5 Things We've Learned So Far at Summer League
The Trail Blazers have won their first two games at the Las Vegas Summer League, but more important, they are beginning to get some clarity on some questions.
Keep in mind it’s only Summer League, and it’s only two games, but here are some things we’ve learned about this group as they prepare for Tuesday’s 1 p.m. game against San Antonio
Wade Baldwin is making a strong case
The Blazers have one open roster spot, and while it is unknown whether they intend to use it, one thing is certain: Baldwin is making a strong case that he should get it.
Using an aggression that teammate Gary Trent Jr. likened to Russell Westbrook, Baldwin has lived up to his vow to play “full throttle” in Las Vegas.
He scored a team-high 20 points in the opening win against Utah while deftly directing the team at point and tenaciously defending the Jazz’ backcourt. Then in Sunday’s win over Atlanta, Baldwin recorded 10 assists with one turnover.
Baldwin and center Georgios Papagiannis are both playing under partially guaranteed contracts, with July 18 the cutoff for the Blazers to make a decision.
In two games, Baldwin has shown he could be a worthy asset to the club come the regular season.
Gary Trent Jr. has opened eyes
Three of the current Blazers -- Damian Lillard, Zach Collins and Jake Layman – have all unprompted mentioned Gary Trent Jr. as a player who has impressed them after the first two games. Trent was a second round pick who was acquired in a draft night trade, and he has backed up what he said on draft night: that he felt he had the talent of a first-round pick.
He has played with confidence and within himself. He has a nice mid-range game, is physically ready and just has the look of a player who belongs.
“Gary … he’s already there physically,’’ said Lillard. “He knows how to get to spots and get shots. I think it’s just a matter of him learning and being around older players and people he’s going to play with.’’
Trent has impressed the coaching staff on both ends. “Gary just knows his game,’’ coach Jim Moran said. “He knows what he is good at – pullups, coming off screen, how to get to spots.. But I’ve been really impressed with him, even more so, on the defensive end. He has gotten into people and guarded.’’
Anfernee Simons showing promise
The 19-year-old first-round pick said that once fans see him play, they will realize he isn’t that big of a project. He’s been right. In two games, Simons has shot the ball well, has showed some offensive variety, and has handled himself physically surprisingly well.
“Offensively, has a lot of stuff to him,’’ Moran said. But while many thought the 180-pounder would be overmatched physically, it hasn’t happen yet.
“I think we’ve all been blown away with him defensively,’’ Moran said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know if guys were going to try and bully him, be physical, or just try to push him around. But he holds his own.
“I keep looking at him with 20 more pounds on him, that’s going to be exciting to see what that looks like,’’ Moran said. It’s still early, but there are signs that Simons could be special.
Jake Layman has improved
Entering his third NBA season, it feels like make-or-break time for Layman, and so far, it looks like he has improved enough to make it.
After two-a-day workouts this offseason, Layman says he is more confident, and that confidence has translated to aggressive and effective play.
He has scored 14 and 23 points, been active on the boards, and in each game had soaring dunks. During Sunday’s game gainst Atlanta, he made 4-of-5 from three-point range.
“It’s just nice to see him play with confidence and make shots,’’ Moran said. “He’s definitely a capable basketball player. A lot of his offense comes off open looks and I feel like he gets discouraged when he doesn’t make them. So I’m just happy to see him: one make the shots, and two, continue to make them. Seeing him aggressive is kind of nice.’’
We still don’t know what Caleb Swanigan is
One of the stars of last year’s Summer League hasn’t had the same success this year.
Swanigan hasn’t been bad – he had 11 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in the opener – but he hasn’t separated himself as a clear-cut NBA rotation player either.
His lack of leaping ability has lead to him continually getting his shot blocked inside, and he had major ball security issues in the key during Sunday’s game against Atlanta, which led to five turnovers.
If there has been an encouraging aspect to Swanigan it has been his passing. In both games he has had five assists, and he could have had two or three more assists against Utah had his teammates either finished or been expecting his no-look passes.
Still, he remains to be a bit of an NBA tweener: too slow for small forward and not big enough or athletic enough to play power forward. One thing that has never lacked with Swanigan, however, has been effort. Much of his production comes from simply outworking people, and that hasn’t waned in his second Summer League.