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 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.
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.