PORTLAND, Ore. — The whirlwind that is the NBA offseason descends upon Las Vegas for a couple weeks in July every summer. This year is no different. While there are now summer leagues that play in Orlando and Utah as well, the Las Vegas Summer League is the main attraction.
This season there are 24 teams represented in Vegas, as well as seven of the Top 10 picks from the June draft.
Portland is one of those 24 teams in the desert, and Blazer fans are getting their first look at Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan. There was a ton of anticipation, and through three games, there have been mixed responses to their play.
SUMMER LEAGUE COVERAGE
- Big game for Swanigan; Collins, Connaughton injured in summer league loss
- Can Blazers' Swanigan become the steal of this year's draft?
- NBA summer league: Mixed results for Blazers rookie Collins
- Offensive struggles doom Blazers in loss to Celtics
- Blazers' Swanigan shines in Summer League debut
- Collins, Swanigan gear up for Blazers debut
- How former Oregon Ducks are faring in NBA summer league
If you are an NBA player at summer league, best to stay off social media. The overreaction squad has been out in full force.
It's understandable. Fans want to see their teams’ players succeed. They want to carry on that hope that most teams feel when they bring in rookies. Fan bases want to rally around the “future”.
At the same time, fans tend to forget that this is summer league, the NBA’s version of a rec league. There are guys on the court that will never see an NBA regular season, guys that will make a decent living overseas, and guys that will be school teachers in September. The level of competition is not great, and the level of basketball is borderline professional.
With that said, there are certainly things to be taken away from the small sample size of basketball we have seen played in Vegas.
Here are two reactions ... and two overreactions.
Reaction No. 1: Pat Connaughton and Jake Layman have not helped their case for a roster spot
Heading into Summer League, the Blazers only had four guys on the squad that are likely to be on the roster come training camp (Collins, Swanigan, Connaughton and Layman). Collins and Swanigan are both signed to four-year contracts, two of which are fully guaranteed and the other two years are team options. Layman was a second-round draft pick, but his contract is guaranteed for two more seasons. Connaughton has a non-guaranteed contract.
Portland general manager Neil Olshey cherishes having an open roster spot and the flexibility that it affords in midseason trades and roster moves. That leaves Connaughton as the most likely candidate to be cut loose. Connaughton’s contract becomes guaranteed on July 25, which makes Summer League even more important for the former second-round draft pick.
Through three games, Connaughton is averaging about six points, three rebounds, three assists and shooting 36 percent from the field.
Those numbers aren’t going to solidify his spot on the Blazers, let alone in the NBA. Connaughton has a great fall back with the Baltimore Orioles if he wants to head back to baseball, where he has the tools to be a dominant pitcher.
Basketball is a numbers game and right now the numbers aren’t in Connaughton’s favor.
Reaction No. 2: Caleb Swanigan looks like a steal at No. 26 in the first round
Oregon Sports News senior writer Bryant Knox wrote a great piece a couple of days ago on Swanigan and how he could potentially be the steal of the draft.
Swanigan is going to be a fan favorite in Portland. He is Ed Davis with a more complete offensive game. He is Noah Vonleh with a 3-pointer and higher motor. He is a young version of Zach Randolph. Swanigan has had a lot of comparisons attached to him the past week and they are not all that far-fetched.
Biggie, as Swanigan is affectionately referred to, has been great. If the Blazers make any kind of noise in the tournament that starts Wednesday, Swanigan will be in consideration for some awards in the next week.
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His hustle and grit are what separate him. When Swanigan is on the court, 50-50 balls are no longer 50-50. He is the definition of the often-overused term “high motor."
His stats through three games are great. He has averaged 15.7 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes per game, and is shooting 42 percent from the field and 93 percent from the free-throw line.
Those are incredible numbers that have some fans imagining Swanigan starting at the power forward spot next to Jusuf Nurkic to start the upcoming season.
Awarding Swanigan the starting power forward spot after three summer-league games may be jumping the gun. Swanigan is a rookie and will surely have some speed bumps along the way.
Swanigan may surprise everybody and command a lot of minutes this season, but the competition will be stiff. Swanigan will likely battle for minutes with five other players: Vonleh, Al-Farouq Aminu, Collins, Davis, and Meyers Leonard.
Overreaction No. 1: Zach Collins is the biggest bust of the 2017 NBA draft!
This is kind of the opposite of the reaction to Swanigan, and a sentiment expressed by some Blazers fans over the past week.
Absolutely ridiculous, This Zach Collins clown gonna bust big time. Looks lost on the court.— Animosity_XL (@jgess623) July 12, 2017
Pump the brakes. Collins is a 19-year-old big man, playing in a summer league, which is a league largely dominated by guards or forwards who have the ball in their hands. Collins thrives offensively in a system with playmakers who help create looks for the big man. At Gonzaga, he had Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins; in Portland he will have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Then there is the defensive side of the game, where Collins has thrived in summer league. Major hat tip to Twitter user @PrimeNurkic for pointing out the Reddit thread Zach Collins is a Defensive Stud.
The thread was created after the first two summer league games. It's a small sample size, but that's all you have to work with during summer league anyway, and these stats jump off the page.
- 71.5 defensive rating – No. 1 in all summer leagues
- 3 blocks per game – No. 1 in all summer leagues
- 9.04% block percentage – No. 8 in all summer leagues
- 0.32 DWS (defensive win shares) – No. 9 in all summer leagues
- 2.5 steals per game – No. 13 in all summer leagues
Collins demonstrated defensive ability in college and is off to a promising start on the defensive end of the court in the NBA. When Collins gets some training camp time under his belt, he could be a really well-rounded basketball player.
Overreaction No. 2: The Blazers have lost two summer-league games, they must be terrible!
Some Blazers fans have griped about this during the past week. What we need is a continuous stream of tweets that constantly yells, “IT’S JUST SUMMER LEAGUE! IT’S JUST SUMMER LEAGUE! IT’S JUST SUMMER LEAGUE!”
Blazers boutta lose to a summer league man bun pic.twitter.com/3sDKacacel— Jeff Rust (@TheRust503) July 11, 2017
Honestly, the pick-up games down at the YMCA may be more important in the long-term than any summer league game that is played in Las Vegas.
There is some value in these games, but only in an analysis-of-talent way. It’s not about wins and losses.
Let’s just break down a couple rosters.
The Portland Trail Blazers have four players on their summer-league squad that will be on the team's opening-day roster. Possibly only three if Connaughton is cut before July 25.
The Sacramento Kings, on the other hand, have seven or eight guys on their summer-league team that will be on the roster in October, including three first-round picks from this year's draft and two from last year.
The Boston Celtics, who beat the Blazers on Sunday, have a handful of roster players on their summer-league team, but they also boast the last two No. 3 picks (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown). That is some talent.
This is not to excuse the Blazers' losses the past week but it's important to recognize the level of competition. Other than the four roster guys the Blazers have on their summer-league team, there isn’t much of a chance that anyone else makes an NBA roster this season.
R.J. Hunter? Maybe the G-League.
Jorge Gutierrez? Likely to play over in Turkey.
Markel Brown? Could be headed back to Russia.
There isn’t a lot of NBA talent on the Blazers' summer-league team. Let's wait until October to pass judgment on whether the Blazers can compete with NBA talent. (Hint, they’ll be just fine).
Garrett Thornton has been a senior writer for Oregon Sports News for four years. In that time Garrett has primarily covered the Portland Trail Blazers. He has also started a series "Breaking Vegas with Garrett Thornton", picking NFL games against the spread. Along with his coverage of the Blazers and NFL, Garrett covers Oregon Ducks football. Follow him on Twitter here.