Well, at least they’re only scrimmages, right? The Portland Trail Blazers dropped their final scrimmage in Orlando 131-120 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, going 0-3 in pre-seeding game scrimmages. The Blazers played without Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, which paved the way for Anfernee Simons to lead all scorers with 23 points. Gary Trent Jr. put up 19 points for Portland while Zach Collins added 10.
The Thunder had seven players score in double digits this afternoon, with Darius Bazley’s 20 points leading the way. Chris Paul, like Lillard and McCollum, did not play.
Penny Not So Dreadful
If you’ve paid even a little attention to the Blazers this season, then you know it’s been an up-and-down year for Anfernee Simons. The scrimmages were tough for him to this point, as he seemingly struggled to find a rhythm even as he broke double digits in the loss to the Raptors. But Simons took charge in this one, putting up 23 points in 30 minutes, with most of that coming in the first half.
One notable thing was how helpful it was for Simons to have Jusuf Nurkic and Collins out there to assist him. Simons hasn’t had the luxury of playing with quality bigs like those two, and it clearly opened things up for Ant in the first half. Nurk was able to operate as a playmaker at times, freeing up Simons to fly around the court. Collins successfully spaced the floor times—setting Simons up for plays like this one:
Your weekly reminder that Young Ant has pic.twitter.com/HCW4ybmaPT— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) July 28, 2020
Putting these three in more lineups together could benefit the Blazers when the season officially starts again on Friday. Simons has had a tough year by most metrics and he definitely struggles as a defender, but today showed that when he plays with quality players his performance vastly improves.
Collins’ Two-Way Value
While Nurkic has been the highlight of the scrimmages, Collins has put on display how valuable he is on both ends. Collins played well in his final scrimmage, putting up 10 points and three rebounds in 20 minutes of play. He was active on the defensive end while showing versatility offensively, utilizing his improved footwork in the post while also hitting a pair of threes.
Collins was sorely missed this season, especially defensively. The Blazers were one of the worst teams at that end before the season went on hiatus. But Collins has shown he has the tools and versatility to cover up for the frequent lapses that occur around him.
Two things that can be true at the same time:
1.) The Blazers will be better defensively with Nurkic and Collins.
2.) The Blazers will still struggle defensively.
This game was a good example of how awkward the big men pairings for the Blazers are if you include Hassan Whiteside. The Thunder often tried to take advantage by utilizing perimeter-oriented lineups against Portland’s towering front. An outcome that forced Nurkic and Whiteside to guard quicker players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Collins has shown that he can keep up with those guys, and Nurkic’s footwork has improved, but it’s a mismatch that teams will continue to exploit. The Thunder, like many other teams, unloaded from distance (18-of-37 from outside this afternoon), and the quicker players like Dennis Schroeder and SGA had no problem getting by the big men. It’s why they were able to put up 131 points without Chris Paul.
Wenyen Gabriel is Ridiculously Fun
Truthfully, I had this recap all wrapped up. I didn’t think I would need to write about much more. But Wenyen Gabriel is just so darn fun to watch that I felt compelled to note how he played. He put up 14 points in just 18 minutes of play. He was all over the floor, chasing orange jerseys all over the floor. He can cut a driver off in the paint and then hustle back to the perimeter quicker than a lot of Blazers, and he’s made a compelling case for minutes with this team. There’s just so much energy with this guy.
Gabriel is raw. He still gets into foul trouble and plays with an energy level that borders on reckless. Regardless of the flaws, it is a joy to watch.
Portland will officially start its season on Friday at 1:00 PT against the Memphis Grizzlies.