The year was 2017. THEY were once again sleeping on the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers ended up with 48 wins and the third seed in the brutal Western Conference, shutting down critics and keyboard warriors alike. Until…
Jrue Holiday happened.
The Blazers went on to drop the series in 0-4 fashion, but the bad news was just beginning. The offseason was just as bleh as the first round of the playoffs.
Now we’re just weeks away with more questions than answers as it pertains to the 2018-19 edition of Rip City Season. Jared Wright and Bryant Knox of Oregon Sports News are back with their in-depth Portland Trail Blazers 2018-19 Season Previews for each player.
Today, we take a look at a player in Caleb Swanigan who deserves a chance to enter his sophomore campaign without the same kind of hype he had over his head a year ago.
Yes, yours truly was as guilty as anyone when it came to summer league overreactions. But the potential is still there, and there’s still plenty of reason to root for the 6’9”, 250-pound, 21-year-old.
Caleb Swanigan: Summer league standout—and largely non-existent during his first regular season.
On the year, the Purdue product played in 27 games earning starter status in three. During those starts, the big man posted a whopping 2.7 points and three rebounds in 12 minutes per contest.
No, those numbers aren’t going to get anyone excited about his rookie season—or his upcoming sophomore year. His best game came in a late-season loss to the Houston Rockets, in which he went for 10 points and four rebounds in 18 minutes and the team lost 97-94. But there’s more to this kid than the box scores share.
What He Brings To The Table
Swanigan is a rebounding machine at his core. In college, he managed to chase down 12.5 points in his final season with the Boilermakers while posting 18 points per night. Obviously, he’s better than your average bear on the hardwood as far as collegiate competition and the general public goes.
Here’s the catch: NBA players are bigger, faster, and yes, better rebounders. Swanigan found that out behind the scenes in his own hometown practice facility, which is why he failed to see the court despite having a strong run in summer league last July.
If Swanigan wants to carve out a niche in the Blazers’ rotation, it’s likely not going to be on the glass. As great as he is, he doesn’t have the physical fortitude of an Ed Davis. He’s not going to be a rim-protector on defense or a possession-creator on the more glamorous end, and as good as he is when it comes to bullying smaller players and timing the bounce off the rim correctly, the former is going to be tough at this level, making the latter less important.
What Swanigan needs to do is hone in on perfecting his jumper, which is already very good. Today’s NBA has plenty of solid bigs, but when you lack athleticism, setting up in the mid-range and beyond has to be your goal.
Last season’s numbers don’t show it, but Swanigan already has a silky jumper that can make a difference at any level. Now it’s just about finding the touch that allowed him to shoot 44.7 percent from deep in college—do that, and there will be a place for you on the Blazers any day of the week.
What To Expect In 2018-19
Swanigan sits dead last in terms of bigs within the rotation. Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu own the starting spots; Maurice Harkless, despite starting at the 3, will see staggered minutes at backup 4; Zach Collins can play both power forward and center off the bench; and Meyers Leonard and Jake Layman will likely take turns as third-string power forward—unless Terry Stotts can get uber creative and find a way to get Evan Turner into the post.
The minutes just aren’t there. But you know what? That’s okay. In fact, it’s probably best for Swanigan at this point in his young career.
If Stotts announced that Swanigan was starting Game 1 of the season against LeBron James’ new-look Los Angeles Lakers, we’d assume the coach had a stroke and needed immediate medical attention. Making him the backup would be less cause for concern for Stotts’ general health…but it’d still be confusing to see the second-year prospect earning meaningful minutes over anyone else on the roster—Leonard included, who was the recent subject of OSN’s Jared Wright:
“This season feels like Leonard’s last chance, and after getting undercut by Collins, he needs to play like it. If ever he’s going to show some fire and fight, now’s the time. His future with the Blazers doesn’t extend beyond the end of his horrible contract.”
The time will come for Swanigan, and assuming we see steady improvement, it’ll likely be when Leonard, Turner and possibly Harkless are distant Rip City memories.
In 2018-19, Swanigan will be relegated to the bench, but more specifically, he’ll be given an opportunity to learn behind the scenes.
Getting him reps is important. But tossing him in the deep end is never going to work, as he’s not built—in skill or stature—to win on talent and drive alone…even if those things will help him behind the scenes over the course of his rookie contract.
Check out the other players in our Portland Trail Blazers Player Preview Series: