LAS VEGAS –Lost in the avalanche of all the missed shots Sunday by the Trail Blazers was a glimpse at a potentially important defensive development.
For a couple possessions early in the first half, rookie Caleb Swanigan guarded small forwards on the perimeter, and with relative success.
In the opening minutes, he was matched against Boston rookie sensation Jayson Tatum, who jab stepped against Swanigan before elevating for a mid-range jumper. Swanigan didn’t go for the fake and tightly contested the shot , but caught Tatum on the elbow. It resulted in a three-point play.
Later, he closed out on small forward Semi Ojeleye at the three-point line, then adjusted and moved his feet as Oleleye tried to drive to his left. Cut off, Oleleye passed back to the three-point line. Swanigan recovered and was able to contest the outside shot.
“I thought he was good,’’ Blazers’ Summer Legaue coach Jim Moran said. “He is very good at moving his feet. He has to get better at angles, and I think he will learn as time goes on to use his length … but defensively he is very dynamic.’’
Swanigan, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound big man who played center in college, is widely considered by the Blazers as a power forward. But in today’s NBA, with small lineups and the need to switch on pick-and-rolls, the ability for a forward to guard both small and power forward positions is invaluable.
Whether Swanigan has the quickness, anticipation and discipline to guard small forwards will go a long way to determining how deeply – and quickly – he impacts the Blazers’ regular season rotation.
Judging from Sunday’s small sample size, there appears to be a chance Swanigan can succeed in covering both positions.
“I did well, kept them in front of me,’’ Swanigan said when asked how he thought he defended small forwards. “I can guard small forwards, guard guys like that if I have to. That’s the NBA – you guard who is out there.’’
On offense, Swanigan led the Blazers in scoring for the second straight game, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds on 4-of-12 shooting.