The Portland Trail Blazers’ 2016-17 season was a year defined by high ambitions and unmet expectations. The team saw a regression to the norm after shocking the league just a year prior, but there is plenty of talent on the roster that can help it improve.
Ahead of 2017-18, Oregon Sports News’ Jared Wright and Bryant Knox will be breaking down the strengths, weaknesses and recent showings from each and every Trail Blazers player. Today we take a look at a player who will have to earn his minutes, but has a chance to make a name for himself as the biggest steal of the 2017 NBA Draft.
2016-17 Collegiate Recap
Caleb Swanigan entered Purdue as a highly recruited, 6’9” power forward. According to Rivals.com, the Indiana-born prospect was a five-star prospect, ranked 19th in his class and received offers from at least 18 different programs.
Although Swanigan’s freshman campaign (2015-16) was a solid one in which he started every game, he chose to withdraw his name from draft consideration after struggling at the combine. He knew he needed to improve his shot, so returning to school became his best option.
During his sophomore season, Swanigan boosted his three-point percentage to 44.7 percent from just 29.2 the year before. That’s an astronomical leap, especially for someone who took nearly the same number of attempts from deep.
Even more impressive is that Swanigan made this improvement without sacrificing or drastically changing other areas of his game. He still averaged 12.5 rebounds per night, he still led the nation in double doubles with 38, and he still found a way to have four games of at least 20 points and at least 20 rebounds.
What He Brings To The Table
Swanigan brings an ability and desire to rebound that simply isn’t found in most young prospects. As Julian Applebome wrote for Draft Express, “On both ends of the floor, Swanigan shows impressive instincts finding the ball off the glass, and makes a consistent effort to use his size to carve out space with physical box outs. While at times his lack of athletic ability shows, he can be dominant using his strength to establish position as a rebounder.“
That lack of athletic ability is worth noting and could prove to be a problem against some of the best athletes the world has to offer—but just stating it like that doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, his lack of athleticism is actually a huge improvement from where he once was.
Swanigan grew up in a tough environment. His father, who ended up passing away in 2014, had a drug addiction. Without a stable home environment, the now-Rip City resident found himself in and out of foster homes during his youth.
Along with a tough home life, Swanigan dealt with obesity. Entering eighth grade, he was a solid 6’2” but an unhealthy 360 pounds. So while it’s clear that his current 6’9”, 246-pound body might need to be pushed into NBA shape, it’s also clear that this kid has overcome more than most and has an incredible drive to succeed in all aspects of life.
No. 26, Portland, Caleb Swanigan. Inspiring story, & an inspired basketball player. Elite rebounder in college, knows role in NBA. Grade: A
— Reid Forgrave (@ReidForgrave) June 23, 2017
Back to the court, Swanigan possesses a skill set that on paper is already more advanced than most other Portland bigs. He not only rebounds with the best, he can spread the court with his three-point shot and has proven he can carve out space and score on the low block.
That’s the kind of combo that helps make a name for yourself in today’s NBA.
What To Expect in 2017-18
Swanigan’s rookie season will likely feel like a boom-or-bust campaign to most fans. That’s not to say he’s a boom-or-bust prospect—he seemingly has a high floor with his diverse skill set. But his showing this year will either be shockingly productive compared to his draft spot (26th) or shockingly uneventful compared to the hype.
For starters, Swanigan is competing for time in a ridiculously deep frontcourt. With Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkic locked in as the starting 4 and 5, respectively, Meyers Leonard, Zach Collins, Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh will be in the Purdue product’s path toward minutes.
The good news? Absolutely none of those reserves have proven they deserve consistent run, which is where Swanigan’s “boom” potential really comes into play.
Davis is a rebounding machine but can’t score anywhere other than at the rim. Vonleh has yet to hit his potential, but his ceiling continues to drop with each unmemorable year. Leonard is a shooting big man who has trouble knocking down shots. And Collins, despite being a highly touted lottery pick, has a lot to learn entering his rookie season.
What we can tell you about 2017-18 is that when Swanigan sees the floor, he’s going to be one of the hardest working guys on the court. He understands he has to fight for minutes, and you’re going to see that on both ends of the court.
If Swanigan can consistently hit his long-range jumper and continue diversifying his low-post arsenal, he’ll have a shot at earning a regular spot in the rotation. The rebounding will always be there, but it’s the other parts of his game that will define whether he’s a specialist on the glass or a do-it-all big shocking the league in his rookie season.
Check out the other articles in this series: