The Portland Trail Blazers dropped Game 2 of the NBA Summer League tournament today against Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics. In this competition, though, final scores pale in comparison to lessons learned about Portland players, especially first-round picks Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan. Blazer’s Edge writers Brian Freeman and Steve Dewald sat courtside in Las Vegas today to cover that angle. Here are their biggest takeaways from Game 2.
The first-rounders look like capable defenders
Brian: One of the biggest questions after the draft was whether Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins were strictly centers or if they had the mobility to line up defensively against NBA power forwards. So far the signs are good. As of my count, Swanigan has only been taken off the dribble once. Collins got shaken after being attacked on a pick and roll. Other than that, their perimeter defense has been a huge positive.
Swanigan is huge, but when he picks up the ball on the perimeter, he sits his enormous frame down in a proper defensive position, gets his butt down, and moves his feet well. Consequently, he stays parallel to the driver, keeping his hands back and absorbing blows with his massive chest. Not many players in the NBA are going to be able to move him with his center of gravity so low.
Steve: I am in complete agreement with that! Swanigan halted Jayson Tatum’s routine drives to the basket today, which is impressive considering Tatum’s gifts on offense.
Brian: How about Collins? He does not have the low center of gravity that Swanigan does, but he’s able to corral guards and then use his timing and length to contest any attempts toward the rim. He’s posted six blocks through the first two games. His ability to interrupt passing lanes is also impressive. His aggressiveness leads to denials and deflections.
Collins’ lack of strength does allow opposing big men to get good position on the block. But when he’s used footwork and quickness to get around the post up, he has successfully denied his man with a complete front. That combination of ball denial and good on-ball defense bodes well for the future.
Rebounding trouble was on full display
Steve: Given that Portland has two first-round post players on their roster, losing the rebounding battle to the Celtics today was surprising. Collins’ struggles with physical opponents opened up space for Boston to crash the glass. Jaylen Brown almost reached double-digit rebounds for the Celtics as a result of vacant space.
Swanigan is tough to move in the paint, but the Celtics’ length was definitely an issue for him. Ante Zizic was able to use his height advantage to come down with 11 rebounds, the exact amount of Boston’s advantage.
Brian: This was a problem none of us expected. Coming into Summer League, I think most people assumed that a front court tandem of Swanigan and Collins would generate an automatic rebounding advantage. But the Celtics were just too big and strong. It’s not time to panic, but it’s not a good sign that an unheralded frontcourt was able to give the Blazers this much trouble on the boards.
Swanigan likes finding cutters from his post ups
Brian: Swanigan loves to look for a direct angle to the basket when he catches in the post. That’s what big men should do. But while most bigs instinctively put the ball on the floor after the catch, Swanigan looks at his teammates first. In Game 1 he collected turnovers trying to thread the needle to not-quite-open cutters. On his first post up today, he threw a beautiful pass to Jake Layman for a wide open layup on a backdoor cut on the baseline.
Not only will Swanigan’s willingness to pass from the block create a threat, it’ll encourage his teammates to get the ball to him more, knowing they may get it back.
Steve: The pass to Layman was gorgeous, but the big fella also committed a few turnovers in Game 2. Seeing someone as imposing as Swanigan try for the assist instead of bulldozing through defenders is interesting. Coach Terry Stotts’ offensive scheme allows post players to facilitate. Hopefully the former Purdue standout will find an outlet for his passes.
The Blazers enjoy a day off Monday before resuming Summer League play against the Spurs on Tuesday. If you have questions for Brian and Steve about Summer League, Portland players, or the experience in Vegas, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass them along!