The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t have the allure of a lottery pick getting his first look, or a high-profile rookie making his Summer League debut. But in what they lacked in a James Bouknight or LiAngelo Ball appearance, they made up for with memorable performances from their own talent. Bolstered by a 27-point barrage from Antonio Blakeney, the Blazers held on to snag a thrilling 93-86 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
It certainly couldn’t have hurt that the Blazers had a whopping 1,540 games worth of NBA experience on this year’s Summer League roster, but one can’t argue with the result when Blazers both old and new provide a successful product. Here are three takeaways from this evening’s victory.
Elleby Struggles As Scorer, But Shines As Facilitator
It’s become something of a staple to see James Borrego-coached teams orchestrate a full-court press, so it wasn’t surprising to see it make an appearance in Summer League play. The 2-2-1 certainly hindered the rhythm of the Blazers’ offense on occasion, though one could argue that it was a welcome sight, providing the Blazers with a challenge they couldn’t prepare a ton for. Compounding that was the abnormal amount of zone defense Charlotte ran, almost excessive for a Summer League game.
Among those tasked with finding the seams and gaps in that defense was 2020 second-round selection CJ Elleby. He hasn’t had the look of that player who averaged 18.4 points per game as a sophomore at Washington State, but he set the table for teammates. Not all setups are created equally, so the three assists won’t quite do it justice. He helped keep the ball moving for Portland, while keeping his hands relatively clean of Portland’s 15-turnover night.
At first glance, Elleby’s handle and ability to find gaps was sharp. He missed a couple of shots on what appeared to be a lack of power and strength near the rim, but his 8-point, 3-rebound, 3-assist night had some inspiring signs.
Beasley, Blakeney Shine in First Summer League Auditions
Prior to this evening’s game, NBA TV analyst Dennis Scott posed a simple question to 2008 No. 2 pick Michael Beasley: “Why are you here?” In the opening frame, Beasley let his play do the talking. It’s to be taken with a grain of salt — Beasley is a 32-year-old playing against first-time rookies — but he had the look of a player anxious to return to the NBA.
Before you could find a seat, Beasley had already run off a handful of 3-pointers, and had some memorable defensive sequences to boot. He stopped a score on one putback attempt, and made a heads-up play to contest a 3-pointer, showcasing clock awareness on another. The production and efficiency curtailed a bit as the game progressed, but there are positives to be found on tape.
It’s been 30 months since Beasley’s last NBA check-in, and 28 months since Blakeney’s. But tonight, they showed that getting buckets is a lot like riding a bike; you never truly lose it. After Beasley cooled, Blakeney took the baton, running off a personal, unanswered 9-point barrage, and he finished with 27 points on just 10 shots. According to NBA TV’s Stephanie Ready, he scored 20 consecutive points for the Blazers. Portland’s become known for helping reignite the careers of former players after lengthy hiatuses, and they could have a few more on their hands of strong play sustains.
Brown III, King, Watford Impress in Summer League Debuts
It was a foregone conclusion that on draft night, Neil Olshey was going to find his way into a selection during the 2021 NBA Draft night. In his process, Olshey selected Texas wing Greg Brown III with the No. 43 selection and added LSU wing Trendon Watford on a two-way deal. Each of those two, as well as George King played major contributions in tonight’s win.
Brown III in particular had a pair of highlight plays over a five-minute span that are worthy of throwing on loop for a few hours. He’s lockdown corner-esque in this passing lane, and he finishes in transition with a Derrick Jones Jr.-type moxie.
Just moments later, he was back at it, using his 6-foot-10 wingspan — give or take — to contest a shot.
Greg Brown III block— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) August 8, 2021
Greg Brown III dunk pic.twitter.com/BBU2ENYTyO
That defense-to-offense mentality feels rather foreign in Portland, so to see that, with head coach Chauncey Billups in attendance, had to be a positive feeling. Outside of him, Trenton Watford had a couple of noticeably strong plays, particularly in protecting the rim. They won’t make SportsCenter; they won’t get Twitter interactions. But he had a strong performance.
George King, the 27-year-old selection in the 2018 NBA Draft (by Phoenix) also stood out. Early on, it looked as though he was going to force the NBA to blow the dust off their history books and research the Summer League’s 3-point leader. He was that good. That deep-range shooting helped Portland play keep away for much of the game, and by game’s end, he poured in 17 points, 15 of which coming from behind the arc. As many of these players seek their next opportunity, tonight’s win was certainly an ideal way to start.
The Blazers get back to it on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers at 8:00 pm PT.