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2019 Summer League Primer: Blazers Look to Repeat

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Starting Friday, the NBA will split its focus between Kawhi Leonard and the Summer League action unfolding in Las Vegas. Can the Trail Blazers repeat as champions?

2018 Summer League - Las Vegas - Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Led by Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons, the Trail Blazers are poised to defend their Las Vegas Summer League title with another set of strong performances. This year’s squad features five players currently under contract: Simons, Trent, Skal Labissiere, Nassir Little and Jaylen Hoard. Prior to Saturday’s game against the Pistons, Blazer’s Edge contributor Steve Dewald dropped in to deliver his preview for the upcoming festivities.

2019 Summer League Roster

  • Zach Auguste | F/C
  • Keljin Blevins | G/F
  • Gian Clavell | G
  • Mike Daum | F/C
  • Jaylen Hoard | F
  • Keith Hornsby | G
  • Demetrius Jackson | G
  • Skal Labissiere | F/C
  • Trey Lewis | G
  • Nassir Little | F
  • Devin Robinson | F
  • Anfernee Simons | G
  • Jarnell Stokes | F/C
  • Gary Trent Jr. | G
  • Isaiah Whitehead | G

Backcourt Audition

Both Simons and Trent are careening towards earning meaningful minutes in the 2019-20 season. With two roster spots still open, the young tandem can place President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey’s free agency focus elsewhere with sure-handed production. Simons, a 20-year-old guard out of IMG Academy, is tasked with leading the Blazers offense. According to his comments this week, the coaching staff is expecting him to keep everything running smoothly on both ends of the court.

For Trent, a solid showing in Vegas could plant the seed for rotational minutes. Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood are adept at filling in at each wing position, but the former Duke standout could claim a role at shooting guard by spacing the floor and clawing for loose balls on defense.

Both youngsters are crucial to Portland’s chances at making another deep run in the competition.

The Rookies

After a notable draft-day slide, Little will finally put that narrative behind him when the whistle blows on Saturday. Jake Layman’s departure opened up an avenue for him to fight for minutes as a high-energy reserve. Outside of his impact in the margins, Little’s outside shooting will receive plenty of attention. Last season, the North Carolina sixth man shot a less-than-ideal 26.9 percent from beyond the arc. Little has repeatedly stated that he has focused on his perimeter offense since departing Chapel Hill. With Simons and Trent driving the offense, Little should have plenty of chances to showcase his improved floor spacing.

Hidden on a struggling Wake Forest squad last season, Hoard has an opportunity to recapture his pre-college reputation as a versatile forward. His struggles with shooting are notable, but his rebounding remained strong with the Demon Deacons. Given the Blazers current lack of post players on the roster, Hoard can raise eyebrows by doing the little things in the post.

The Big Fella

Until Jusuf Nurkic returns, the Blazers will rely on newcomer Hassan Whiteside to hold down the center position. Portland could address the frontcourt’s lack of depth with a veteran addition, but Labissiere could quell that urge by controlling the paint. The former Kings draft pick has all the physical tools to thrive as a reserve big, but his body of work since joining the Blazers is minuscule. The hustle of Summer League is nothing new for Labissiere—making him a prime candidate to deliver a breakout performance.

Underdogs

Barring a signing on Friday, the Blazers will start their schedule with two open roster spots and an open two-way contract slot. Those vacancies should motivate each non-contracted player on the roster.

Jarnell Stokes, a 25-year-old journeyman power forward, has the rebounding chops to hold his own against top-level athletes. His lack of size and mobility in space limit his upside in the NBA, but his penchant for cleaning the glass could warrant a look from the Blazers.

Mike Daum, a prolific scorer at South Dakota State, possesses the three-point shooting that modern offense’s covet from big men. In order for him to claim the Blazers’ other two-way contract, he must show that he has the athleticism to stay relevant on both ends of the court.

Like Daum, Keith Hornsby is a stellar three-point shooter. Last season in the G League, the former LSU standout converted an eye-popping 49.1 percent of his attempts from outside. At 27 years old, Hornsby’s upside is modest. Even with that in mind, his skill as a shooter could earn him a look as a specialist in the NBA.

Isaiah Whitehead appeared in 89 regular season games with the Nets before he departed for time overseas and in the G League. When Simons is off the floor, Whitehead should undertake facilitator duties.

Odds & Ends

Connaughton’s Crew: Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste make up two former Notre Dame standouts that shared the court with Pat Connaughton in South Bend.

Famous Family: Keljin Blevins is Damian Lillard’s cousin. The former Montana State standout averaged 11.8 points per game in his final year in Bozeman.


The Blazers’ Las Vegas Summer League schedule starts with a matchup against the Pistons on Saturday.