Caleb Swanigan

Which Blazers do you want to see on the Summer League roster?

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USA Today

Which Blazers do you want to see on the Summer League roster?

Summer League starts for the Trail Blazers on July 7, and as usual, the roster for the annual event will be made up of the Blazers 2018 draft pick(s), undrafted free agents, NBA veterans looking to latch onto a roster, and current Trail Blazers.

So, which Trail Blazers players do you want to see in Sin City? Here are the most likely candidates to represent the Blazers and why they should be in Las Vegas:

Caleb Swanigan: Last Summer League – 8 games, 16.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.3 apg

            Swanigan burst on the summer league scene and made an instant impact with his energy and hustle on the boards. Swanigan had the second most rebounds per game of any player at the event and was an All-NBA Summer League First-Team selection. However, his success in Las Vegas didn’t translate to the NBA regular season. Swanigan played in just 27 regular season games, averaging 2.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 0.5 assists per contest. More than any other Blazer, Swanigan needs to be in Las Vegas. Swanigan needs the chance to once again show what he can bring to the table and convince not only the coaching staff, but also himself, that he can succeed in this league. 

Jake Layman – Last Summer League - 8 games 13.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.0 apg

            Layman had a successful summer league outing in 2017, but like Swanigan, it didn’t translate to a lot of playing time in the regular season. Layman was kept buried at the end of the bench and appeared in just 35 games, averaging 1.0 points, 0.5 rebounds, and 0.3 assists per game. Layman will be entering his third season in the league in 2018, and like Swanigan, needs to show something special at summer league or it could be another season of nothing but garbage time minutes.

Wade Baldwin – Last Summer League W/Memphis - 6 games, 14.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.7 apg

            Baldwin had a great summer league for the Grizzlies last year, but he spent most of the regular season in the G-league before Memphis waived him. One team's trash is another team's treasure, and Baldwin has appeared to find a home with the Blazers. He played in just seven games for Portland, but showed great potential on defense and brought good energy to the floor. His best game – a 15-point outburst against his former team on March 28. A strong showing in Vegas could convince the Blazers that Baldwin is a capable backup point guard should they lose Shabazz Napier in free agency

Zach Collins – Last Summer League - 3 games, 6.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.7 apg

            By all accounts, Zach Collins had a very poor summer league last season. However, just like success in Vegas doesn’t always lead to success in the regular season, failure in summer league doesn’t always lead to failure in the regular season. Collins started the year with DNPs, but ended the season as a key part of Portland’s rotation. Right now Collins is 50/50 on whether or not he will be in Vegas, but judging by his late-season run, he will be well entrenched in the Blazers rotation no matter what. Collins has little to gain at Summer League outside of getting a few more games under his belt. The risk of injury may not be worth the minimal gain. 

 

 

 

Trail Blazers' Ed Davis targets early return from sprained ankle

Trail Blazers' Ed Davis targets early return from sprained ankle

Trail Blazers center Ed Davis says he will be back from injury sooner than later.

Davis on Sunday told NBC Sports Northwest he expects to return from his sprained right ankle either Saturday at San Antonio or Monday in Denver.

Davis rolled the ankle in the third quarter of Friday’s game against the Clippers and left the arena in a walking boot after x-rays showed no break and an MRI confirmed a sprain.

On Saturday, the team said he would be evaluated in seven-to-14 days.

Davis before Sunday’s game against Memphis was no longer wearing the boot and was walking without a limp. There was swelling on the outside of the ankle, but Davis said he was confident his return would be closer to the seven days than the 14 days.

If he returns against San Antonio, it would be seven days after the team announced the timeline.

Davis is having one of the best seasons of his career as he has emerged as the NBA’s top reserve center. He is averaging 5.4 points and 7.4 rebounds in 19 minutes a game. He has led the Blazers in rebounding 23 times this season and has recorded six double-doubles. If he returns in San Antonio, Davis will have missed only three games because of the injury.

In the first game without Davis, coach Terry Stotts used Meyers Leonard and rookie Caleb Swanigan at backup center. Leonard had six points, five rebounds and two assists in 19 minutes and Swanigan had four points, four rebounds and two assists in nine minutes.

 

Trail Blazers' bench becoming one of league's best

Trail Blazers' bench becoming one of league's best

One of the early season storylines during the Trail Blazers’ 3-1 start has been the emergence of a deep and effective bench.

Led by Evan Turner, Ed Davis and Pat Connaughton, the Blazers’ bench has the top offensive rating in the NBA (115.8), the third best net rating, and the third best plus/minus behind Toronto and the LA Clippers.

Never was the bench more on display than during Tuesday’s home opener against New Orleans, when the starters struggled and needed big games from Davis, Turner and rookie Caleb Swanigan to pull out a 103-93 victory.

“Our bench has been huge,’’ starter Maurice Harkless said. “Especially on a night like tonight, when nobody really had it going. Ed, Caleb, and Evan kept us in the game the whole time, whether they were scoring, rebounding, defending. Especially Ed. But this is going to have to be a collective effort. We need everybody.’’

Turner has been the catalyst and could be establishing himself as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate as the league’s top reserve. Through four games Turner is averaging 13.3 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and amassing a solid ratio of 17 assists to six turnovers … all while playing solid defense.

“It’s starting with ET; he’s leading the show and playing well,’’ Davis said.

The same, of course, could be said of Davis, who was probably the Most Valuable Player of Tuesday’s win over the Pelicans with his 12 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes.

It has been a resurgent return from shoulder surgery for Davis, whose 9.3 rebounds is second behind Miami’s Kelly Olynyk among bench players, and his play is backing up a vow he made to Lillard last spring.

Lillard on Tuesday recalled shaking Davis’ hand after the Blazers were swept by Golden State in the playoffs last spring. Davis, in street clothes and still recovering from March shoulder surgery, assured Lillard the team would be better fortified next season.

“He shook my hand and said ‘You are going to see a different me next year,’’’ Lillard recalled. “It was already in his mind. We already saw in his mind what he was going to do to impact the team this year.’’

Lillard said Davis throughout the summer was a mainstay in the weight room workouts, during which he made sure everyone could see the work he was putting in.

“We started calling him Shirt Off Ed,’’ Lillard said. “He’s in there doing push ups, pull ups and working out hard ... I just saw the commitment, I saw that he was trying to take action.’’

Throw in some solid shooting from Connaughton, who is 9-of-18 on three-pointers, and an effective outing Tuesday by Swanigan (five points, eight rebounds, three assists) and the bench is starting to rival what Lillard thought was the best reserve unit in his six seasons – the 2014-2015 group of Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Joel Freeland, CJ McCollum and Thomas Robinson.

“There are so many guys we have been able to count on – not just tonight,’’ Lillard said. “Each game we’ve played, from preseason up to now, guys have come in and we’ve been able to have faith that the game is going to be fine. When you are actually doing that in games over a period of time, you see you are a deeper team.’’

And the bench figures to get deeper.

Power forward Noah Vonleh is nearing his return, and could be back as early as next week, further enhancing – or complicating – coach Terry Stotts’ options.

“People other than the coach say it’s a good problem,’’ Stotts said of his depth. “There will be tough decisions to make.’’

But a week into the season, the bench and the depth have been a blessing for the Blazers. In the opener, Connaughton was a spark early and finished with 24 points. In Indiana, Turner exposed Victor Oladipo on the block while scoring 17 and helping create separation. And against Milwaukee, Turner again was effective, dishing out a team-high seven assists.

But never did the bench come through more than Tuesday, and never was it more needed. With Lillard struggling through a 3-for-16 night and McCollum not catching fire until late, scoring 16 of his 23 in the fourth quarter, the Blazers leaned heavily on a 43-30 advantage in bench scoring.

“One of the positives after four games is we’ve had different guys have a game,’’ Stotts said. “If you go through each game, we’ve had different guys  -- whether it’s a starter or bench player -- come in and contribute, and I think that’s a sign of a good team.’’

Today's Blazers' links:

NBC Sports Northwest's Dwight Jaynes writes that juggling a talented roster can be tough.

The Blazers' Casey Holdahl writes about Shirt Off Ed.

KATU has the story of Meyers Leonard offering well-wishes to a hit-and-run victim.

The New Orleans Advocate notes the Blazers' broadcast crew offended some in the Bayou. 

Terry Stotts has his hands full juggling a roster of players who merit court time

Terry Stotts has his hands full juggling a roster of players who merit court time

Interesting opening night for the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday. It was far from pretty but there are no bad wins -- you take it and move on.

The Blazers are blessed with a lot of talent and it makes for some interesting rotations and substitution patterns for Coach Terry Stotts, particularly on a night when the starters aren't carrying the kind of load they usually handle. In Milwaukee on Saturday, he used only eight players in the first half and then Tuesday vs. New Orleans tried 11 in the first half. And he had a couple of real short bench stays that were interesting, too. Jusuf Nurkic had one 51-second trip to the bench in the third quarter and Evan Turner sat just 1:58 at one point of the fourth quarter.

Stotts has so many players who deserve playing time but then you also want to stay with the ones who are playing well. Then there's the issue of developing players. There is no doubt that Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins need playing time if they're to develop -- but not at the expense of losing a game. Rookies can be a risk in close games -- at least a lot of coaches seem to think so.

