Las Vegas Summer League is officially over and now we enter the dog days of the summer between all of the exciting offseason action and training camp. After the lackluster NBA Playoffs, the first month of the offseason had been incredible; filled with trades, a draft, and drama.
The Portland Trail Blazers brought in two rookies in the 1st round of the NBA Draft in June, but have otherwise had a very quiet offseason. For anyone that has paid attention, that should come as no surprise. The Blazers spent a lot of money to resign a handful of players last summer, extended CJ McCollum’s contract, and already pay Damian Lillard his $20+ million a year deal. There just weren’t many option for them this offseason, so they did what they could during the June 22nd draft to better the franchise.
Both of the Blazers’ rookies were featured in Summer League in Las Vegas and there were mixed reactions.
Summer League is such an interesting league. There are guys on every team that are battling for their careers, for their jobs. Imagine having to try out for your job every single year. That is what a lot of these guys do every summer. It is a great atmosphere of competition but also really tough to judge production because of the level of competition.
With that said, my three takeaways from Summer League:
Caleb Swanigan is NBA ready.
Soon before the Blazers faced off against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Summer League championship game, it was announced the Swanigan was named to the First-Team All Summer League Team. That was only validation of what many had already seen. Swanigan was dominant at times, and worked harder than anyone on the court.
Swanigan became only the 4th rookie ever to average a double-double in Summer League. The other three were Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and Marreese Speights. That’s pretty good company for the 26th pick in the draft.
In the championship game Swanigan was matched up against Kyle Kuzma, who was the 27th pick in the draft, the pick right after Swanigan. That battle was on display all night.
In that game Swanigan finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals. That was just the icing on the cake that was a very productive Summer League for Swanigan.
In eight Summer League games, Swanigan averaged 16.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.
The 10.6 rebounds per game are the 9th most per game in Summer League History.
Winning in Summer League Doesn’t Mean Much, But…
I might be the most pessimistic person around Portland when it comes to Summer League. While it is a pretty cool experience for a lot of these guys that are looking for jobs, the level of basketball is just not great and that makes it a fairly brutal television product at times. It also makes evaluation and analysis that much harder.
What Summer League does, in my opinion, is show the foundation of how the future of a franchise is built. Now, even that may be a bit of a stretch, but this year we saw a few things that will definitely be prominent in the future.
Dennis Smith Jr. look like he may be the point guard of the future for the Dallas Mavericks, and is my favorite to win Rookie of the Year.
Lonzo Ball lived up to the hype that his father over inflated for the past year.
The Kings have one of the most intriguing collections of young talent in the league.
What it showed me about the Blazers was that the Blazers are creating a coaching culture from the top-down.
During the Summer League, the head coaches are tasked with coaching the team. That task is usually assigned to a younger, or newer, assistant coach. This year the coach in charge was Jim Moran. This was his first year coaching the summer league team and he had quite the difficult road ahead of him.
The roster that the Blazers sent to Summer League included only 4 players that are projected to be on the Blazers’ regular season roster. In comparison, the Kings went to Summer League with 8 players that will likely be on their regular season roster. To complicate thing further, two of those players Zach Collins and Pat Connaughton, got injured during the third game and did not return to Summer League action.
Sitting with a record of 1-2 heading into the tournament, the Blazers were ranked 16th out of 22 teams and had a longshot of making it much further than the 1st round of the tournament.
The coaching of Moran, along with more consistent contributions from Jake Layman and Jarnell Stokes, the Blazers won 4 games in a row which led them to the Summer League Finals.
Hat off to Coach Moran and staff. They did a great job handling a vast assortment, and honestly pretty bizarre, collection of basketball players.
Blazers Have Decisions to Make.
Connaughton has played in Portland for two seasons and is facing a big deadline on July 25th. His contract becomes guaranteed on that day. The Blazers can cut him before then to open up a roster spot and clear a little bit of money off of the payroll.
Unfortunately for Connaughton, he did not have a stellar Summer League. Connaughton was hurt in the 3rd game and struggled leading up to his injury. Connaughton averaged 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. He only shot 20% from behind the 3 point line.
If Connaughton is cut, the Blazers have a couple options to bring in on cheap deals for at least training camp. On the Blazers’ Summer League team, the two guys that stepped up were Jarnell Stokes and Jorge Gutierrez were crucial to the team’s success.
Stokes averaged 13 points and 7.6 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game, over 7 games. Stokes would enter a very crowded and jumbled frontcourt, but would be an interesting player to bring in for training camp competition to push the more veteran guys. Stokes is likely to be signed in a more fortuitous situation for him, than the Blazers could offer.
Gutierrez, on the other hand, may have a clearer role to minutes in Portland. Gutierrez has played a few seasons in the NBA and was one of the more experienced players in Las Vegas. For the Blazers, he averaged 8.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1.8 steals in 26.6 minutes per game, over 8 games. He was a do-it-all point guard that could provide good depth for an NBA team.