Blazers' top stories: The maturation of Lillard and McCollum and Swanigan's emergence

Blazers' top stories: The maturation of Lillard and McCollum and Swanigan's emergence

Observations, notes and top stories from the Trail Blazers’ media day on Monday:

The maturation of Lillard and McCollum

One of the most encouraging things I heard throughout Monday’s media day came from the team’s two stars, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

There are often phases that an NBA player goes through during their career, one that former Blazers coach Nate McMillan first brought to my attention years ago. It usually evolves something like this: young player wants to make a name for himself; then he wants to make money, buy fancy cars, soak in the fame. But eventually, some players find they have enough fame and enough money. That’s when winning becomes paramount in their careers.

Some never come to that realization. For others it comes late in their careers.

On Monday, after listening to Lillard and McCollum, the concept of winning-above-all has already resonated with the Blazers’ two stars.

When asked by The Oregonian’s Jen Beyrle what would be a successful season for him, Lillard gave an answer that spoke beyond his 27 years.

“For me, it’s how much can I impact everybody else?’’ Lillard said. “I don’t think stats will tell the story, I don’t think making an All-Star Game will tell the story. I just think how much I can impact everybody else and lift everybody else up to make us a stronger team overall. How can I empower everybody else to where we are a winning team? That’s the next thing for me – how can I make this team go, how can I help us win games?’’

Later, after McCollum talked about being more concerned with winning games than his stats, I asked him about that evolution in his thinking. He said once he fought to show he could play, then secured a long-term contract, it was easier to get to the core of what it is all about: winning.

“There comes a time when you mature and understand that for one, you make a lot of money … so I have a comfort there, and a confidence because I worked hard, but now it’s about winning,’’ McCollum said. “I’ve proven myself. And I’ve said before, I will be a better player this year and the numbers may show it, they may not. But the complete package – from leadership to doing the right things off the court to making the extra pass, to defending, to boxing out – whatever it takes I just want to win. Because as you’ve seen in the past – people forget about certain things but they don’t about winning. Winning lasts forever.’’

Lillard, I believe, has long held winning above all else. This isn’t a revelation to him. But I still cringed at times when he rattled off his offensive stats in defense of his defense, or became consumed with his resume of All-Star appearances and the like. To hear him prioritize making players around him better, and concerning himself with figuring out ways to elevate those around him? It’s another sign that he is headed for greatness.

For McCollum, who will be playing in the first year of his $106 million deal, it is another indication of how he values his place and his legacy. Perhaps more so than any other Blazer, McCollum seems to have a career plan carefully mapped out, right down to his retirement portfolio. That plan is centered around leaving a legacy, as he likes to say, both on and off the court. Just 26, McCollum knows that the foundation of a legacy is better rooted in wins than stats.

Can’t ask to hear better stuff from your team’s stars.

Nurkic and the Blazers’ ‘trash’ defense

One of the more entertaining – but meaningful -- exchanges on Monday involved Blazers’ center Jusuf Nurkic who tried to suggest these Blazers take on the tough guy persona of the Bad Boys era in Detroit.

But aside from his questionable grasp of history (he likened the Bad Boys not to Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas, etc. but instead to Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace), his point was spot on: The Blazers need to be tougher and play better defense.

“We need to play defense, number one,’’ Nurkic said. “Our defense was trash, to be honest, before … and we are going to be better. We are going to prove that. It’s simple: if you want to win, you have to play defense.’’

We’ve heard September talk by the Blazers about the importance of defense before, without great follow through until a mid-to-late-season breakthrough. The Blazers’ late-season defensive improvement last season coincided with Nurkic’s February arrival and the improved health of Al-Farouq Aminu, but it will be interesting to see if this team can establish a defensive identity early.

Do Blazers have a Biggie surprise?

Perhaps nothing raised the eyebrows more than hearing Blazers’ veterans heap effusive and widespread praise upon rookie big man Caleb Swanigan.

From the sounds of it, the No. 26 overall pick has the stuff to crack the rotation.

After Lillard said Swanigan had caught his attention over the last month during pickup games at the team’s practice facility, I asked Lillard if what he was seeing from Swanigan was good enough to play right away in the NBA.

“Yeah,’’ Lillard said confidently. “He’s definitely good enough to play right now.’’

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds for Purdue last season, appears to have a blend of Jerome Kersey hustle and Zach Randolph savvy around the basket.

“Very impressive,’’ Lillard said. “Just his confidence, how physical he was, and he has a knack for finding the ball … He’s just very sure of himself, and you don’t see that in rookies all the time.’’

Maurice Harkless said Swanigan “definitely” surprised him during pickup games.

“In my opinion, he’s been great so far,’’ Harkless said, adding that he too thinks Swanigan can play right away.

Portland fans can get their first views of Swanigan -- who goes by the  nickname "Biggie" -- on Sunday at the team’s Fan Fest (1 p.m.) or the team’s first exhibition on Oct. 3 against Phoenix.

What will they see?

“Constant effort,’’ Swanigan said.

Ed Davis back, and with a goal

Probably the most direct goal on Monday came from veteran Ed Davis, who says he wants to win the team’s vacant starting power forward spot.

Davis, a key element to the Blazers’ 44-win team two years ago, said he was cleared Monday by doctors to compete in 5-on-5 action after having his left shoulder surgically repaired last spring.

Last season, the Blazers first started Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward then transitioned to Noah Vonleh after Aminu struggled with injuries. Entering Tuesday’s first practice, Vonleh is out for at least a month because of an injured right shoulder and coach Terry Stotts said he envisions playing Aminu this season at both forward positions.

“My goal is I want to start,’’ Davis said. “I feel like that four position is open.’’

Davis, who is entering the final year of his contract, said he doesn’t need much to motivate him.

“I’m self motivated. I don’t need to go on Twitter or Instagram to get extra motivation … but it is a good thing as a player when you know there’s a chance you can start and play big minutes.’’

Harkless goal: Improve free throws

One of the biggest complaints from fans I hear over the years is why more NBA players don’t prioritize improving at the free throw line.

So it was refreshing to hear Monday that Harkless spent part of his summer working on his free throw stroke. Last season, Harkless shot 62.1 percent from the line, which raised his career percentage to 59.6 percent.

Harkless said he has set a goal for what he wants to shoot at the line, but declined to reveal it.

“My goal, my business,’’ he said.

The key to becoming  better at the line, Harkless said, is focus.

“A lot of it is just being able to focus more, block out everything else going on,’’ Harkless said. “I’ve always been a good shooter in practice and when I’m by myself. But over the course of a game a lot of things go in and out of your head when you are at the free throw line … I just have to be able to block out everything else.’’ 

Baldwin's dedication to playing the point paying dividends

Baldwin's dedication to playing the point paying dividends

Wade Baldwin is doing something I really didn't think he could do -- and it's probably doing as much to prove he has a role in the NBA as anything we've seen from him.

I knew he was explosive. Knew that while he isn't yet a big-time shooter, he is certainly a scorer. And we've all seen signs of his defensive promise.

But I had no idea he was going to come out in Summer League and show legitimate point-guard skills. In five games, he's averaged a league-leading 8.4 assists per game while turning the ball over only 1.6 times per game. His willingness to transform from scorer to playmaker also reflects a degree of understanding of what he needed to show in Las Vegas to prove (or improve) his NBA value.

In order to win a roster spot with the Trail Blazers, Baldwin was likely going to have to show that he could serve as a viable point guard option. He's done that, even though it often appears he could score at will in summer league with his ability to get to the basket.

Baldwin has continued to show growth as an all-around player. He's doing his thing as a point guard but still managing to shoot .536 from the field and .385 from three-point range. In two previous summer-league stints while a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, Baldwin shot .286 and .380 from the field and .000 and .333 from three-point territory.

Of course, we temper enthusiasm over those numbers from this summer by reminding ourselves again that this is SUMMER LEAGUE, where mediocre players -- particularly the ones with a couple of seasons in the NBA -- can often look like NBA all-stars. But Baldwin's consistency and patience with the way he's running the team are certainly admirable and promising.

And the big plus he will bring to the regular season is that even if his offensive ability goes off the tracks a little bit, his defense and aggressiveness are going to be there. And that's a very big plus.

He is going to be a very interesting player to keep an eye on this coming season.

The Scoop: All They Do Is Win

The Scoop: All They Do Is Win

The undefeated streak is alive! After taking down the Boston Celtics in the quarterfinals Sunday night in Las Vegas, the Trail Blazers will move on to the semifinals vs. Memphis at 7:30pm Monday. 
I went live on Facebook with The Scoop Postgame Show from Thomas and Mack arena just after the game.

Watch:

Summer League Scoop Postgame

All they do is win!!! The Portland Trail Blazers are heading to the semifinals after beating the Boston Celtics, 95-80 on Sunday night. Let’s discuss now on The Scoop.

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Sunday, July 15, 2018

 

Zach “Gun Show” Collins ready to step up for bigger role

Zach “Gun Show” Collins ready to step up for bigger role

The summer between rookie and sophomore seasons in the NBA is typically a critical time for young players, especially one and done college guys.

It took a few weeks of being around Zach Collins, for Summer League head coach Jim Moran to notice the size difference, “The only reason I knew he gained weight this season is because I haven’t seen him wear sleeves all summer. He’s just showing his arms off,” Moran said.

“The days of Zach Collins in sleeves are over, it’s going to be the gun show now,” Moran said with a smile after the win in Las Vegas.

Much has been talked about this offseason; with Blazers big man Zach Collins now developing into a true “big” man.

At quick glance, it’s hard not to notice, Collins has been spending his summer in the weight room.  The 20-year-old has put on about 20 pounds since he started his rookie season.

“He’s worked really hard this summer. I think he’s just continuing to grow, continuing to learn our system. He find his spots, where he’s going to get his shots and I think he’s doing a really good job on the defensive end, especially with those switches,” Moran said.

In 66 games played last season, Collins averaged 15.8 minutes per game primarly at the power forward position. He averaged 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds for the season.

Collins and Blazer backup center Ed Davis became an inseparable duo on and off the court.  Last year, Collins played mostly at the four alongside Davis, where he was more of a spread the floor type player. Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey has already said they are looking to use Collins as more of a back-to-the-basket guy this next season.

A guy who had been nicknamed “Big Skinny” by teammates could now turn out to be the Blazers backup center.

“I’m sure there’s going to be lineups when he’s going to have to slide over,” Moran said.

Does Collins himself think he could play center? “That’s the goal to be able to be a four and five guy and keep the defense on their toes, kind of mess with their matchups a little bit."

But don’t think for a second that Collins is even close to done working on his body for the summer.

“I have the height, now I just need the weight,” Collins said.

To Collins, coming in and having a larger impact in his second season has been on his mind.

“I always want to go in preparing for a big role. Last year, I was fortunate enough to have a pretty good role as a rookie on a playoff team and I can only hope to see that grow,” Collins said.

Sports Illustrated analyst Ben Golliver has been impressed with Collins’ transformation while watching him play at Summer League, “what I notice is the swagger, he’s kind of got this little walk to him like-- oh, I’m the man now,” Golliver said.

“When he’s playing confident basketball his skills takeover. He’s always been a skilled player. I think that’s why he was a big time high school recruit and why he was able to go one and done because he had that level of skill,” Golliver said.

Adding size in the NBA is crucial for any young player, but for a player who is trying to figure out whether he can fit at either the four or five position it’s been the one of the most talked about topics surrounding Collins this offseaon, especially with the departure of Ed Davis.

For Golliver, with Collins adding more muscle, it’s not just about standing your ground on the offensive end and making sure you don’t get bullied around, it’s about becoming that guy that can end up being the bully down low.

“Defensively, that’s where I’ve really seen an improvement with him because he looked lost and overwhelmed at times last year… Now he really has a paint presence, he’s using his length to block shots, and just active hands too,” Golliver said.