Veteran players bring problems of their own. If they don't get the playing time they think they deserve they can often become locker-room problems. It's a difficult situation to navigate for a coach. Frankly, there is nobody on the Portland bench this season just happy to be on a team and drawing a paycheck. In the past, there has been a few of those.

All in all, handing out minutes can be a complicated situation with so many capable players.

Meyers Leonard played Tuesday, which was not surprising given his success defending DeMarcus Cousins in the past. Leonard got only 6:25 but during his time on the court Cousins had a couple of turnovers, missed two shots and appeared to be his usual frustrated self when confronted by Leonard. Meanwhile, Leonard made both his shots from the floor, including a three-pointer, had two rebounds and a steal. But he got no second-half time.

After the game, Stotts praised many members of his bench:

"I thought Ed Davis, and Caleb gave us a nice spark off the bench," he said. "As did Pat."

He was asked how he felt about Leonard's work against Cousins.

"I thought he was OK for the time that he was in there," Stotts said. "Look, Cousins had a great game. He did a lot of good things. He got to the basket, got to the free-throw line, but I thought Ed, Meyers, Nurk, they all had their turn on him and you can't look at 39 (points) and 13 (rebounds) and say anybody did a great job."

I suppose not. But when you give up only three of those 39 points, you can't get a lot of the blame -- particularly when you outscore him while you're on the court. But as I said, there are a lot of players to keep track of off that Portland bench and perhaps Leonard had nothing to do with Cousins' struggles while they were on the court at the same time. Or maybe he just got lost in the shuffle. Eleven Blazers played Tuesday night, including Shabazz Napier, who got just three and a half minutes.

That's a lot to of players to use in a close game.

Bench talent is a blessing, not a curse. At some point of the season, everybody on that bench is going to have a chance to make a significant contribution.

But for right now, juggling all that talent can be a real coaching challenge.

Blazers' shootaround notes: Stotts mum on lineup, but do jerseys give answer?

Blazers' shootaround notes: Stotts mum on lineup, but do jerseys give answer?

PHOENIX – At Wednesday morning’s shootaround, Trail Blazers’ coach Terry Stotts declined to reveal his starting lineup for tonight’s game at Phoenix, but the jerseys his players wore went a long way to speaking for him.

Only five players were wearing black jerseys – the rest grey – when the media was allowed onto the court at the conclusion of the hour-long walk-through practice.

Those in black: Damian Lillard at point guard, Evan Turner at shooting guard, Maurice Harkless at small forward, Al-Farouq Aminu at power forward and Jusuf Nurkic at center.

No big surprises, as Turner will fill in for the suspended CJ McCollum and likely start the game guarding Suns’ rising star Devin Booker. Turner has set a goal to be named All-NBA Defense this season and what a way to make a statement than going against the player who scored 70 points last season at Boston.

Other news and notes about the opener:

Shabazz Napier: Stotts said he has seen enough in practice from Shabazz Napier to play him in tonight’s game. Doesn’t mean Napier will see time, but he is cleared medically and has shown enough to Stotts in three practices to give the coach comfort to call on him if needed. Napier injured his left hamstring on the second day of training camp and didn’t return to practice until Sunday.

The rookies: Of all the tough decisions ahead for Stotts, his biggest entering the season might be which rookie to play. A low-key development in the preseason has been the rapid improvement of rookie Zach Collins. While much attention has been given to fellow rookie Caleb Swanigan, who started the preseason with a bang, Collins has quietly impressed to the point where he could command playing time over Swanigan.

Meyers Leonard: The Blazers' big man said he understands that he will not be in the rotation to open the season, and says he has adopted a “be ready” mentality.

“I thought I had a really good training camp, and for the most part in the preseason I thought I was solid,'' Leonard said.  "I didn’t like the Toronto game, but outside of that, I felt I was very focused and shot the ball well and definitely improved with defensive rebounding.

“But it’s an uphill battle. I can say that I didn’t give them a reason last year to have trust  me … so I’m going to take it day by day,’’ Leonard said.

Stotts and Leonard chatted briefly this week about his role and Leonard says he is in a good place mentally.

“That’s one thing I’ve come to understand after this summer, and coming into my 6th year is understanding the true, true professional side of things. That no matter what happens I have to stay in shape, keep working … because when number is called, you have to be ready.’’

Suns injury update: Leonard’s chances of playing Wednesday probably lessened after it appears Suns backup center Alex Len will miss the game with a sprained ankle. Len told Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic that he is “probably out” for tonight’s game beause of the left ankle sprain, but that he hopes to play Friday.

Extra work for CJ: CJ McCollum, who is suspended for tonight’s game after leaving the bench during an altercation in last week’s preseason game against the Suns, stayed after Wednesday’s shootaround to get in more court work. He is not allowed to be in the arena up to two hours before the game. 

The under-the-radar Trail Blazers could win 50 games in the tough West

The under-the-radar Trail Blazers could win 50 games in the tough West

Ready or not, here they come. The Portland Trail Blazers will unpack those new Nike uniforms and open the regular season tonight in Phoenix.

And I must admit, I expect big things. I think the Trail Blazers are flying under the radar a little bit this season. They didn't add a big-name free agent, make a blockbuster trade or get a top-five draft choice, but they've improved a lot. How does that happen? Well, this team has been one of the youngest in the league for the past three seasons and it's growing up and growing together. Experience matters and so does player development -- and not many teams do that as well as the Trail Blazers.

This roster is improved from top to bottom. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are all-star level players but we know by now they do not sit around all summer doing nothing. You will see they've gotten better. I expect Pat Connaughton to have a breakout season, earning playing time with an all-around game that's better than what was lost with the trade of Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn. The rookies, Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins, will improve as the season progresses and I expect that somewhere along the line each will play a part in winning games.

Yes, the defense is still a question mark. It looked better in the exhibition season but to be fair, the preseason games didn't include any of the NBA's premier offensive teams. We shall see. And it goes without saying, too, that Jusuf Nurkic must stay healthy.

But I expect this team to have a shot at 50 wins and contend for a spot in the upper half of the West playoff bracket. It's going to be a dogfight but this group is ready to take it to another level and show its potential as a future West contender.

And it all starts tonight -- on NBC Sports Northwest, where you will always find Rip City Live before the game and Talkin' Ball after the game,

Breakfast with the Blazers: An overview of what we do, don't know

Breakfast with the Blazers: An overview of what we do, don't know

What has been a productive and borderline impressive preseason for the Trail Blazers comes to a close tonight with an exhibition against Israeli professional club Maccabi Haifa.

Since much of the regulars will rest or play limited minutes, here is a look at what we know, what we think we know, and what we don’t know after this Trail Blazers’ preseason.

WHAT WE KNOW

Rookie Caleb Swanigan is going to play: The No. 26 overall pick looks and acts like he belongs and has brought an edge and toughness on both offense and defense. He is averaging 7.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in 16 minutes and has shown an ability to score inside and outside. Twice he has stood up for himself and held his ground – once against Toronto veteran Serge Ibaka, and Wednesday against Phoenix center Alex Len – both times drawing technicals. He was ejected for his altercation with Len.

“I think if we haven’t already, (we know that) Caleb is not backing down for anybody,’’ Coach Terry Stotts said after the Phoenix game. “And I think we will expect that.’’

Evan Turner is comfortable: There is a tendency to write that Turner is better this season, but it’s not like his skills have improved. He is just more comfortable with the playbook and his teammates and what is expected out of him than he was during his first season in Portland. As a result, Turner has been an incredibly effective weapon for the Blazers this preseason. He has been a beast on the block, posting up opposing guards and either scoring over them or drawing a double team and picking apart the defense with a pass.

He has also been excellent defensively, guarding every position during the preseason. Turner’s defensive rating (74.2) is No. 1 in the NBA during the preseason.

“I think he is just a lot more comfortable now,’’ Maurice Harkless said. “He knows his spots and how to be effective in certain situations. It takes time sometimes, for a guy coming into a new situation, especially a guy coming in who is used to having the ball so much then coming here and not having the ball as much. But I think he’s done a tremendous job adjusting and I think he is only going to get better.’’

Turner this preseason is averaging 8.8 points, 3.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 23 minutes while shooting 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range (3-of-6).

But the stats don’t show everything. Just by the way he is dribbling, the way he is attacking, the passes he is making, you can tell he is playing free rather than thinking and worrying whether he is doing the right thing.

“He’s just been assertive,’’ Damian Lillard said. “He has been more comfortable having the ball and being in attack mode … He has played really well.’’

Pat Connaughton has earned rotation spot: In August, there was a question whether the Blazers would pick up Connaughton’s $1.4 million option. Two months later, the guard has won a rotation spot with a diverse and effective preseason.

If you still think Connaughton is just a spot-up three-point shooter, you haven’t been watching closely. He has shown the ability to create off the dribble and make mid-range pull ups, he has been an athletic defender who regularly contests shots.

A nice snapshot of Connaughton this preseason was in Los Angeles, during a hotly contested game against the Clippers. He blocked a driving attempt by Lou Williams, then came down and drilled a deep, 27-foot three-pointer with a hand in his face.  

“I’ve always thought very highly of Pat, so I’m happy to see him actually get out there and do it in the flow of action,’’ Lillard said. “He’s always done what he is doing, it just looks better now, look more comfortable. He’s getting things done … making shots, attacking the basketball, getting his hands on the ball. It’s good to see Pat stretch himself, and I guess be a little more impactful on the floor.’’

The Blazers’ defense is much, much better: This might be the biggest development of the preseason, but everyone from writers to coaches to players have been wary of overhyping the Blazers’ defense because, well, it’s preseason.

Still, what the Blazers have shown has been impressive. Very impressive.

The last four opponents have shot below 41 percent, and overall in the preseason, opponents are shooting 40.6 percent. Overall, the Blazers have the 10th best defensive rating in the preseason, and the fourth best net rating in the NBA, behind Houston, Utah and Boston.

After last year’s disaster on the defensive end, the Blazers talked a lot about defense in training camp, and they have backed it up in the preseason.

“I think we have more focus and better communication,’’ Ed Davis said. “I feel if we are a top 15, top 10 defensive team we are going to be well off once the regular season starts, because we know are going to be a top 10 offensive team. On a bad day we are a top 10 team offensively. So as long as we lock in on the defensive end, that’s where we are going to win games.’’

Ed Davis will be backup center: Stotts said before Wednesday’s game in Phoenix that he is viewing Davis as a center, more or less ending any thoughts that Davis would be the opening-night starter at power forward.

Davis has been very effective this preseason and is the clear-cut backup to Jusuf Nurkic at center.

Davis famously set a goal to win the open power forward spot during Media Day, but he said that was more or less something to psyche himself up.

“When I said that, I wasn’t trying to make it a big deal … it was just something I said, so it’s not something I’m disappointed about, or feeling some sort of way, like hurt or anything,’’ Davis said. “It is what it is. The main thing is winning and coach is going to do what is best for the team. There’s going to be all different kinds of lineups on the floor. I just have to be ready each time my number is called.’’

The Big 3 are ready:  The biggest thing we know from preseason – the Big 3 of Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic are ready.

McCollum hasn’t shot the ball as well as he would have liked (35.4 percent from the field) but he has made 11-of-26 three-pointers (42.3 percent) and constantly looks like he is toying with the defense.

Nurkic has been dominant at times and Lillard looks as good as ever.

WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW

This section is the gray area between what our eyes are telling us and what Stotts won’t confirm or reveal.

Starting lineup: I think it has been clear that Stotts will open the season with Lillard, McCollum, Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Nurkic as his starting lineup, but he has yet to confirm it.

This group knows each other and it shows on the court. Offensively, this unit flows. There is great ball movement, nice spacing and an overall familiarity that is invaluable in today’s NBA.

Defensively, the pairing of Harkless and Aminu is well documented. The two can switch on pick-and-rolls and both are among the Blazers’ better defensive players. Harkless in particular has been very “handsy” -- getting his hands on a lot of deflections, steals and blocks.

Second unit: Part of the equation in deciding a starting lineup is plotting the second unit and how the substitution patterns play out. If Stotts indeed goes with the above starting lineup, that leaves his second unit with McCollum at point guard, Connaughton at shooting guard, Turner at small forward, Swanigan at power forward and Davis at center.

There are a couple of intriguing aspects to this second unit. Offensively, it allows Turner to have the ball in his hands more often, which is when he is most effective. If he is paired with Lillard and McCollum – both of whom command the ball – it takes away much of Turner’s playmaking strengths while forcing him to uncomfortable spots on the floor as a spacer.

And defensively, this is a tough and solid unit. Davis and Turner are plus defenders and Swanigan has shown he can rebound. Connaughton has great hops and is smart, and McCollum has sneaky defensive moments where he will block a shot or anticipate and disrupt passing lanes.

It also reminded me of what Turner said this preseason when I asked him what is important in deciding lineups. I was expecting him to say something like spacing, or balance, but he said he found the best teams had a second unit that had an identity. It could be offense, defense, toughness, run-and-gun … but an identity.

I think this unit could have a physical, rough-and-tough defensive identity while still remaining dangerous offensively with McCollum’s brilliance and Turner’s playmaking/post game.

Anthony Morrow will win 15th spot: If there is one thing left to decide in tonight’s game against Maccabi Haifa, it’s probably the final roster spot, although I think Anthony Morrow won it last week against Toronto, when he made four three pointers in eight minutes.

The competition is between Morrow, Archie Goodwin and Isaiah Briscoe.

Goodwin’s chances probably evaporated Wednesday in Phoenix when he didn’t hustle for a loose ball, which the Suns scooped up and took in for an uncontested layin. It wasn’t an egregious lack of effort by the former first-round pick, but it lacked the intensity and wherewithal you want to see from a guy trying to win an NBA roster spot.

Briscoe, a rookie point guard from Kentucky, has actually been good during mop up time throughout the preseason, but there’s no way the Blazers keep a fourth point guard.

That leaves Morrow, the sharp-shooting 32-year-old, who also appears to be a good locker room guy.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

What happens when Noah Vonleh returns? Vonleh on Wednesday said he is on schedule with his rehabilitation of a right shoulder strain, and is three weeks away from returning.

Vonleh has started at power forward for parts of the past two seasons and is valued by Stotts for his rebounding and defense. What happens when Vonleh returns?

I’m guessing Vonleh plays right away, and it will likely be at the expense of some of Swanigan’s minutes.

How much does Zach Collins play? This might be at the top of my curiosities entering the season. I can’t get a feel of how the team views Collins right now.

Make no mistake, they are encouraged and pleased with the No. 10 overall pick, and think he is going to be a star down the road. But I don’t know how they view him in the immediate. I could see him sitting the bench and getting spot minutes, but I could also see him playing during meaningful games.

With Collins, I think fans are going to have to look deeper than his points and rebounds. He is exceptional at protecting the rim. Absolutely fearless. Perhaps, even, the best on the team at protecting the rim. He is also very good at moving his feet and being in the right spots defensively. These two factors could get him on the court.

That being said, he gets pushed around very easily, which is why Stotts said the team mostly views Collins right now as a power forward, because he has trouble holding his ground against bigger centers.

But I’m interested in seeing how Collins is used out of the gate.

Where does Shabazz Napier fit in? One of the few letdowns of the preseason has been the unavailability of point guard Shabazz Napier, who hurt his left hamstring on the second day of training camp. Neil Olshey gushed about Napier at Media Day, and there was some intrigue of what the point guard who scored 32 and 25 points as a late-season starter last year would bring.

It sounds like Napier has a chance at playing tonight against Haifa, as his status has been upgraded to questionable. It may take some time for him to get up to game-time speed, but I’m imagining Stotts using Connaughton and Napier interchangeably depending on opposing lineups.

In case you haven’t noticed, Stotts is in for a heckuva juggling job this season. He has an obvious nine-man rotation (Lillard, McCollum, Harkless, Aminu, Nurkic, Turner, Davis, Connaughton, Swanigan) and I’m guessing he will extend his rotation early in the season to 10 and maybe 11 to work in Vonleh and Napier. If Collins is in that equation, that makes 12. And what if Meyers Leonard keeps playing like he did Wednesday in Phoenix, when he had 17 points and 8 rebounds?

Lot of questions ahead, but they are mostly good questions. This has been an exceptional preseason for the Blazers, one that has offered a lot of encouraging signs, and one that keeps leading me back to one thought:

This team is going to be better than people think.

Today's Blazers links:

Blazers' radio voice Brian Wheeler is taking a leave of absence.

A preview of tonight's preseason finale.

On the road, Evan Turner taught room service a lesson.

 

Breakfast with the Blazers: Stotts says lineup, rotation not decided

Breakfast with the Blazers: Stotts says lineup, rotation not decided

SACRAMENTO -- Terry Stotts said he has yet to decide on his opening night starting lineup or his playing rotation, even after he coached what appeared to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season on Monday night in Sacramento.

Stotts started both halves with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jusuf Nurkic and played them all about 29 minutes. Through the first three quarters, he only played four reserves – Evan Turner, Ed Davis, Caleb Swanigan and Pat Connaughton.

Nobody inside the Blazers locker room said they have a clue how Stotts will approach the season opener, which is now just eight days away, but several intimated that it wouldn’t shock them if Monday’s game against the Kings is how the Blazers approach the Oct. 18 opener at Phoenix.

“I think obviously, everybody knows who the horses are,’’ Turner said. “And the rest of us have to stay prepared and stay ready for whatever the situation is. I think the biggest thing in the rotation situation is defensively … are we getting better defensively?’’

The only debate is how Stotts handles the forward position, and it seems the leading candidates from the start of camp have been Harkless and Aminu, who have developed a familiarity and defensive chemistry over the past two seasons. The other options are having Swanigan in place of Aminu, or perhaps Turner instead of Harkless.

But for a team whose offense is well defined with Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic, it seems the defensive cohesion between Harkless and Aminu – they are able to switch easily on pick-and-rolls – has long been attractive to Stotts.

“The continuity – we finished out the year like that for the most part and I think we are all comfortable with that group out there,’’ Harkless said. “I don’t know if that’s going to the be group we start with on opening night, but whether it is or isn’t, I think that group we have out there is good offensively or defensively.’’

Stotts usually likes to play nine or 10 players, and his biggest decision will likely come in early November, when Noah Vonleh returns from a shoulder strain. Vonleh has been a part-time starter over the past two seasons and figures to command playing time because of his rebounding and defensive play. Also, point guard Shabazz Napier – who has been unable to play in preseason because of a hamstring injury -- figures to be considered alongside Connaughton at guard, depending on matchups.

“We have a lot of lineups out there, but it will ultimately be coach’s decision,’’ Lillard said.

Stotts also typically likes to have one preseason game when he plays it similar to a regular season game, and it appeared Monday against the Kings was that night. The Blazers’ two remaining preseason games figure to be exercises in caution and the final auditions for the 15th roster spot.

Portland plays Wednesday at Phoenix, and Stotts has previously said he is leery to show much of his regular-season package against the Suns considering the Blazers open the season in Phoenix on the 18th. And Stotts has already said in the preseason finale – Friday at home against Israeli professional club Maccabi Haifa –he plans to rest many of his main players.

After what appeared to be a dry run during Monday’s 97-83 win at the Kings, Turner said there doesn’t appear to be much left to decide in this preseason.

“I guess who is going to be on the team,’’ Turner said, laughing. “But other than that, we have to figure out rotations so guys know their roles,  and I think we are getting closer and closer to it.’’

Here’s a look at Stotts’ substitution pattern/lineups and how they fared in the first three quarters Monday:

Starters: Lillard, McCollum, Harkless, Aminu, Nurkic. Time played together: 6:11, Kings 16-15.

1st sub: 5:49 -- Connaughton for McCollum. Lineup: Lillard, Connaughton, Harkless, Aminu, Nurkic. Time played together: 2:40, Blazers 11-2.

2nd sub: 3:09 -- Davis for Nurkic; Swanigan for Aminu. Lineup: Lillard, Connaughton, Harkless, Swanigan, Davis. Time played together: 27 seconds, no scoring.

3rd sub: 2:42 – McCollum for Lillard; Turner for Harkless. Lineup: McCollum, Connaughton, Turner, Swanigan, Davis. Time played together: 7:22, Kings 12-11.

SECOND QUARTER (Blazers lead 29-24)

4th sub: 7:20 -- Lillard for McCollum; Harkless for Connaughton. Lineup: Lillard, Turner, Harkless, Swanigan, Davis.  Time played together: 18 seconds. Blazers 1-0.

5th sub:  7:02 -- Nurkic for Davis. Lineup: Lillard, Turner, Harkless, Swanigan, Nurkic. Time played together: 1:47. Kings 3-0.

6th sub: 5:15 -- Aminu for Swanigan. Lineup: Lillard, Turner, Harkless, Swanigan, Nurkic. Time played together: 1:46. Blazers 7-0.

7th sub: 3:29 -- McCollum for Turner. Lineup: Lillard, McCollum, Harkless, Aminu, Nurkic. Time played together: 3:29. Kings 10-9.

HALFTIME: Blazers lead 54-43

THIRD QUARTER

Lineup: Lillard, McCollum, Harkless, Aminu, Nurkic. Time played together: 12 minutes. Kings 22-17.

Today's Blazers Links:

On NBC Sports Northwest's Talkin' Ball, Dwight Jaynes says he thinks Pat Connaughton is in for breakout year.

ESPN's Zach Lowe weighs in on the Blazers

Matt Moore at CBS Sports previews the Blazers' season.

Casey Holdahl with the Trail Blazers says not much was decided in Sacramento.

Breakfast with the Blazers: Stotts 'in formative process' of rotation

Breakfast with the Blazers: Stotts 'in formative process' of rotation

LOS ANGELES – Terry Stotts said his starting lineup and playing rotation is still under consideration as the Trail Blazers enter their third preseason game Sunday, but the coach did offer two factors into his thinking:

One, he is not opposed to starting rookies; and two, visualizing what the second unit and the player rotation patterns is to him as important of a factor as identifying the starting five.

“There’s a lot that goes into it,’’ Stotts said before the Blazers played the Clippers.

Stotts has named three of his five starters: Damian Lillard at point guard, CJ McCollum at shooting guard and Jusuf Nurkic at center.

In the first two preseason games, Stotts has paired the starting forward positions with Evan Turner and Ed Davis and then Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. Also, in the second half of the second preseason game, he started rookie Caleb Swanigan at power forward.

Stotts did not want to reveal his starting lineup for Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. game against the Clippers because he had yet to tell the team.

“There are a lot of different combinations and after two games, it has been productive, but I haven’t made a decision yet,’’ Stotts said. “I think it’s still in the formative process.’’

