Zach Collins

Exhibition season a time for observations, but not judgments -- yet

Exhibition season a time for observations, but not judgments -- yet

For me, as someone covering an NBA team, training camp is the most frustrating part of the season.

I'm supposed to comment on or analyze changes the team is making, update people on new players and, in general, talk about how things are looking for the upcoming season. And I have to tell you, the way things are today, that's very close to impossible to accomplish.

We don't get to watch more than a few minutes of each day's practice and what we do watch isn't enough to draw conclusions. Hence, the frustration. That's why the exhibition season is a lot more fun.

And, of course, it begins tonight with a Moda Center game vs. Phoenix that you can watch at NBCS beginning with Rip City Live at 6:30.

What will I be watching tonight?

For me, it's about player development. I never worry about that with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum because we've seen their off-season work ethic and assume they will come into each season better than they were the previous season. But here are a few other players I'll be anxious to see:

  • Jusuf Nurkic -- We already know he's lost weight but what about his game? We've heard he has improved his shooting range but I want to see what we're going to get on the defensive end. How is his rim protection going to be? His rebounding?
  • Zach Collins -- Certainly Caleb Swanigan got all the early rookie attention with his play in the summer league, but lately, there is a buzz about Collins. He's looking comfortable and confident, we hear. I want to see where he is in his development.
  • Caleb Swanigan -- This team is looking for a starter at power forward, could a rookie claim that job? I wouldn't be surprised.
  • Meyers Leonard -- Well, you know -- confidence.
  • Evan Turner -- Where will he fit? He can be a valuable contributor in the right role and I'm interested in what that will be.

Obviously, there are other players of interest but these will be my main focus for the first few games. And let me add, it's real dangerous to make snap judgments at this time of year. To the veterans, these games are just a chance to get loose and work on specific things. Don't go overboard either way on performance.

It's time for observations, not judgments.

Breakfast with the Blazers: Fan Fest scrimmage observations

Breakfast with the Blazers: Fan Fest scrimmage observations

Some observations after the Trail Blazers’ Fan Fest scrimmage Sunday at the Moda Center, keeping in mind that is was just a intra-squad workout:

CJ’s ‘target practice’

As crazy as it sounds, it looks like CJ McCollum is primed for an even better season than last, when he averaged 23 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 42.1 percent from three-point range and an NBA-best 91.2 percent from the line.

Some of the shots McCollum made Sunday had Neil Olshey, the team’s top executive, shifting in his seat and chuckling at the absurd ease in which McCollum scored over blanket coverage. All night -- be it with his ball handling, court vision or shot making --  it seemed as if McCollum was toying with the competition.

All told, he hit 6-of-9 shots and all three of his three-pointers and finished with 15 points and the MVP trophy.

“Pretty good target practice,’’ McCollum quipped afterward.

This training camp, McCollum seems more at ease. Confidence has never, ever, been a problem for him, but in the past, it seemed like he carried an angry confidence, like he was in a rush to get recognized, or in a hurry to prove people wrong.

This season, that confidence seems more … peaceful, more comfortable.  I think that was on display pregame, when McCollum and Damian Lillard had a midcourt conversation with television broadcasters Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd.

In those settings, Lillard is usually the one who owns the stage. But on Sunday, it was McCollum who held court, telling stories about his travels to Africa, and making quips about social media posts.

To me, it looks like a young star coming into his own, as a player and a person. When that synergy happens, look out … and it’s why I think it’s possible McCollum surpasses Lillard as the team’s top scorer this season. 

The surprise

The biggest surprise Sunday was the play of guard Isaiah Briscoe, the rookie from Kentucky who is one of three players trying to win the 15th and final roster spot.

Briscoe scored 14 points and hit 6-of-7 shots while adding six rebounds, five assists and two steals.

After the game, coach Terry Stotts shrugged and said that’s what the staff has been seeing all training camp out of Briscoe. He is in competition with NBA veteran sharpshooter Anthony Morrow and guard Archie Goodwin, a 2013 first round pick – a spot I think many figure will go to Morrow – but after seeing Briscoe on Sunday that might be more of a battle than we think.

Solid Swanigan

Caleb Swanigan had 13 points and four rebounds, and what I liked best was his no-hesitation three-point attempt, which he made.

His ability to be a spacing power forward will only help him get on the floor in what figures to be the most heated position battle of the preseason. Between Swanigan, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ed Davis, Maurice Harkless, and eventually Noah Vonleh when his shoulder heals, coach Stotts will have many options.

I’ve been curious this training camp how Stotts and the players view Swanigan from a spacing standpoint, and all have had basically the same response: He hasn’t shot it well the first week, but they know he can. If he can consistently hit the jumper, that will give him a better chance to be on the floor with Lillard and McCollum.

Of course, the bread-and-butter for Swanigan is his nose for the ball, and that was on display Sunday. He is not afraid to bang inside and he is one of those guys who is constantly in motion.

“What saw from Caleb is what we’ve seen for the last month: Effective scorer, tough, feels very confident on the block,’’ Stotts said.

Odds & Ends

While Swanigan has earned much of the attention and figures to be more game ready, don’t sleep on fellow rookie Zach Collins. On Sunday, Collins had a nice block on Swanigan at the rim, and word out of practices is that Collins has emerged as the team’s best rim protector … Speaking of defense, Meyers Leonard looked much better at contesting shots on Sunday. People often fixate on his shot, but for the coaches, it’s his defense that has prevented him from playing more. Leonard knows this and perhaps that’s why he was pumping himself up and talking to the crowd after holding his ground during a couple of Jusuf Nurkic’s forays into the lane … Ed Davis was really active and bouncy, which is exactly what the Blazers need from him. Next game, spend a couple possessions where you just focus on Davis and you will notice how many little things he does – keeping a ball alive, tipping a rebound to a teammate, showing help defense to cut off a drive, setting a hard screen. He makes this team better … Looks like it could be another hold-your-breath-and-pray shooting seasons for Al-Farouq Aminu. He went 0-for-4 with one airball and a near airball … Evan Turner and Maurice Harkless were late scratches to the scrimmage, but Stotts said both should be available to play Tuesday in the preseason opener against Phoenix. 

Breakfast with the Blazers: Sunday is Fan Fest, a free event to see team scrimmage

Breakfast with the Blazers: Sunday is Fan Fest, a free event to see team scrimmage

Sunday is the Trail Blazers’ 13th annual Wells Fargo Fan Fest, which is essentially a chance to see the Trail Blazers scrimmage for free at the Moda Center.

If you have never been to the event, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s free, first-come-first-serve on the seating, and a chance to see the Blazers’ players in a setting that is relaxed and intimate.

“It’s like they came to a practice, and we are just hoopin’ in front of them,’’ Damian Lillard said. “Like a pickup (game) … that’s pretty cool.’’

Doors open at noon and the team will scrimmage around 1 p.m., which will consist of four six-minute quarters played on a running clock except for the game’s final minute.

To receive a free ticket, click here or go to

It will be Blazers’ fans first look at rookies Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, the first chance to see what a slimmed down Jusuf Nurkic can do on the court, and to see for themselves whether Meyers Leonard has improved.

But more than anything, it’s a chance to interact with the players and see them without the pressure of a game weighing on them.

“It’s good for the people who can’t afford to go to the games,’’ Ed Davis said. “And it’s a good chance to be up close and see us.’’

Coach Terry Stotts said he puts very little stock into what happens during the scrimmage, so don’t expect a player to win or lose a rotation spot because of what happens Sunday, but he also stressed that the event is not a time for horseplay.

“I like that our players are able to interact with the fans during certain parts of it, and from a basketball standpoint, we make it a competitive game,’’ Stotts said. “It’s not a practice, but it’s not like we are just out there screwing around. It’s a competitive game and guys are trying to win. And we use it as an opportunity to work on the things we’ve been working on in camp.’’

Lillard, who has won the Most Valuable Player of the event three times, says he doesn’t plan on winning it this season. He said plans on playing only limited minutes in order to give the rookies and other players a chance to showcase for the fans.

Then again, he said the same thing last season then came out on fire, hitting his first five three-pointers, which prompted him to keep playing. Not so this year, he says.

“This year, I will probably play very, very little,’’ Lillard said. “I’ve been here five years, they’ve seen me play, they know what I’m going to do. They want to see who else is out here, who has improved.’’

In past years, the event has drawn anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 fans. If you aren’t able to attend, you can watch on CSN at 1 p.m.

Either way, it’s an event worth watching.

“As players, we enjoy playing in front of a crowd,’’ CJ McCollum said. “We enjoy being able to provide them with a free experience. I know a lot of fans don’t necessarily have the time, or the money, to go to as many games as they would like to. So to be able to go in and sit courtside at the arena … it’s a good environment. And it’s a first chance to look at the new guys.’’

Today's Blazers Links:

I wrote about teammates praising Meyers Leonard after first week

Dane Carbaugh listed five questions the Blazers must answer this season.

The Oregonian's Joe Freeman has a story on Anthony Morrow and his fight for the 15th spot. 

Practice update: Harkless out, Collins in for Blazers

USA Today

Practice update: Harkless out, Collins in for Blazers

Wednesday’s Trail Blazers pracatice brought some good news and bad news on the injury front.

Maurice Harkless, the team’s starting small forward last season, did not practice because of what the team is calling a strained left foot. Coach Terry Stotts said the foot bothered Harkless in the team’s opening practice on Tuesday, and when the problem lingered into Wednesday they decided to hold him out of action.

No timetable or designation has been assigned to the injury.

The news was better for rookie Zach Collins, who saw his first action in practice after sitting out Tuesday waiting to be cleared from the NBA concussion protocol. Collins was elbowed in the jaw last Friday by teammate Isaiah Briscoe and was deemed to have a concussion. He was cleared and participated fully on Wednesday.

“It was good to have him out there,’’ Stotts said. “Disappointing that he missed yesterday, but (today) he was active, picking things up. To be honest, I think everybody had a pretty good day.’’

Terry Stotts and his defensive dilemma: To change or not to change?

Terry Stotts and his defensive dilemma: To change or not to change?

It was somewhat a conflicted Terry Stotts this summer when it came time for him to address the defensive blueprint of this season’s Trail Blazers.

The Blazers’ coach admitted his team’s defense for much of last season was bad. Historically bad.

But after a February trade that brought in 7-foot center Jusuf Nurkic, the team’s defense dramatically improved – going from 26th out of 30 teams to tied for 10th in the NBA over the final 26 games, when Portland went 18-8.

All told, the Blazers finished the season with the 21st ranked defensive rating, just ahead of Cleveland and just behind Washington.

It left the sixth-year Portland coach feeling as if he was in the spin cycle, not knowing which team or which time frame to believe … and more importantly, whether it was his system, his personnel or just happenstance that led to the wide disparity.

“I think myself, and we as a staff, have struggled with where we are, and who we are, defensively,’’ Stotts said Tuesday after the Blazers’ first practice of the season.

Perhaps most vexing was his team had a similar Jekyll and Hyde defensive trait the season before, when only after three poor defensive months did a January turnaround on the defensive end propel the Blazers into the fifth seed in the West.

“So, was that success for real?’’ Stotts asked of the strong defensive turnarounds the last two seasons. “I mean, 25 games is a good sample size. So, do we do what we do better because we’ve shown that it can work? Or do we need to change things up?’’

Last season, as the team was foundering as the NBA’s worst defense in December, he did change things up by opting to trap teams like Chicago and Minnesota which struggled from the three-point line. The decision, in part, came from a suggestion from the team’s big men, who felt an aggressive trapping style better fit their skillset and strengths.

It worked for stretches, but not enough for Stotts to make a complete overhaul.

“There was a cry for us to be more aggressive last year with active bigs and that didn’t work, but you know, we tried,’’ Stotts said. “So it’s challenging to find, for lack of better word, a defensive system that is appropriate for us because we had one. And now, is that still the one for us, or not?’’

Stotts’ has more or less kept the same defensive system which he implemented his second season, when the team acquired center Robin Lopez. Because Lopez was a cerebral player and a fearless rim protector, Stotts used a pick-and-roll defense that kept his big back and invited the ball handler to take a contested mid-range jump shot.

Outside of the pick-and-roll, a Stotts’ defense is generally considered conservative: His team’s don’t gamble for steals, rarely double team and are more cognizant of staying with shooters than leaving to help stop penetration.

Those principles led to defensive stability for two seasons with the group of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Lopez. And over the last two season, there have been stretches – about 20 to 25 games each season – in which the system has been effective.

“I believe in the system we had, with the people we had …  you could be a good defensive team,’’ Stotts said. “Maybe we had better defensive players, I don’t know. But we showed that what we were doing, you could be successful.’’

So that leads us back to this summer, and Stotts’ dilemma about his defensive system. Was it the system? The personnel? Or simply the need to do what they do better, for longer periods?

“What weighed on me was the inconsistency,” Stotts said.

So it came down to a question for Stotts, one that even he is probably not sure of the answer.

“Were we a good defensive team last year or not?’’ Stotts asked rhetorically. “That’s probably the question. If we were a poor defensive team then maybe you make changes. But were the last 25 games with Nurk for real? Then we were a good defensive team. So that’s where the question lies.’’

By the time Tuesday’s first practice arrived, Stotts had made his decision: stick with the same defensive plan, with a few “tweaks” that will cater to certain player tendencies.

Also, he wants this season to improve upon the Blazers forcing turnovers.

“I’d like to be a little bit more aggressive … one of the things we have struggled with is turnovers. Can we create more turnovers?’’ Stotts said. “I think we can create more turnovers maybe by being more aggressive on the ball, but also maybe by being better on the weakside by having more focus and alertness.’’

When Tuesday’s practice started, it was with defense, a less-than-subtle reminder of its importance.

“I think our team is better committed to being defensive,’’ Stotts said, realizing as he said it that it might ring hollow. “I think you guys have heard that for six years now, it’s nothing new.’’ 

Notes: Rookie Zach Collins did not practice Tuesday because he was in the NBA concussion protocol after being elbowed in the jaw on Friday by Isaiah Briscoe. He said he expected to be cleared later on Tuesday and be ready to participate in Wednesday's practice ... Veteran big man Ed Davis took part in full-contact practice for the first time since February, when he left the team to have season-ending surgery on his left shoulder. "Ed had his bounce back,'' Stotts said. "Ed looked like the Ed from two years ago: he was lively, energetic … it was really good to see him out there.''

Trail Blazers lose game, and Zach Collins, Pat Connaughton to injury

Trail Blazers lose game, and Zach Collins, Pat Connaughton to injury

LAS VEGAS – The good news for the Trail Blazers: Caleb Swanigan continues to impress at the Las Vegas Summer League.

The bad news: Both Zach Collins (right quadriceps contusion) and Pat Connaughton (left hamstring strain) were injured Tuesday after playing only 11 minutes in the Blazers’ 99-85 loss to San Antonio.

Swanigan, whose relentless effort has been eye-catching throughout Portland’s first three games, has been the standout player for the Blazers in Las Vegas, his effort and activity as impressive as his statistics.

On Tuesday, the 26th overall pick had 19 points and 13 rebounds while hitting 8-of-13 shots. His offensive arsenal on Tuesday included a three-pointer, an offensive rebound putback, a mid-range jumper and a layin in transition, and he continued to be active and agile on the defensive end.

Swanigan, who has had double-doubles in two of the three games, is averaging 15.6 points and 11.0 rebounds at Summer League. 

How would Swanigan describe his mentality when he steps on the floor?

"Just balls to the wall, that’s my biggest thing … pardon my French, but play hard, man,'' he said.

Summer League hasn’t been as memorable for Collins, Connaughton or Jake Layman, the four players who will be, or are in contention to stick, with the NBA club.

Collins came up lame in the second quarter and went to the bench, where he slammed a towel to the ground in frustration. At halftime he limped to the locker room, then was the last to return to the court, where he didn’t take part in warmups. Shortly after, the team announced he would miss the rest of the game with a bruise to his upper right leg.

Collins finished with four points and four rebounds while making two of three shots. In three Summer League games, the No. 10 overall pick  averaged 6.3 points and 5.7 rebounds while hitting 6-of-23 shots.

"I don’t know if I got hit, or pulled something,  or what,'' Collins said. "I just know it hurts"

Collins said he was feeling discomfort in the leg after Sunday's game, and said that same discomfort "flared up" on Tuesday.

"Which kind of sucks because I felt like I was getting into a little but of a rhythm offensively, fianlly,'' Collins said. "Then, my leg gave out.'' 

Connaughton, who is trying to show the Blazers he deserves a $1.4 million contract before the July 25 deadline outlined in his contract, had his best game shortened when he pulled up lame in the second quarter. Connaughton had seven points, two rebounds and three assists in 11 minutes, hitting 3-of-6 shots, including 1-of-3 from three-point range.

The Blazers (1-2) did not say how long Collins or Connaughton would be out, but Collins said his hope is to return at some point in Vegas.

"If I'm good to to go, I'm going to play,'' Collins said.

Meanwhile, Layman continued to struggle with his shot on Tuesday. After going 1-for-13 on Sunday against Boston, Layman went 1-for-9 against the Spurs, finishing with three points and three rebounds. Layman in three games has made only 6-of-30 shots.

San Antonio (2-1) was led by guard Bryn Forbes who had 35 points on 11-of-26 shooting.

Connaughton, Collins leave game early with injuries

Connaughton, Collins leave game early with injuries

The Portland Trail Blazers are down two men after guard Pat Connaughton and center Zach Collins both sustained injuries in the first half of action against the Spurs 


Connaughton injured himself on what looked to be a non-contact play midway through the second quarter. Connaughton passed the basketball to Jake Layman for a dunk, but immediately fell to the ground clinching his left leg. He was able to walk off the court under his own power, but quickly headed to the locker room.

The Trail Blazers later announced the he would not return due to a left hamstring strain.

As for Collins, it isn’t know when his injured occurred, but he could be seen being looked at by team trainers late in the second quarter. He limped to the locker room at halftime favoring his right leg.

The Trail Blazers would later announce that Collins suffered a right quad contusion and would not return.

It is not yet known if the injuries will keep Connaughton and Collins sidelined for an extended period. We will bring you updates as soon as we have more information

Trail Blazers' Zach Collins dealing with 'frustrating' start to Summer League

Trail Blazers' Zach Collins dealing with 'frustrating' start to Summer League

LAS VEGAS – Zach Collins on Sunday said he felt better about his second Summer League game, but the Trail Blazers rookie says he remains frustrated that his offensive game is sputtering.

“I thought I played a little better; just couldn’t hit a shot,’’ said Collins, who had five points on 1-for-7 shooting in the Blazers’ 70-64 loss to Boston. “It’s frustrating. I don’t feel like offensively I’m playing as well as I could be, and that ball isn’t going in right now. I just have to keep going at it.’’

In the Blazers’ first game on Saturday, Collins was 3-for-13, after which he described his play as “terrible.’’

The Blazers coaching staff is trying to temper expectations of the No. 10 overall pick – both of Collins and the fan base – by focusing on what they are saying is solid defense.

Collins, who is admittedly his harshest critic, says his defense should never waver. 

“I feel like my defense is going to be there consistently, because that’s an effort thing,’’ Collins said. “That’s something I can control – the effort.’’

Offensively, Collins said he felt like he rushed shots inside and said he needs to get to the basket more often. Whether or not that is a byproduct of him feeling pressure to produce in front of his hometown, or to live up to his No. 10 draft position, Collins said it doesn’t matter.

“Regardless of where I’m drafted, I hold myself to a high standard,’’ Collins said. “Obviously, I’m not hitting shots right now, but I have to know the work I’ve put in to get to the point that the shots are eventually going to fall.’’

Jim Moran, the Blazers’ Summer League coach, said the biggest thing that will help Collins is the weight room.

“What excites us the most is his work ethic, his ability to pop and shoot 3’s and he listens, pays attention,’’ Moran said. “I’m excited once he gets around our weight staff and gets a chance to hit the weight room and bulk up he will really be able to expand his game.’’

In the meantime, Collins is learning how to deal with frustration.  

“It’s hard. He’s out here and he wants to play well, miss a couple shots and things don’t go his way and it gets frustrating ,’’ Moran said. “He’s very hard on himself … that’s one thing, he has a high standard for himself, he always thinks there’s something he could do better and that’s something we like as coaches.’’

Poor shooting dooms Trail Blazers in loss against Boston

Poor shooting dooms Trail Blazers in loss against Boston

LAS VEGAS – There wasn’t a lot of happy faces around the Trail Blazers on Sunday after few, if any, played well during Sunday’s 70-64 loss to Boston at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Portland missed its first six shots, fell behind 11-0, and skidded to the finish from there while shooting 27.9 percent in a game that was stop-and-go because of a litany of fouls.

Blazers’ top draft pick Zach Collins didn’t have the rebound offensive performance he hoped for after sputtering in his debut, but he once again showed signs of being a reliable and sturdy defender. Collins had five points, five rebounds and two blocks while making 1-of-6 shots from the field and 3-of-6 from the free throw line.

Caleb Swanigan, the Blazers’ other first round pick, finished with 12 points and seven rebounds while making 4-of-12 shots.

It wasn’t any better for the Blazers’ roster holdovers, Jake Layman (1-for-13) and Pat Connaughton (5-for-11), who hit his last three shots. 

Boston got off to a quick start thanks to two of their prized youngsters. Second-year player Jaylen Brown hit his first two three-pointers and No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum continues to impress as a polished and NBA-ready rookie. Brown had 13 points and eight rebounds while Tatum finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. 

Blazers' Zach Collins on his Summer League debut: "Terrible"

Blazers' Zach Collins on his Summer League debut: "Terrible"

LAS VEGAS – Trail Blazers’ rookie Zach Collins didn’t mince words when it came to evaluating his Summer League debut on Saturday:

“Terrible,’’ the 7-footer said after the Blazers’ 72-63 win over Utah. “Terrible … I just didn’t play well.’’

Collins finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, but had six turnovers and shot 3-of-13 from the field. Many of his turnovers came when he was stripped inside or lost control of the ball in traffic.

“I was soft,’’ Collins said.

Inside the Blazers, the evaluation was much more measured.

Jim Moran, the Blazers’ assistant coach who is serving as Summer League head coach, said he could see Collins beating himself up in the locker room while looking at the boxscore, but he said the 19-year-old was probably obsessing about the wrong things. 

“From a coaching standpoint … we are more concerned about the defense, and on defense he was good,’’ Moran said. “That’s the one thing when we watch film tomorrow, we will stress his defense. Just being in the right place, setting screens, getting guys open … it’s the little things first. He’s going to get his shots, and they are going to fall, but he can’t judge his play off the stat sheet.’’

Collins showed flashes offensively, particularly early. He threaded a nice bounce pass to a cutting Jake Layman that resulted in a dunk, then later hit a turnaround baseline jumper.

On defense, his four blocks were are the obvious highlight, but the coaching staff said he also stood out in the subtleties of the game, such as moving his feet, rotating to help and fighting through screens.

More than anything, Collins showed the fire and competitiveness that the organization touted when they traded up to take him with the 10th overall pick. Never was it more evident than his immediate postgame assessment of being “terrible,” a mood that didn’t subside 30 minutes after the game had ended.

“I’m my biggest critic, so right now I’m going to give you guys some pretty negative stuff about myself,’’ Collins said. “That’s just the way it is.’’