The Portland Trail Blazers announced their arrival at the NBA Las Vegas Summer League with a impressive victory over the Utah Jazz. Appearing for the first time in Portland uniforms, both Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr displayed tangible offensive skills in the win. Along with the rookies, a quartet of returning players shined for the Blazers’ summer squad. Wade Baldwin, Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan, and Jake Layman all played up to expectation in Portland’s 93-78 outing.
In attendance at Summer League all week, Steve Dewald and Brian Freeman will share impressions from the event.
What are your thoughts on Anfernee Simons’ performance?
Steve: I think he looked comfortable on offense, and was patient when finding his spots. Simons had a gorgeous drive that ended in a floater over a bigger defender. The most encouraging moment might have come when the 19-year-old guard converted a catch-and-shoot three-point opportunity in the first half. Defensively, he did well sticking to his assignment while also taking an occasional step into Utah’s passing lanes.
Brian: Simons’ first summer league game was encouraging. He looks like he could be 15 years old in both body and face, so he has a lot of developing to do. Still, he has talent, no question. His shot looks fluid, he finished an alley-oop, and he was comfortable playing both guard spots. He has a long way to go as a defender, both off ball and on it, but he caused havoc in the passing lanes similar to Shabazz Napier last season. Simons may not have much of a short-term role with this team, but his talent is reason to be excited for his future development.
What were your thoughts on Gary Trent Jr in today’s game?
Brian: I was skeptical on Trent after a college career that pigeonholed him as a shooter and not much else. I came into the game hoping to see more. I came away encouraged. Trent’s nine free throw attempts were my favorite stat of the day. Three of them came after a foul on his three point shot, but either way, those attempts are a great sign for his growth. For what it’s worth, he hit all nine of those attempts. Trent looked like an average summer leaguer on defense, but he also pulled down a few contested rebounds— another good sign. He played most of his time at the two but showed some at the three. A lot of good signs today from the former Blue Devil.
Steve: Trent gave glimpses of being a competent NBA role player. He switched between positions when lineups shifted, looking comfortable at both positions. When Trent’s shot wasn’t falling, he supplemented his scoring by shooting flawlessly from the free throw line.
Perhaps the most promising thing about Trent’s debut was his ability to be more than just a shooter. It is important to temper expectations surrounding the rookie after one summer league game, but his learning curve might be smaller than expected.
How did last years first round big men, Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, fare today?
Steve: Collins’ shot wasn’t falling, but everything else was working for the second-year big man. His intensity on both ends was infectious. Collins recorded three blocks while acting as the anchor of the Blazers’ defense.
Swanigan, like last year, was a man amongst boys for long stretches. With Collins operating at the pivot, Swanigan feasted on Utah’s power forwards.
Brian: If the gauge of success on Zach Collins is the amount of points that he scores, he will disappoint more than he appeases. Collins missed a few shots today, but he was terrific defensively and looks another level above his showing here last year. He got to his spots and held ground against bigger players, something he couldn't do in his freshman appearance. Points aside, it was a strong showing from the young big man.
Swanigan looked above the competition last year and carried that over this season. His energy in all facets of the game is incredible. He dominated the glass and continues to be a great passer, especially in the half court. Swanigan looked more in control than he has been in the past, and had a massive impact throughout the game.
Which player surprised you the most in today’s game?
Brian: Gary Trent was the biggest surprise to me. As I touched on earlier, he showed more in one summer league game than I saw in a whole season at Duke.
Wade Baldwin was the best player on the floor and it wasnt close. He was fantastic on the drive, dicing through the lanes and finishing among the bigs, highlighted by an incredible dunk in the 3rd. He looked like he was playing in the wrong league.
Steve: I figured Baldwin would perform at a high level in Las Vegas this year, but today’s game featured more than a handful of highlight-worthy moments. The former first-round pick ran Portland’s offense efficiently, and created his own looks with ease.
Unfortunately, Baldwin’s outing will be remembered for his antics with Grayson Allen in the closing minutes. If Baldwin’s ejection didn’t occur, you could make the case that he showed enough in one game to nab a guaranteed contract for next season.
Here is the video of the altercation between Allen and Baldwin:
Which player was the most disappointing to you?
Steve: If Baldwin represents one end of the non-guaranteed player spectrum, Georgios Papagiannis represents the other. The former Kings’ lottery pick struggled to impact the game, and was consistently pushed around by the Jazz’s big men.
At a sturdy 7’2, Papagiannis should at least be decent at setting screens. That was not the case today. Actually, the opposite happened. Papagiannis was called for two illegal screens in 10 minutes of action.
Brian: I agree with you here Steve. I failed to see what traits propelled Papagiannis to deserve his lottery selection. He has a 7’2, 300 lb plus pound body, but the big body failed to make much of a difference on the court. In his lone post up opportunity, the guy from Greece ended up with a fadeaway baby hook that fell short. Steve already referenced his trouble with legal screens and defensively. His massive presence made little difference to the Jazz interior players.
The Trail Blazers return to action tomorrow when they face Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks.