As the Trail Blazers’ arrived at Monday’s media day, we knew they were a deeper and more expensive team than last season.
But we also found out some other interesting tidbits.
Some players had developed new shots. Some had adopted a new mindset. And others had a new position.
To help you sift through the day’s events, here are the Top 10 things you need to know from Monday’s four-hour media day, including the sixth-through-10th most important storylines.
6. Allen Crabbe and his “small things”
There will be a lot of eyes on wing Allen Crabbe this season, eyes looking to see if he is worth the four-year, $75 million deal he signed in July.
On Monday, there was nothing to see (practice doesn’t start until Tuesday), but there was plenty to hear as the fourth-year player revealed his offseason emphasis, which included three facets that should be encouraging to coach Terry Stotts and Blazers fans.
- Becoming better with the ball in his hands.
- Adding a post game to his repertoire.
- Becoming a better defensive rebounder.
Crabbe called his points of emphasis “small things,” but if they come to fruition, they will be huge to the Blazers and Crabbe’s stake as an $18 million player.
The last time we saw Crabbe he was one of the team’s better perimeter defenders and a solid three-point shooter (39.4 percent last season). Outside of those two very valuable assets, Crabbe’s game was limited.
He was shaky with the ball in the open court. Had trouble creating his own shot off the dribble. And he was a rather non-existent factor as a rebounder (2.7 last season), with one notable missed defensive rebound against the Clippers in last year’s playoffs.
So if Crabbe just adds two of his three areas of emphasis, it would greatly enhance his chances of living up to his monster contract.
One thing Crabbe made certain on Monday: Just because he might be sleeping in silk sheets now doesn’t mean he will be resting on his laurels.
“It’s not like I’m coming in relaxed because I got a new contract, or because I played last year,’’ Crabbe said. “I know as fast as it came, it can be gone just as quick.’’
The Crabbe-Evan Turner competition will be interesting to watch in the preseason, and it sounds like Crabbe is anxious for Tuesday’s training camp to arrive.
“That’s where you earn your money, where you earn your minutes,’’ Crabbe said of the preseason practices. “I want to go out there and I want to play and prove to people I’m getting those minutes because I’m worthy of them.’’
If he adds ball handling, a post game or better defensive rebounding, he will be more than worthy.
7. CJ McCollum and being at ease
Probably the most unsettling words on Monday for Blazers’ opponents came from CJ McCollum, who said he is entering this season more at ease mentally.
“I think there is less pressure,’’ McCollum said.
Last year, McCollum said it was somewhat “nerve wracking” for him to produce in his third season after spending most of his first two seasons injured and out of the rotation.
After a breakout season last year (20.8 points, 4.3 assists, team-best 41.7 percent three-point shooting), McCollum says he enters this season feeling more “comfortable.”
“I know what it takes to do it,’’ he said.
Built into comfort is a more nuanced understanding of the game, both from what the Blazers are doing and what the opponents are trying to take away.
“I’m understanding the game better, thinking the game through,’’ McCollum said.
Already one of the game’s more crafty shot makers, McCollum figures to be even more dangerous with the comfort a year of experience and knowledge brings.
8. Al-Farouq Aminu and the move to power forward.
One of the more underrated facets of the Blazers’ late-season push and success in the playoffs was the effectiveness of Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward. But internally, the Blazers knew his shift from small forward to power forward was a difference maker, so during his exit interview last May, coach Terry Stotts posed a question:
How do you feel about moving to power forward next season?
Aminu, who is as carefree as they come on the team, shrugged his shoulders and gave a familiar reply … “I just want to play.’’
“He asked my comfort level,’’ Aminu said. “I told him it was pretty high. It’s something that if it’s in the best interest of the team, it’s something I want to do.’’
So heading into the season, the team has made no secret that Aminu will be the team’s starting power forward, in part based on their analytics team projecting a 53-win season with him at power forward and in the mid-40’s with him at small forward.
A dogged and versatile defender, Aminu was a surprise offensive weapon last season with streaks of three-point shooting (36.1 percent last season) and huge rebounding nights, even if his ball handling looked more like an exercise of hot potato. The ability to have a three-point threat at power forward helps create one of the key components to Stotts’ flow offense: spacing.
Of course, Aminu will also see some time at small forward, adding another card to Stotts’ deck of versatile players. That makes Aminu one of the Blazers’ central players moving forward, and he doesn’t seem to care which forward spot he plays.
“If I’m on the court,’’ Aminu said, “I’m happy.’’
9. Ed Davis and his added bulk
There are two factors that explain everything you need to know about Ed Davis and his summer:
1. He lifted weights five times a week.
2. He estimated he ate five-to-six meals a day.
“I cranked up the calories,’’ Davis said.
The result? An estimated 15-to-20 pounds in added weight (he says he’s about 245 pounds today), which includes noticeably larger biceps from a year ago.
The Blazers’ top big man reserve was among the team’s better defenders last season, but if he had a defensive weakness it was holding his ground against the brawn of players like DeMarcus Cousins, Brook Lopez and DeAndre Jordan. It’s why the team felt the need to go out and secure a rim protector like Festus Ezeli.
With the team exercising caution in bringing Ezeli back from an offseason knee procedure, Davis will be a key element to the team’s early season interior defense, and the front office has to be happy to see his thicker arms and more dense frame.
10. The battle for the 15th spot
Who wins spots in the starting lineup won’t be the only competition at hand during the next month. Olshey brought in an intriguing stable of talent to challenge holdover Luis Montero for the 15th and final roster spot.
The options for the final roster spot are varied, from guard Tim Quarterman, to forward Grant Jerrett, to center Greg Stiemsma.
Stotts said he will make sure he takes time every day from his evaluations of lineups and combinations to monitor the competition for the 15th spot.
“That’s what entire month of October is for,’’ Stotts said. “You don’t want to have preconceived notions but that’s why you bring guys in. I’ll keep an eye on it daily because it’s the decision we will have to make at some point.’’