out-maneuver lengthier opponents in the paint with ease while in Las Vegas, he could fit nicely into coach Terry Stotts’ reserve rotation next season.
Brian: I agree with you on this one, Stevo. I want to see if he can control the boards and/or the paint. At 6’8.5” in shoes, Swanigan is never going to be the tallest man in the paint, but he has the strengths and tools to becomes a force down there anyway.
As I said about Collins, judging the offensive skill sets of big men on game one of the NBA Summer League is tough, but we will be able to see the rebounding prowess and ability to finish against NBA length. Those were the biggest questions about Swanigan entering the draft and I would love to see them answered in a positive way during summer league.
Which returning Blazer has more pressure on them to perform, Pat Connaughton or Jake Layman?
Steve: After the departure of Tim Quarterman, the Blazers will only have two players that suited up for them last season on their Las Vegas roster. This might be Connaughton’s last chance to showcase his skills with Portland with an expanded workload, making him the most likely to feel the pressure of the two.
Connaughton is the only contract that Portland has that is non-guaranteed next year, which puts him at a serious risk to be cut if the Blazers do add someone before the season starts. It might be time for Connaughton to start considering his baseball career if things don’t go well for him in Las Vegas.
Brian: The answer here is definitely Connaughton because of the reason you mentioned. His contract is non-guaranteed. That’s a red flag right there. I do think Connaughton is probably the better player at the moment and looked great last year in summer league. If Pat does get cut, he will still have opportunities in baseball and basketball, but he is basically playing for his future as a Blazer.
Is there anybody else on the roster that grabs your attention other than the four guys that have already been mentioned? Do you think any of them have a realistic chance of claiming a roster spot?
Steve: Jordan Adams is only three years removed from being a first round pick, and his career was derailed by injury, not by a lack of talent. He was a scoring force during his final year at UCLA, averaging 17.4 points per game, all while maintaining a solid 48.5 field goal percentage. He was stuck behind a veteran rotation in his first season with the Grizzlies, and a series of knee surgeries eventually led to his departure from Memphis.
He will turn 23 years old when the Blazers are in Las Vegas, so he still has plenty of time to prove himself worthy of a NBA roster spot if he is healthy.
Brian: R.J. Hunter. With full disclosure, it is mostly because of this:
But not only because of that. Hunter was a first round pick of the Boston Celtics in 2015 and never really got his chance at the NBA level. Hunter is a 6’5” guard with a nice shooting stroke. He averaged 18 points per game in the G-League last year on 35 percent 3-point shooting and over eight threes per game. He could be a fun prospect.
The Blazers begin Summer League competition against the Jazz on Saturday. Until then, let us know what you’re looking forward to seeing in the comments below.