The Portland Trail Blazers’ title defense of their 2022 Summer League crown didn’t quite go according to plan, but in a lot of ways, it’s difficult to not get excited about what the roster put on tape during the battles in Las Vegas a few weeks ago.
In the first portion of this two-part write-up, we took a brief look at takeaways involving Shaedon Sharpe, how the new-look, Scoot Henderson-led offensive attack could look, and Jabari Walker’s growth, among others. If you haven’t already, give that piece a look here.
As with most things basketball-related, it’s difficult to be 100 percent sure on how the future could look. But, in both a reprieve from the Damian Lillard trade talks, and as merely a way of looking into Portland’s potential young core, looking back on the Summer League just felt timely. Building from yesterday’s four main takeaways, below are three more impressions that stood out from the Summer League Blazers’ 3-2 finish.
No. 5: First impressions on Rayan Rupert
During the introductory rookie press conference about a month ago, there was a fun back-and-forth with Rayan Rupert and the Blazers media crew, in regards to how to best pronounce the No. 43 pick’s name. If the opening impressions from the Summer League symbolized anything, Rupert projects to offer tons to discuss on the defensive end; although, there may be a waiting period before he hears his name called routinely over the loudspeaker for his offensive play.
As with most second-rounders, Rupert’s Summer League run went about as one would’ve expected. The traits that made him a coveted prospect — a 6-foot-6 frame and the 2023 NBA Draft’s ninth-longest wingspan, with an energy level toggled to 100 — were on display in high-definition. Like a mosquito at an outdoor family barbecue, Rupert was in full-on disruption mode.
One example against Orlando helped provide one of the best defensive highlights across the Summer League circuit.
The verdict surrounding Chauncey Billups in the coaching chair may still have more questions than answers. But, thinking about a few of his buzzwords, “players who compete” might be among the top of that list. Rupert could end up being precisely the type of player that helps change the Blazers’ laughingstock of a defensive culture. Someday.
Unfortunately, there’s that other side of the basketball court, one in which Rupert sometimes looked more raw than a Monday night wrestling show. The numbers — 25 percent from the field on 24 attempts, 0-of-5 from 3-point range and 6-of-12 from the charity stripe — didn’t inspire immediate confidence, and that task won’t get easier when actual NBA games tip off. Shot attempts were sometimes awkward enough to make you wonder.
If there’s one avenue in which Rupert flourished, it came as a cutter, a highlight of his game in New Zealand as well. He showed real nuance with well-timed 45 cuts to the rim, sneaking through the backdoor the moment a defender turned his back ever so slightly, or if he thought opponents might switch on a cross screen, as shown here:
To advocate for Rupert: Nicolas Batum, the convenient comparison as a Frenchman-turned-Blazer, wasn’t that much more effective in his first Summer League back in 2008, shooting 34.3 percent (on 35 attempts), 1-of-9 from 3-point range and 56 percent from the free throw line.
It figures to take some time, but you feel optimistic about Rupert reaching some of that offensive potential in a year or three … or, well, he’ll reach at least something with that 7-foot-3 wingspan.
No. 6: Speaking of developing an offensive game …
There won’t be a ton of analysis anywhere on Justin Minaya’s now nine-game sample size with the Trail Blazers. And, as of this writing, it’s unclear where Minaya’s career will head beyond his contributions to the Dominican Republic for the upcoming 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Though, in looking over film from both the four games he played with the Blazers to close the 2022-23 season and his five-game run in the Summer League, it’s difficult to ignore how many plays he makes on the defensive end. It felt worthy of a few paragraphs. Below, we’ve combined some defensive highlights from both the regular season cameo and Summer League.
The athletic lefty wouldn’t crack the personal list of players to consider for a roster spot, or even the Blazers’ final two-way contract. It’s difficult to get by solely on hustle plays and ambition alone when you shoot 13-of-40 (32.5 percent) from the field, 4-of-20 from 3-point range (20 percent) and 4-of-9 from the free throw line (44.4 percent), especially considering he never shot well in college, either.
But, he made enough plays in the meantime that it seemed worthy of a mention. And speaking of …
No. 7: Who deserves the third and final two-way contract?
With the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can now carry three players on two-way deals on their active rosters, as opposed to two. As it currently stands, the Blazers have occupied two of their three on Ibou Badji and John Butler Jr., both of which were showcased during the 2023 Vegas Summer League.
There are no real complaints there; in the previous post, we hit on a few notes on Badji, who, despite being a project offensively, showed some potential as a rim protector. Butler Jr.’s inclination to sometimes sell for the 3-point shot — 35 of his 53 shot attempts with Portland were 3-pointers in 2022-23, despite being 7-foot-1 — was mildly concerning, since he only hit on 22.9 percent of them. But, his potential as a shot blocker, lengthy agitator in passing lanes, and high-IQ rotator on defense, and some proven success as a shooter in college are enough that the 20-year-old deserves some time.
But, what about everyone else?
Skylar Mays didn’t partake in this summer’s basketball scene in Vegas, but his feel for the game and Malcolm Brogdon-like offensive vibe have made him a popular candidate among fans. He’s a low-risk guard capable of keeping Portland’s second unit on schedule with a 5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season, a 50-40-90 mark in 2022-23 (in six games, but hey …), and enough production that if he retired today, he could say he averaged double-figures in the NBA.
You can only get so far without discussing Michael Devoe, who might’ve, just might’ve been the Blazers’ best player in the Summer League. Those who came for Henderson were treated to a fun consolation in the form of the 23-year-old, who averaged 18.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.3 steals on 53 percent shooting, 65(!) percent from 3-point range, and 58.3 percent from the free throw line.
Devoe passed the “it factor” test on this particular week in Vegas, raising up for smooth pull-ups out of the pick-and-roll and a distinctive, signature hook pass that would’ve made Kareem Abdul-Jabbar proud (maybe?) Jokes aside, it was a joy to watch.
Mays and Devoe could be up against the whole supply-and-demand issue with Portland already stocked with guards in its cupboard — not that they seem disinterested in adding more guards, though.
Which brings up a few wild cards. ESPN’s Kane Pittman outlined Duop Reath’s focus on battling for the Blazers’ third two-way spot, and he had a strong summer showing. Reath shot 47.7 percent from the field, 3-of-8 from 3-point range, and 20-of-24 from the free throw line, rock-solid numbers for a big, alongside 13.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. His numbers at LSU prove those to be no fluke. Given one word to describe Reath’s play, “poised” would be the one. He appears to be at ease from midrange or in stretching the floor from further out. In every league he’s played in overseas, he’s been safe to pencil in for efficient, smart scoring.
It doesn’t quite have the same appeal as, say, No. 1 contender for the heavyweight championship, but seeing what the Blazers elect to do with their final two-way spot is at least of some interest, and if nothing else, the standouts from the Summer League merely added to a fun discussion.