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Trail Blazers Wanted, Needed Toumani Camara

Jason Quick of The Athletic shares part of the rookie’s journey.

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Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers rookie Toumani Camara has made waves in his first 26 games of NBA action, proving himself a willing defender and apt student of the game. The 6’8 forward has earned significant playing time and 17 starts, signs of his impact and the confidence his coaches have in him.

Today Jason Quick of The Athletic posted a short biographical piece [subscription required] chronicling Camara’s rise from the 52nd overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft to regular rotation player in just two and a half months of action.

Though he wasn’t touted highly among all the bigs names the Blazers sent out and acquired in the off-season Camara was apparently at the center of a tug-o-war between Portland and Phoenix as they tried to figure out how to make a Deandre Ayton-Jusuf Nurkic trade work.

Blazers general manager Joe Cronin was insisting that Phoenix include second-round pick Toumani Camara in the deal.

“Joe was adamant,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups recalled.

On the other side, the Suns were fighting to keep Camara, the forward who wowed coach Frank Vogel in summer league and offseason workouts. How hard did Vogel fight?

“Extremely hard,” Vogel said.

Quick cites Blazers Head Coach Chauncey Billups as a Camara Believer, never a bad thing for a rookie.

“He has served a great purpose for us,” Billups said. “His head coach really believes in being competitive and playing defense and scrapping out there — and that’s what he does — he shares my spirit that way. I think what I need to do better for him, and with him, going forward is just always letting him guard the best player. Not always the guy bringing it up the floor. So he can learn how to guard everybody, because he is going to be that type of player.”

The coaching staff and front office aren’t the only ones impressed by the start of Camara’s career. Teammate Matisse Thybulle, himself an All-League defender, had this praise to offer:

“I told him this last week: It took me so much longer to get a feel of how to play different players and when to be physical, when to play off, when to push up … he just picked everything up so quickly,” Thybulle said. “I used to get into foul trouble as a rookie really, really quickly — and he’s had a couple games where he has — but it just feels like he is learning everything so fast. He has a really advanced sense of self and what his boundaries are and how to adapt to players while still being himself.”

Camara is averaging 7.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, and a steal in 25.3 minutes per game for the Blazers this season. He is shooting 41.2% from the field, 30.4% from the three-point arc.