PORTLAND, Ore. — The Blazers played their first preseason game Tuesday, the Raptors are in town tonight, and the season keeps getting closer (only 13 days away). It's time to check in on the Portland Trail Blazers with another edition of 3-on-3, a weekly KGW feature.
Every Thursday, three members of the KGW sports team will answer three questions about the Blazers. You can join the conversation on Facebook during a live chat with our panel every Thursday afternoon at 3.
This week's questions (below) focus on Evan Turner running the offense, rookies Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins, and the preseason debut of "too-quick" Jusuf Nurkic.
Meet our panelists
- Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
- Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers for KGW.com. Before he came to KGW, Jared wrote about the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
- Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.
1. Evan Turner started the first preseason game at small forward and for much of his time on the court, he operated as the primary ballhandler and initiator of the offense. Is Turner running the offense a good idea?
Nate: It’s an idea worth exploring. And if the first game was a sign of things to come, its obvious head coach Terry Stotts wants to get Evan Turner as many reps as possible running the offense. He played 29 minutes on Tuesday, the most of any Blazers player. The obvious benefit is that it allows Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum more freedom in playing off the ball. It also takes some pressure off them so they may be fresher in crucial moments in the final minutes of games. With that said, if what we saw Tuesday is an indication of what the offense will look like with Turner handling the ball, I don’t think it’s the Blazers’ best option. The offense didn’t have a lot of rhythm or pace early in the game and appeared to run more smoothly when the ball was in Lillard’s hands. But the Blazers have four more games to figure it out.
Orlando: Blazers general manager Neil Olshey has called Evan Turner the Swiss Army Knife. The Blazers need him to be versatile and it’s one of the reasons he’s got a $70 million contract. I’m good with the call. If Turner can be the primary ball handler, this takes some pressure off Damian Lillard. It should open him up for better looks off the ball and exert less energy working off the dribble. The same goes for CJ McCollum. Turner also lightens the workload on defense. He can handle the ball, distribute and defend, but he’s gotta be able to knock down shots for this to work.
Jared: During his two seasons in Boston, head coach Brad Stevens trusted Evan Turner to run the offense when Isaiah Thomas wasn't on the court and often when they shared the court. Those were the best two seasons of Turner's career. Neil Olshey signed Turner because he believed he could fill a similar role next to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in Portland. It didn't work out that way at first. It wasn't until Turner moved into the starting lineup with Lillard and McCollum on Jan. 20 that his value to the Blazers became evident. In the starting lineup, Turner’s role was closer to what he’d done with the Celtics, and the Blazers, who were struggling at the time of the change, won five of nine games. Turner averaged 11 points, four assists and three rebounds, and had a plus-minus of +44. Then Turner broke his hand and struggled to regain his form when he came back late in the season. Turner excelled in a playmaking role in Boston and during that short stretch last season in Portland, so it's a good idea to test out Turner in that role again during the preseason. His play making, shot creation, defensive versatility and confidence are a strong complement to the other players in the starting lineup.
2. Caleb Swanigan made the most of his 16 minutes Tuesday, with 18 points and six rebounds. He even hit both of his 3-point attempts. Zach Collins had five points and a team-high eight rebounds in 22 minutes. What was your impression of both rookies?
Orlando: Caleb Swanigan continues to live up to the title of “steal of the draft.” He’s making the most of his minutes and it’s fun to watch the man go to work. We know he brings toughness to this team, but I didn’t expect to see the range. I know it was just two 3-pointers, but I was impressed with the approach. There was no hesitation to let it fly. I’ll be interested to see his shot selection moving forward. Zach Collins can play and there’s no doubt he’s got instincts. He can run the floor and the footwork is legit. As he adds the weight and becomes stronger, the minutes will come. Collins has to limit the fouls, something he had an issue with in college.
Jared: As enjoyable as it was to watch Caleb Swanigan excel in summer league, I was somewhat cynical that he would be able to replicate it once he started playing against real NBA competition. Whether the Suns count as real NBA competition is a conversation for another day. Regardless, there was a lot to like. What I like most is his quiet aggression. He's not afraid to shoot the ball and he goes hard after every rebound. He looks like he belongs on an NBA court, and it's getting more difficult to see how he's not at least a member of the regular rotation once the season starts. Collins also played well, which was surprising considering his lackluster summer league performance. On Tuesday, he didn't look overmatched. He wasn't getting pushed around like he did in summer league. His defense is still ahead of his offense, but for a team like the Blazers looking to improve defensively, that’s not a bad thing. Collins fouled a lot, but as a 19-year-old rookie big man, that's probably going to be a regular occurrence this season.
Nate: I loved the performance by Swanigan. It was everything you could have hoped to see if you’re a Blazers fan. Once he got into the game, he wasted no time letting it fly. Beyond the fact that he knocked down shots from the outside while still bruising in the paint, I love the confidence. He’s not afraid and feels like he belongs. His teammates feel the same way too. And you can see why. If he plays like this the rest of the season, maybe he can find his way into the starting rotation. As for Collins, it was an encouraging performance. He rebounded well and played solid defense. You’d like to see him commit fewer fouls but he’ll continue to learn. Overall, it was a solid performance for him as well.
3. Jusuf Nurkic was clearly pleased with his performance Tuesday. After the game, when asked what it was like playing 30 pounds lighter, he said, "I'm too quick." What were your observations of a slimmed-down Nurkic?
Jared: Jusuf Nurkic looked great. He looked a little quicker moving around in the halfcourt, a little faster sprinting up and down the floor, and he didn't appear to tire like he did last season. Aside from his improved conditioning, he looked like the same ultra-effective player that Blazers fans fell in love with last season. We all remember how good he was last season with the Blazers. He looks like he may be even better this time around. Nurkic is also such an intriguing personality in the locker room. He had the amusing comment about being too quick, but he also said there's no way NBA defenses will leave him open anymore after he hit some long jump shots in Tuesday's game. He's a lot of fun for Blazers fans. I think he's the kind of talented, demonstrative player who will be loved and adored by his team's fans, and despised by everybody else. That's not a bad thing.
Nate: His quickness and agility stood out to me. He had a baseline spin move in the post that completely left the defender in the dust. He appeared to run the floor more freely. He said he’s in the best shape of his life and it looked like he was in regular season form on Tuesday. And while he has slimmed down, the ferocious posterizing dunk he had over Marquese Chriss showed he can still be physical and finish at the rim. Sixteen points, three rebounds and a block is an impressive 16-minute stat line.
Orlando: Can’t argue with the man. Jusuf Nurkic still has power and is lighter off his feet. He had the highlight of the night, rising up for a dunk over a defender. His spin move off the block, with his back to the basket, was nice too. We’ve heard so much about his offseason work, but it was good to see it against another team in a game. Having Nurkic on the floor makes this team better. Period. A better Nurkic should mean a better team, right?