With Fanfest, 2019 in the books, the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2019 preseason is underway. The annual intra-squad scrimmage isn’t exactly the highest-pressure matchup of the season, but with so many new faces in uniform, the first look at the New Blazers didn’t disappoint.
Drawing solid conclusions from an exhibition game would be silly, but here are some take-away points to watch nonetheless.
First and foremost Fanfest was about pace. Getting into the offense faster, pushing the tempo after makes and misses, capitalizing on defensive plays- all of it pointed to one thing: playing with pace.
A simple example: after a block Portland’s bigs aren’t looking to find the guard- they’re looking for the first available ball handler heading down-court.
The basic commandments of Media Day and training camp are quite simple, thou hast had the best summer of workouts ever, thou shalt play with pace, and thou shalt have REALLY worked on defense and/or their three point shot. So when numerous Blazers remarked at how fast they were playing leading up to camp, it was met with the usual eye-roll and a “I’ll believe it when I see it” kind of attitude. Which, if we’re being honest is totally fair. For tonight though, the emphasis on getting out in the open floor and often was definitely present.
If Paula Carr was singing the National Anthem during pregame she would’ve likely followed it up with “Where Have All the Big Men Gone?” With Hassan Whiteside, Pau Gasol and Zach Collins all out with minor injuries there wasn’t a single center on the floor that figures to be in the rotation heading into the season. It showed.
Kent Bazemore wiggled his way to the rim numerous times for finishes over other wings and guards. CJ McCollum showed off what looked like a new cradle-Eurostep finish. Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr both tested the lane numerous times. This isn’t to say that there wasn’t an interior presence, it was just very limited. Skal Labissiere altered a few shots and even got out to a Simons jumper and sent it into the stands with venom- but overall it was a parade line to the rim for both squads.
Speaking of Simons, he looked to get going early and often- testing the defense with his dribble, attacks and pull ups. He had mixed success. At the rim he was bothered a few times by what looked like bad timing or placement on his take offs, often going one step early or one step late- but this is definitely the time to work those things out. Simons looked more comfortable with the ball in his hands than even his time in summer league, even if he is still working to tighten things up there.
On the flipside, Bazemore absolutely shined in the scrimmage. He stayed active on both ends; the crowd could feel his energy. From the responses I received after the scrimmage ended, he’s easily the addition folks are most excited about in a “what have you done for me lately” fashion.
Bazemore attacked off the bounce, got into the paint, pulled from three, sat in CJ McCollum’s hip pocket, dove into the bench for a steal while also managing to throw it off McCollum to force the turnover... all in a scrimmage. Ultimately, he would win the much coveted Fanfest MVP, but more than that he appears to be the leader in the clubhouse for the hardhat award.
It’s still simply a scrimmage but it was nice to get a look at some of the new guys and to see how they might come together and how they will likely play off of, and with, each other. It’s easy to see that Head Coach Terry Stotts will have his hands full in the early weeks of the season putting rotations together. For the first time in a while, that’s a nice burden to have.