It seems with each passing day during the Trail Blazers’ preseason, the sensation that is Caleb Swanigan grows.
Throughout Summer League, training camp and the first preseason game, the rookie big man has shown the ability to score inside, from mid-range and from beyond the three-point line. He has also been an active defender, solid rebounder and dive-on-the-court bundle of energy.
But inside the Blazers’ locker room, never did his stock grow more than Thursday, in the second preseason game, when Swanigan displayed a trait that has been glaringly absent in this franchise since Joel Przybilla left in 2012: Toughness.
During the third quarter, Swanigan sent All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry to the floor with a screen/clear out that allowed Damian Lillard to take a three-pointer at the top of the arc. Lowry was up in arms after he was called for a foul for trying to climb over Swanigan.
Less than 30 seconds later, Swanigan was under the basket irritating Raptors’ power forward Serge Ibaka, a chiseled and well-respected veteran. Swanigan had beaten Ibaka to the ball a possession before for an offensive rebound, and this time, he knocked the ball out of Ibaka’s hands, but was called for a foul. Ibaka took exception to the repeated pestering by the rookie and let Swanigan know. Swanigan held his ground and snapped back.
The exchange led to a technical on Swanigan, who immediately began clapping.
Lillard, the Blazers’ captain who has been here five seasons, soaked it all in.
“I loved seeing it,’’ Lillard said. “Right after he got (the technical) I told him: ‘We aren’t going to take nothing.’’’
It has been something the Blazers have talked about before -- most recently at this month’s Media Day when center Jusuf Nurkic said the Blazers need to adopt the “Bad Boys” persona of the Detroit Pistons – but have never been able to back up.
They haven’t been able to back it up because for the most part, the Blazers have been a group of nice guys, players whose toughness is measured more by their work ethic and mental capacity than their brawn or physical actions.
“We have to establish that,’’ Lillard said. “I feel like since we have been here we’ve been like a team that not mean, we are not going to cause no trouble, we are (just) going to play hard. But he’s got an enforcer type mentality, and I told him ‘Do that. I’m not mad at you, be who you are.’ We need that kind of attitude where we are not taking nothing from nobody – preseason or not, practice or not – we are not going to take nothing, We need that attitude.’’
By now, after Summer League and more than a month of pickup games and practices, the Blazers veterans are comfortable knowing exactly what Swanigan brings. They rave about the rookie, who carries himself much like he plays on the court: straight-forward, no frills, no nonsense.
“He’s a dawg,’’ CJ McCollum said. “I like the aggressiveness. How you see him out there is how he acts every day. It’s not a front. He plays hard and I think he is passionate about the game. He’s not afraid.’’
For coach Terry Stotts, Thursday just reinforced what he has seen since Swanigan was the 26th overall pick.
“I liked his energy,’’ Stotts said. “I liked his fire.’’
Today's Blazers links:
Casey Holdahl at Trail Blazers.com talked to CJ McCollum after he signed a shoe deal with Li-Ning.
Billboard magazine talks to Damian Lillard about his new album.
NBC Sports Northwest's Dwight Jaynes asks: What if the Blazers played big?https://audioboom.com/posts/6372492-inside-the-blazers-w-jason-quick-my-biggest-regret