Hooked on a feeling: Neil Olshey was sold on Zach Collins in January

Hooked on a feeling: Neil Olshey was sold on Zach Collins in January

It was in January this year when Neil Olshey had a feeling about Zach Collins.

Throughout his career as an NBA executive, Olshey had often experienced a defining  moment in his evaluation of college players that changed his view of a player from a prospect to a target.

On Thursday, Olshey used his latest feeling to trade up in the NBA draft to select Collins – a 7-footer from Gonzaga -- with the 10th overall pick.

“He is a franchise-level building block,’’ Olshey said.

It’s not the first time Olshey has felt this way about a player.

In 2013, Olshey drove through an east-coast snowstorm to watch a Lehigh guard named CJ McCollum. It wasn’t the 34 points McCollum scored that night against Bryant College that stuck with him. And it wasn’t the fact McCollum missed a floater at the buzzer to win it.

It was how the loss gutted McCollum to the point where he stayed motionless in the key after the buzzer sounded. To Olshey, it showed a player who cared more about winning than his individual stats.

That summer, Olshey took McCollum with the 10th pick, and McCollum today has emerged as one of the NBA’s most prolific and creative scorers.

The year before, in 2012, after an afternoon of workouts with draft prospects, Olshey picked up a point guard named Damian Lillard on the way to a dinner with owner Paul Allen. Olshey was fresh on the job with the Blazers and didn’t know the area beyond the Blazers’ practice facility, and soon found himself lost en route to Oswego Grill.

“I remember he didn’t know where he was going,’’ Lillard would say later. “We got off on the wrong exit. Then we had the right exit, but were going the wrong way … and he was all mad, saying ‘Where the hell we at!’’’

During it all, Olshey remembered looking over at Lillard. He was calm. Cool. Unfazed. And as Lillard recalled, he remembered telling Olshey, “I know you are going to find it.’’

To Olshey, that moment of chaos revealed something special about Lillard. The young point guard was cool under pressure. And he was supportive of a teammate, even if it was an executive stressing behind the wheel.

A few weeks later, Olshey took Lillard with the No. 6 overall pick, and Lillard has shown the same traits both on and off the court as he has become on of the NBA’s marquee players.

Which brings us to January, and Collins, and Olshey’s latest moment.

The scene was the University of Portland’s Chiles Center and the event was Gonzaga at Portland, where Olshey and assistant general manager Bill Branch went to scout Collins.

At the time, the Blazers were scuffling through a disappointing season, were out of the playoff picture, yet to inflicted with Nurkic Fever. They were targeting lottery picks and were unsure whether they would find a target at the West Coast Conference game.

But soon, they saw a 7-footer who had a nice shooting touch. He also defended. He was also tough and competitive. Then, there was one play that sealed it. It wasn’t as subtle as the McCollum or Lillard moments, but it was enough to turn him from prospect to target.

“He caught a ball on the left block, got doubled teamed, and threw a behind-the-back, no-look pass,’’ Olshey said.

He turned to Branch.

“I said, OK Billy, we can go home,’’ Olshey said. “We’re done. Top 10 pick. We knew right then.’’

**

Funny thing is, in one way, Collins beat Olshey to the punch when determining his fate.

In October of 2012, when Collins was 14, he was playing the NBA 2k video game, which enables you to create yourself as a player. Collins created his profile and entered the video game’s draft.

He was selected by the Trail Blazers with the 11th overall pick, which he captured with a photo and tweeted.

As he remembers, Collins that season with the Blazers on the video game won the Rookie of the Year.

“Possibly MVP,’’ Collins said.

Nearly five years later, Collins acknowledged that video games are easier than real basketball, but that didn’t stop him from aspiring to match his 2012 “award.”

“I don’t see why I cant be the Rookie of the Year,’’ Collins said.

While Olshey touted the Las Vegas-native as a franchise-level building block, he also cautioned that Collins might take some time to make an impact, especially on a deep  and experienced team like the Blazers.

Still, Olshey offered a glowing assessment.

“He’s the whole package,’’ Olshey said. “He’s a big-time rim protector, a great one-on-one defender, a big time post defender, he can really pass it … he can stretch the floor, score over both shoulders … he’s everything you look for in a big man in our league today.’’

**

By Thursday morning, Olshey and his staff knew they wanted Collins, but weren’t sure he was attainable. The Blazers owned the 15th, 20th and 26th picks and long knew Collins wouldn’t last until the 15th pick based in part by their inability to get him to Portland for a workout.

“We had no shot to get him in (to Portland for a workout),’’ Olshey said. “There was no way he was going to be there at 15. I think we got lucky he got to 10.’’

Olshey figured the key would be Sacramento at 5 and New York at 8. If the Kings didn’t get a point guard with the No. 5 pick, the conventional wisdom was they would use 10 to pick either Frank Ntilikina or Dennis Smith. But once Boston drafted Jayson Tatum at No. 3, it opened the way for the Kings to take point guard De’Aaron Fox at five, giving them flexibility to explore trades.

And when Ntilikina went to the Knicks at eight – not Malik Monk like some had projected – he knew it was time to pounce at the chance to get Collins.

So Olshey swapped 15 and 20 with the Kings for No. 10.

“He’s the only guy we would move both picks to get,’’ Olshey said.

In reality, Olshey’s anxiety about Collins started in March as Collins started taking on a bigger role in Gonzaga’s run through the conference and NCAA tournaments.

“He just kept playing better and better, and we kept getting more and more frustrated, knowing the more minutes he got, the more the rest of the country was going to catch up,’’ Olshey said.

In the end, Olshey followed his gut and that feeling from January, and got his man.

The plan is to play Collins as a backup to Jusuf Nurkic, and perhaps at times alongside Nurkic against bigger lineups.

Collins says he doesn’t want to pigeon-hole himself as a center or a power forward, he just wants to play, improve, and mostly, win. Other than that, he says he doesn’t know much about the team outside of the latest players who Olshey had a “feeling” about -- Lillard and McCollum.

“I just know they are a tough team and they don’t really back down from anybody – and those are traits I grew up with and those are part of my game as well,’’ Collins said. “I think … I can fit in perfectly there.’’

Blazers find their own brand of magic in Orlando

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Blazers find their own brand of magic in Orlando

Make that two wins in a row for the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland went to Orlando and dominated the Magic from start to finish. The Magic put together a run in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to take down the Blazers. The Blazers used the hot shooting of Al-Farouq Aminu (15pts, 3-5 from deep) to improve to 2-1 on this 5-game road trip. Not only did the Blazers grab another win, they also saw the return of Jusuf Nurkic from a right ankle sprain. The Blazers look to make it three wins in a row on Saturday when they travel to Charlotte to take on the Hornets.

Final Score in Orlando: Blazers 95 – Magic 88

How to stream Blazers vs. Magic

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How to stream Blazers vs. Magic

If you already get NBCS Northwest on your TV at home, but you are not able to be home during a Trail Blazers game, you can now stream the game live at the NBC Sports App.  You can download the NBC Sports App at www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile.  Or, you can stream the game online at our live stream page, NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream.

The Portland Trail Blazers (14-13) will look to make it two straight wins when Portland visits the Orlando Magic (11-18) on Friday.

Portland overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Heat 102-95 in Miami on Wednesday night which snapped a five-game losing streak for the Trail Blazers.  CJ McCollum led the charge with 28 points and Al-Farouq Aminu added 15 points and 13 rebounds in the win.

Ed Davis finishied with 11 points and five rebounds.  Davis played a season-high 26 minutes. 

Center Jusuf Nurkic (sprained right ankle) missed his third consecutive game and backup center Meyers Leonard (illness) also did not play. 

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 14-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

After winning six of its first eight game, Orlando’s season is not looking as promising as the start to the season.  The Magic have lost three in a row and 14 of their last 17 overall.

The most recent loss for the Magic came at home on Wednesday night when the Clippers beat Orlando 106-95.

In the loss, Jonathon Simmons had 20 points, eight assists and six rebounds, while  Nikola Vucevic added 14 points, 12 rebounds and four steals.  

As for the injury reports, the Blazers have listed Nurkic (sprained right ankle) as questionable, while the Magic have listed Arron Afflalo (back spasms) and Aaron Gordon (concussion) as questionable.  Plus, Evan Fournier (sprained right ankle), Jonathan Isaac (sprained right ankle) and Terrence Ross (sprained right MCL/non-displaced fracture of right tibial plateau) are all listed as out vs. the Blazers.

Friday’s contest is the last of two meetings between the Trail Blazers and Magic this season.  Portland defeated Orlando 99-94 back on November 15th at the Moda Center.

Looking at the recent history between the Blazers and Magic, Orlando has won five of the last seven meetings against Portland at home in the Amway Center.

You can catch our pregame coverage of the Blazers and Magic contest with Rip City Live at 3:00pm on Wednesday as Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams get you set for all of the action.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our live streaming pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 3:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.

 


Quick Links:

The losing streak is no more!

 

Video:   Lillard—We had to get this one

Video:   Blazers can finally exhale

Video:   Blazers needed this win in the worst way

Video:  Wednesday night Lillard showed us, sometimes, steps don’t count

 

Game Details:

Where:  Amway Center, Orlando FL

Tip-off: 4:00pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

Live NBC Sports Northwest coverage:  Rip City Live (3:00pm), Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming of the game: Watch the game on your phone on the NBC Sports App.  Download the  app at http://www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile .  Or check out NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream online.

Live streaming coverage on Facebook: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 3:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

The losing streak is no more!

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The losing streak is no more!

It's about Dame time! The Blazers came into Miami losers of five straight, and for much of the game it looked like they would drop number six. However, Lillard and Co. flipped the switch in the fourth quarter to bring home the 102-95 win. The Blazers, led by Lillard down the stretch, outscored the Heat 32-16 in the fourth quarter. The Blazers now have a new streak: A one game winning streak! Can they keep it going on Friday in Orlando?

Finall Score: Blazers 102 - Heat 95

Blazer rotations continue to change but the losing streak reaches 5

Blazer rotations continue to change but the losing streak reaches 5

It wasn't surprising that the Trail Blazers lost another game Monday night. The fifth straight defeat came in Oakland to the Golden State Warriors, a team that has beaten Portland like a snare drum recently.

Yes, the Warriors were without all-stars Steph Curry, Draymond Green and others -- but they still had enough to handle the Blazers with relative ease.

Portland staged a fourth-quarter comeback, mainly due to Damian Lillard's heroics. Lillard was playing with yet another new lineup combination down the stretch, this one consisting of Jake Layman, Zach Collins, Noah Vonleh and Pat Connaughton. Later, CJ McCollum came on for Layman, but this was the group that played most of the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, starters Evan Turner and Meyers Leonard, who helped stake their team to a lead after the first quarter, didn't appear in the final period. Just as Shabazz Napier -- who had put together a nice run of off-the-bench performances -- rode the bench for the entire game. Napier has not played in the last two games and has seen just eight minutes of action in the last three. This after Napier had played at least 14 minutes in all of the previous 14 games. Leonard's playing time has been odd, too -- he went four straight games without playing, then in his last 12 games has played a streak of 4, 22. 17, 4, 0, 0, 0, 8, 16, 3, 20 and 18 minutes.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Injuries have complicated Coach Terry Stotts' rotations recently, but Portland hasn't been crippled by injuries the way some other teams have. Stotts has said previously that he is more comfortable when he finds a set rotation but so far this season, it just hasn't been there.

I think it's become a problem for this team because players -- in any sport -- usually need a consistent role in order to perform consistently. Players need to know what's going to be expected of them every game.

But Stotts' job isn't easy. He has too many players who bring similar skills, too many who defend well but can't shoot and a roster that's unbalanced. His best two players -- McCollum and Lillard -- basically play the same position and he doesn't have any consistent scoring on the wings. In the middle, he has a center who hasn't played anywhere near what we saw from him during his sneak preview last season.

I don't know the answer to all this but I know the roster isn't going to change much. It's locked in. I think at some point the coach is going to have to make rotation choices and stick with them. I think, too, he may need to define who his shooters are and make sure they get more shots than the ones who can't make shots.

And hope that his team stays together long enough to get things straightened out.

Blazers can't keep pace with Warriors in 111-104 loss

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Blazers can't keep pace with Warriors in 111-104 loss

Even without Steph Curry and Draymond Green, the Warriors were just too much for the Trail Blazers. Portland fell to Golden State, 111-104, dropping the first game of a five-game road trip, and losing their fifth game in a row. The Blazers now look to right the ship on Wednesday in Miami.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Final Score: Warriors 111 – Blazers 104

Postgame Videos:
Damian Lillard
CJ McCollum

How to stream Blazers vs. Warriors

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How to stream Blazers vs. Warriors

In addition to our normal game streaming for NBCS Northwest customers via the NBC Sports App, if you don't get NBCS Northwest but live in the Trail Blazer territory you can now sign up for our NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” a 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy.

The Portland Trail Blazers (13-12) now hit the road for matchup on Monday night against the Golden State Warriors  (21-6).

Portland dropped its fourth straight game on Saturday night, 124-117 at the Moda Center to the Houston Rockets.  The Blazers were without Jusuf Nurkic (right ankle) and Maurice Harkless (left quad) for Saturday’s contest.

In the loss, Damian Lillard finished with 35 points, six assists and four rebounds.  Lillard also made a franchise-record-tying nine three-pointers on the night. CJ McCollum added 28 points and four assists.

Monday’s game marks the start of a five-game raod trip for the Blazers.

[If you already get NBCS Northwest on your TV at home, but you are not able to be home during a Trail Blazers game, you can now stream the game live at the NBC Sports App.  You can download the NBC Sports App at www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile.  Or, you can stream the game online at our live stream page, NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream.]

As for Golden State, the Warriors defeated the Detroit Pistons 102-98 on Friday night on the road. Kevin Durant finished with a double-double of 36 points and 10 rebounds.  He also dished out seven assists and five blocks. Kevin Thompson had 21 points in Friday’s victory.

The Trail Blazers have listed Maurice Harakless (left quad) as questionable for Monday's contest, while Jusuf Nurkic is out vs. the Warriors.  Draymond Green (right shoulder) is listed as probable, Zaza Pachulia (left shoulder) is doubtful, and Steph Curry (sprained right ankle) is out.

You can catch our pregame coverage of the Blazers and Warriors contest with a special hour-long Rip City Live at 6:00pm on Monday as Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams get you set for all of the action.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our live streaming pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.

 


Quick Links:

40 in the 4th for 4th loss

Rockets dictated Portland’s 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

 

Video:   Is this the lineup for against the Warriors?

Video:   The Blazers fought hard, but maybe not hard enough

Video:   Meyers Leonard – The Enforcer

Video:   Blazers show life, but can’t ground Rockets


 

Game Details:

Where:  Oracle Arena, Oakland CA

Tip-off: 7:30pm

Television: NBCS Northwest

Live NBC Sports Northwest coverage:  Rip City Live (6:00pm), Talkin' Ball  (Immediately after the Blazers postgame show)

Live streaming of the game: Watch the game on your phone on the NBC Sports App.  Download the  app at http://www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile .  Or check out NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream online.

Live streaming coverage on Facebook: The Scoop Pregame Show streams at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. The Scoop Postgame Show will stream immediately after the game at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest. 

Radio: Rip City Radio 620

Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

Rockets dictated Portland's 4th-quarter lineup and then the ensuing defeat

I'm not big on moral victories. As I said last night on Talkin' Ball, this is big-boy basketball and winning on the scoreboard is the only thing that matters.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

But that's not to say we didn't learn some positive things from Saturday night's loss to the Houston Rockets, which finished off an 0-4 homestand for the Trail Blazers. What did we learn? Here's what I saw:

  • Meyers Leonard in the starting lineup worked. I don't care what you think, the guy can flat-out make shots. And this team needs more players who can do that. He probably should have seen fourth-quarter playing time but...
  • Coach Terry Stotts was busy trying to match up with the Rockets' fourth-quarter small lineup. However the problem with Portland's small lineup is that it usually contains more defenders than scorers. And the unfortunate part of that Saturday night was, even though it may have been the team's best defensive group, it was totally incapable of getting defensive stops. In fact, I can't remember a time when I've seen a team stack layup on layup down the stretch of a game the way Houston did to the Trail Blazers. Chris Paul and James Harden not only got to the basket whenever they wanted, they did so with their strong hand -- Harden from the left side and Paul from the right. So...
  • It wouldn't have hurt to have had some help in the basket area to at least harass those layups a bit. I'm not sure why that's so difficult for Portland to do when I see other teams doing it to the Portland guards quite frequently. And the real bottom line to all of that was ...
  • If you aren't getting stops while using your best defenders in that small lineup, forget about it! Face it, the Rockets can be impossible to guard. So...
  • Why not just go with your best offensive players, regardless of size or defensive ability? Make them worry about guarding YOU. Houston hit 15 for 18 from the field in the fourth quarter and murdered Portland from the foul line. Why not just put your best offensive players on the court and try to score with them? Because....
  • YOU WEREN'T ABLE TO STOP THEM AT ALL WITH THAT SMALL LINEUP SO SCRAP IT AND GET SOME SHOOTERS OUT THERE!
  • I may be obsessed with this -- well, I AM obsessed with this -- but I don't like it when the opposing team dictates Portland's lineups. Play the ones who got you the lead instead of the ones who are in the process of blowing a 14-point lead inside one quarter.
  • Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot their way out of slumps, which was a good sign moving forward.
  • Zach Collins did a terrific job during his time on the floor. He's not afraid to shoot an open shot and he's got a real instinct for blocking shots. I'd sneak him onto the floor as often as possible in the upcoming games to try to kickstart his development by getting him more comfortable. This team is in serious need of rim protection and he might be just the guy to provide it.
  • I don't envy Stotts with the lineup and rotation decisions he has to make on a nightly basis. He almost has too many versions of the same players and he is probably never quite sure what he's going to get from some of them on a night-to-night basis.
  • That said, I'd make sure to not only get Pat Connaughton on the floor every game, I'd make sure he got his shots. He's alert on defense and opportunistic on offense. And he is becoming a reliable scorer if he is allowed to be.
  • Ed Davis may be having one of his best seasons but he's going to struggle getting playing time because, all things being equal, some of the younger players are going to need developmental time and they are going to get it. I see Davis as a valuable trade piece at the deadline -- a big help to a contender looking for a rebounder off the bench.
  • Please, somebody in the league office, take a look at the way Harden is officiated. He often mixes in an extra little hop during his Euro-step and he deserves no extra benefits. And when he misses a shot, it's not always because he was fouled. Thank you.

40 in the 4th for 4th loss

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40 in the 4th for 4th loss

The Trail Blazers were looking pretty at the end of the third quarter holding a 14 point lead. Then the fourth quarter happened and the Rockets posted 40 points in the quarter alone to come away with the victory. The loss is the Trail Blazers fourth in a row at home. Damian Lillard tied a team record with nine made three pointers, but also came away with an ankle injury as he hobbled through the fourth quarter. 

Box Score: Houston 124, Portland 117

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

Quick Hits:

How to stream Rockets vs Blazers

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USA Today

How to stream Rockets vs Blazers

If you already get NBCS Northwest on your TV at home, but you are not able to be home during a Trail Blazers game, you can now stream the game live at the NBC Sports App.  You can download the NBC Sports App at www.nbcsports.com/sports-mobile.  Or, you can stream the game online at our live stream page, NBCSportsNorthwest.com/BlazersStream.

The Portland Trail Blazers (13-11) are looking to snap a three-game losing streak after falling to the Washing Wizards last Tuesday. However, it will be no easy task as the Blazers play host to the Western Conference leading Houston Rockets (19-4) on Saturday night.

To make matters worse the Blazers will be without starting center Jusuf Nurkic, after he suffered a right-ankle sprain late in the loss to the Wizards. A timetable for his return to the court it currently unknown. Starting small forward Maurice Harkless, who also left the Wizards game with an injury, is listed as questionable.

[NBC Sports Gold “Blazers Pass” 15-game Blazers package for fans without NBC Sports Northwest $34.99 – click to learn more and buy]

The Rockets are riding an eight-game winning streak, having not dropped a game since a 129-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors back on November 14. As is usual, the Rockets are led by shooting guard James Harden. “The Beard” leads the NBA in points per game at 31.6, and his 9.4 assists are second (among those who qualify) only to Russell Westbrook.

The Rockets made a big splash this off-season when they acquired former Clippers point guard Chris Paul. Many experts wondered if the two ball dominant guards could co-exist. The answer has bee an emphatic “yes.”

Paul has played just nine games this season, averaging 13.1 points and 10.1 assists per game. Paul injured his knee in the season opening victory over the Golden State Warriors on October 17, and didn’t return to the lineup until November 16.

However, proving that the Paul-Harden combo works just fine, the Rockets are 9-0 in when Paul is in the lineup.  

Can the Blazers give Paul the first blemish is his Rockets records, or will the Rockets hand the Blazers their fourth consecutive loss?

You can catch our pregame coverage of the Blazers and Rockets contest with Rip City Live at 6:00pm on Saturday as Dan Sheldon, Dwight Jaynes, and Orlando Williams get you set for all of the action.

And if you can’t get to a TV, you can check out our live streaming pregame coverage with The Scoop Pregame Show streaming on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer at 6:30pm at Facebook.com/NBCSNorthwest.