During the regular season last year, Collins averaged 0.5 blocks per contest, but in Summer League this year, he is averaging 3.3 blocks. Yes, it’s just Summer League, but it’s easy to see that Collins could become more of blocking machine this next season. Having a one-two punch of Jusuf Nurkic, with Collins coming in for Nurk off the bench could be a real possibility.

But before anyone gets too big picture at this point in July, Collins is making sure to focus on Summer League.

“We came in with a goal to win the whole thing, so now we’re only two games away from doing that.”

Portland will play in the semifinal game Monday night with a 7:30pm tip-off vs. Memphis. 

 

A trip to Sin City with CJ and his Vegas Edition shoe

A trip to Sin City with CJ and his Vegas Edition shoe

LAS VEGAS – CJ McCollum hosted an exclusive release of his Yushuai 12s at the Shoe Palace inside the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon. The special Vegas Edition shoes were limited to only 100 pairs. 

 

Fans eagerly awaited the limited edition shoe and for the chance for a meet and greet with McCollum.  The Trail Blazers shooting guard signed autographs on his new shoes, on Blazer jerseys, and he took pictures with fans.

 

 

Fans from all over the world were in attendance from Portland to Los Angeles to Australia.

 

Check out the video above for more on the Yushuai 12s and to hear from McCollum on his shoe design and what he likes most about these special edition kicks.

Report: Shabazz Napier signs two-year deal with Brooklyn Nets

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USATI

Report: Shabazz Napier signs two-year deal with Brooklyn Nets

Free-agent guard Shabazz Napier has agreed to a two-year deal with the Brooklyn Nets, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The terms of the deal were not initially reported.

Napier, who turned 27 on Saturday, averaged a career-best 8.7 points in 20 minutes a game last season.

He joins former Trail Blazers Ed Davis and Allen Crabbe in Brooklyn and will join the a guard rotation that includes D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris.

Napier will be on his fourth team in five seasons, spending two seasons in Portland, one in Orlando and one with the Miami Heat, where he was drafted 24th overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.

SI's Ben Golliver liking Blazer rookies and Collins' progression

SI's Ben Golliver liking Blazer rookies and Collins' progression

I caught up with SI's Ben Golliver, formerly of BlazersEdge, to get his thoughts on the current status of the Trail Blazers. 

In the video above, Golliver talks about the transformation Zach Collins has made from Year 1 to Year 2. 

Click below to hear his thoughts on the new rookies showing out at Summer League plus a bonus video with his thoughts on Seth Curry!

VIDEO: GOLLIVER ON ROOKIES

Golliver: I've always thought Seth Curry was underrated

Blazers rookie Anfernee Simons showing patience and explosiveness

Blazers rookie Anfernee Simons showing patience and explosiveness

LAS VEGAS – The Portland Trail Blazers continue to cruise in Summer League, while rookie Anfernee Simons has been showing poise and is becoming more comfortable on the floor at the next level.

There had yet to be a so-called 'breakout game' for Simons in pool play, but in the first game of tournament action that all changed.

In Tuesday’s matchup, Simons finished the night with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting as the Blazers defeated the Hawks 95-69 to move on to the Quarterfinals. Simons hit 3-of-7 from deep and also pulled down four rebounds in the win.

After playing in his fourth summer league contest, Simons has been getting a better feel of how his game can work in the Blazers schemes, “I just try to play my game and let the game come to me,” Simons said.

The 19-year-old has been getting a lot of feedback over the first four Summer League games. The coaching staff has told him to, “keep playing how you’ve been playing, make sure defense comes first. They want me to learn the defense before the offense. They know I can score the ball,” Simons said.

For being such a young player with no experience against NBA caliber guys until now, Simons is not a guy who is turnover prone. During Summer League, he is averaging just 0.8 turnovers and that’s while getting valuable minutes running point. 

Yet for the most part, Blazers Summer League Coach Jim Moran has decided to have Simons come off the ball. Moran spoke highly of the rookie after pool play ended.

“I think he’s a lot further along than I had anticipated… He’s shown that he can handle ball pressure and not get sped up and out of control,” Moran said.

