PORTLAND, Ore. -- What kind of player do the Blazers have in rookie Caleb Swanigan?
One the one hand, the former Purdue power forward was a late first-round draft pick, snatched up by Portland with the 26th pick. Swanigan didn't drop to the Blazers; in fact, many mock drafts had him falling out of the first round.
Not much to shout about.
On the other hand, Swanigan was the best big man in college basketball last season. His stats were so good — 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, three assists per game — you may have noticed an army of tweets marching around cyberspace comparing Swanigan to college-era Tim Duncan.
As for Caleb Swanigan, he's the first NCAA player to average at least 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists since Tim Duncan— Casey Holdahl (@CHold) June 26, 2017
Swanigan put up those stats for a team ranked in the Top 25 all season, competing in a tough and talented conference, with every opponent gunning to shut down Swanigan, who was his team's best player.
Throw in the fact that Swanigan shot 45 percent on 2.4 3-point attempts per game (he can stretch the floor, too?) and the pot gets even sweeter.
How did this guy drop all the way to the end of the first round? The mystery begins and ends with defense.
Swanigan projects as a bad defensive player in the NBA. The scouting reports don't waffle on this one. He's a skilled offensive player but his ability to defend will determine his future in the NBA.
During his introductory press conference in Portland on Monday, a reporter asked Swanigan which position he'll play for the Blazers.
"It doesn't matter what you can do on offense, it matters who you can guard. Wherever they feel I can guard best is where I'll play," he said.
Even Swanigan gets it.
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According to scouts, Swanigan doesn't have the quickness or athleticism to guard small forwards. He didn't compete in the athleticism drills at the 2017 NBA combine, but in 2016, he posted a standing vertical leap of 26 inches, a maximum vertical leap of 29 inches and a lane agility time of 12.8 seconds.
At the 2017 combine, his max vertical would have ranked second-to-last and his lane agility time third to last.
Can Swanigan play power forward, then? His below-average height and lack of lateral quickness could make that a challenge. There are a lot of power forwards in the NBA who will be taller and faster than Swanigan.
Swanigan’s height (with or without shoes) is below average for a power forward in the NBA. He’s 6-8.5 with shoes (average power forward height with shoes is 6-9.4) and 6-7.5 without (average 6-7.9).
His wingspan and standing reach give him a chance, though. Even though Swanigan’s height is undersized for a power forward, his wingspan and standing reach are above average.
A long wingspan helps players get their arms in passing lanes and reach for a rebound out of their way. A long standing reach helps players challenge shots better.
The average wingspan of a power forward is 7-1.5. Swanigan's wingspan is 7-3, though he measured 7-3.5 at the 2016 combine and nearly 7-5 by USA Basketball in 2015. The average standing reach for a power forward is 8-11. Swanigan's standing reach is 9-0.
Scouts may question Swanigan’s height and athleticism and how that will impact his ability to play effective defense in the NBA. But at least part of playing effective defense – at any level – is effort. Few would question that Swanigan will work as hard as possible to be a good defender.
“It just comes down to effort,” an NBA scout told Nathan Baird of the Lafayette Journal & Courier when asked about Swanigan’s defense. “That’s how it is with defense – picking up on schemes and effort. If he’s a good enough offensive player, then he can make it work.”
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW.
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