PORTLAND, Ore. — One of the prominent themes at Portland Trail Blazers media day on Monday was rookie power forward Caleb Swanigan.
Training camp officially opens Tuesday with the first practice of the season. But the Blazers have been in Portland, participating in informal workouts and scrimmages since the start of September. Multiple players mentioned Swanigan when asked to name a player who has impressed or surprised during the precamp workouts.
It wasn't guarded praise, either. Every player that mentioned the rookie forward did so with no hesitation.
"[Swanigan] is very impressive," said Blazers guard Damian Lillard. "He looks good. I was really impressed." When asked by a reporter if Swanigan could play right away, Lillard didn't hesitate.
"Yes," he said. "He's definitely good enough to play right now."
Blazers forward Maurice Harkless also praised his rookie teammate, singling out Swanigan as the player who impressed him most in precamp workouts.
Swanigan was drafted by the Blazers in June with the 26th overall pick after a strong sophomore season at Purdue, when he averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. He starred for the Blazers in summer league, making the all-league team after averaging 16.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
It begs the question: Could Swanigan earn the starting power forward position in training camp?
Last season's starter, Noah Vonleh, is hurt. An injured shoulder will keep him out four or five weeks, meaning he'll miss the first two weeks of the season. That position is up for grabs and will be one of the most interesting training camp position battles to watch.
Swanigan has competition. Ed Davis said Monday that he wants to start at power forward. Al-Farouq Aminu started 25 games last season and played 95 percent of his minutes at power forward. Meyers Leonard could compete for minutes there, though he mostly played center last season.
As for Swanigan, if he has his sights set on capturing the starting position in training camp, he's not sharing that information with others. When asked about his personal goals this season, he said his only goal is to outcompete everyone at practice Tuesday.
"Then I'll make another goal after Tuesday," he said.
Nurkic: "We are Bad Boys"
A noticeably slimmer and toned Jusuf Nurkic said he lost 34 or 35 pounds during the offseason. A report last week by CSNNW's Jason Quick said the Blazers starting center weighs 275 pounds now, down from 309 pounds last season.
Losing the weight should help Nurkic avoid so much wear and tear on his body, especially his knees and feet. When asked if he is concerned about losing strength at the same time he was losing the weight, Nurkic didn't mince words.
"It's sounds crazy, 34 pounds, but I'm still 270. I'm still a strong dude," he said.
Nurkic also said the Blazers need to get better on defense — he called the Blazers' defense last season "trash" — and get more tough.
"We are Bad Boys. When you come to Portland, you know it's not going to be easy," he said, adding that he wanted the Blazers to emulate the 2004 Detroit Pistons championship teams led by Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace.
The Bad Boys are usually a reference to the Pistons teams from the late 1980s and early '90s with Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars. But we'll give Nurkic a pass. He was born in 1994, after all.