As for the other end of the ball, it’s hard for Trail Blazer fans to not be concerned about Simons’ size at 6’4, 183 lbs.

Coach Moran has been focusing on Simons' defensive effort and him not getting pushed around, “Defensively he was guarding high school kids, now he’s guarding Euro guys and NBA guys and vets, so him not getting bullied and pushed around has been impressive to see as well.”

For Simons, that has been his main goal, making sure to take advantage of the guy you are guarding.

“I start off playing defense as hard as I can and let the offense come to me," Simons said.

Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum was in attendance on Thursday night, getting his first look at the rookies.

“For Anfernee to be so young, he has good patience, he’s really explosive, he can make shots, creates shots,” McCollum said.

Ben Golliver of Si.com got his first look at Simons on Thursday night as well.  Golliver feels Simons looks pretty composed for a youngster, “Everyone is coming in and saying he’s so small, he’s so young, to me he looks really polished for a guy who is coming straight out of high school.” 

After watching Simons against the Hawks, Golliver could see why the Blazers had their eye on Simons. “You saw the confidence and just a level of skill, that’s probably why Neil Olshey wanted to draft him in the first round,” Golliver said.

Many fans in Portland, have wondered how a kid from IMG Academy can make such a big leap to the next level. Simons is one of eight alumni drafted into the NBA since 2005. Erick Dampier and Michael Beasly are the most recongizable names.

We all know you can't take away too much from Summer League. There have been plenty of players who have looked like dominant superstars and didn't amount to much and vice versa, but there’s still a lot of value in getting game minutes.

“Whenever you get a chance to play game minutes regardless of the level of competition it’s helpful. Learning the offense, figuring out where players are going to be at, getting game reps in terms of shots and closeouts, I think it’s very helpful and guys are taking advantage of their time.” McCollum said.

Simons and Portland can continue to take advantage of their time as they advance to the Summer League Quarterfinals.  The Blazers will play the winner of the Miami-Boston game on Sunday evening at 5pm.

 

 

 

The Scoop: Trail Blazers red hot and rollin' at NBA Summer League

The Scoop: Trail Blazers red hot and rollin' at NBA Summer League

It was just another day at the office for the Trail Blazers NBA Summer League team who racked up a fourth win and advanced to the quarterfinals on Sunday. 

Check out our Scoop postgame show below where we talk about Simons and Collins plus a look at CJ McCollum's new shoe release, and of course I'm taking your questions throughout the live stream!

Summer League Scoop Postgame

The Blazers are moving on! Next up— the Quarterfinals after Portland beat Atlanta tonight, 95-68 #RipCity

Posted by NBC Sports Northwest on Thursday, July 12, 2018

Getting ready for tonight's Trail Blazers NBA Summer League Tournament Game

Getting ready for tonight's Trail Blazers NBA Summer League Tournament Game

LAS VEGAS - The Trail Blazers get started with the tournament portion of NBA Summer League tonight with a 7:30pm tip-off against the Atlanta Hawks. The Blazers went 3-0 in pool play and snagged the #2 seed for the tournament. 

We'll get you all primed for Summer League action with The Bridge from 6-7pm and then Trail Blazers Outsiders from 7-7:30pm. 

Plus you can watch The Scoop live streaming on Facebook at 7:15pm from Las Vegas inside Thomas and Mack arena.

After the game, keep it locked right here at NBCSportsNorthwest.com for full postgame coverage including highlights, interviews with the players and coaches, plus a special guest apperance from SI's Ben Golliver. 

And be sure to follow me on Twitter, for updates throughout the game and for links to all the postgame coverage. 

WHEN TO WATCH:
7:30pm Tip-off on ESPN2

PREGAME:
6:00pm The Bridge on NBCS Northwest
7:00pm Trail Blazers Outsiders on NBCS Northwest
7:15pm The Scoop live on Facebook

QUICK LINKS:
Ducks and Beavers at NBA Summer League
Neil Olshey's thoughts from NBA Summer League
Jason Quick: Shooters Gotta Shoot
Is Gary Trent Jr. the real deal?