As Stotts mixes and matches his combinations, two early storylines have emerged: Swanigan, the rookie big man from Purdue, has played himself into consideration for a starting role; and the combination of Harkless and Aminu has once again proven to be an effective combination.

“I know everybody is curious about the forward position,’’ Stotts said. “But it’s not going to get resolved (immediately) … But I’m not opposed to starting rookies. I don’t know why I’ve gotten this reputation for not wanting to play young guys.’’

Stotts pointed to his history of starting Noah Vonleh the past two seasons and playing Lillard big minutes as a rookie.

The unit with Harkless and Aminu has excelled in the first two preseason games, going on a 9-2 run in the first game then starting the second preseason game with a 20-7 run. Stotts said he was recently given numbers that said the foursome of Lillard, McCollum, Harkless and Aminu over the last two seasons is a Top 10 unit in net rating.

“When you look at that foursome, you have to take that into consideration,’’ Stotts said.

If it all seems confusing and jumbled,  it is what preseason games are designed for: letting things play themselves out. But as Stotts reminds, it goes beyond identifying the best five players.

“I think people get caught up in the starting lineup,’’ Stotts said. “But it’s also about rotating players. There’s a lot that goes into it: starting familiarity, spacing, offense, defense, not only what happens with starting lineup but rotating players going in. I don’t think that gets enough consideration.’’

It will today when the Blazers reach the midway point of the preseason. 

Breakfast with the Blazers: Swanigan's toughness is latest reveal

Breakfast with the Blazers: Swanigan's toughness is latest reveal

It seems with each passing day during the Trail Blazers’ preseason, the sensation that is Caleb Swanigan grows.

Throughout Summer League, training camp and the first preseason game, the rookie big man has shown the ability to score inside, from mid-range and from beyond the three-point line. He has also been an active defender, solid rebounder and dive-on-the-court  bundle of energy.

But inside the Blazers’ locker room, never did his stock grow more than Thursday, in the second preseason game, when Swanigan displayed a trait that has been glaringly absent in this franchise since Joel Przybilla left in 2012: Toughness.

During the third quarter, Swanigan sent All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry to the floor with a screen/clear out that allowed Damian Lillard to take a three-pointer at the top of the arc. Lowry was up in arms after he was called for a foul for trying to climb over Swanigan.

Less than 30 seconds later, Swanigan was under the basket irritating Raptors’ power forward Serge Ibaka, a chiseled and well-respected veteran. Swanigan had beaten Ibaka to the ball a possession before for an offensive rebound, and this time, he knocked the ball out of Ibaka’s hands, but was called for a foul. Ibaka took exception to the repeated pestering by the rookie and let Swanigan know. Swanigan held his ground and snapped back.

The exchange led to a technical on Swanigan, who immediately began clapping.

Lillard, the Blazers’ captain who has been here five seasons, soaked it all in.

“I loved seeing it,’’ Lillard said. “Right after he got (the technical) I told him: ‘We aren’t going to take nothing.’’’

It has been something the Blazers have talked about before -- most recently at this month’s Media Day when center Jusuf Nurkic said the Blazers need to adopt the “Bad Boys” persona of the Detroit Pistons – but have never been able to back up.

They haven’t been able to back it up because for the most part, the Blazers have been a group of nice guys, players whose toughness is measured more by their work ethic and mental capacity than their brawn or physical actions.

“We have to establish that,’’ Lillard said. “I feel like since we have been here we’ve been like a team that not mean, we are not going to cause no trouble, we are (just)  going to play hard. But he’s got an enforcer type mentality,  and I told him ‘Do that. I’m not mad at you, be who you are.’ We need that kind of attitude where we are not taking nothing from nobody – preseason or not, practice or not – we are not going to take nothing, We need that attitude.’’

By now, after Summer League and more than a month of pickup games and practices, the Blazers veterans are comfortable knowing exactly what Swanigan brings. They rave about the rookie, who carries himself much like he plays on the court: straight-forward, no frills, no nonsense.

“He’s a dawg,’’ CJ McCollum said. “I like the aggressiveness. How you see him out there is how he acts every day. It’s not a front. He plays hard and I think he is passionate about the game. He’s not afraid.’’

For coach Terry Stotts, Thursday just reinforced what he has seen since Swanigan was the 26th overall pick.

“I liked his energy,’’ Stotts said. “I liked his fire.’’

Today's Blazers links:

Casey Holdahl at Trail Blazers.com talked to CJ McCollum after he signed a shoe deal with Li-Ning.

Billboard magazine talks to Damian Lillard about his new album.

NBC Sports Northwest's Dwight Jaynes asks: What if the Blazers played big?

https://audioboom.com/posts/6372492-inside-the-blazers-w-jason-quick-my-biggest-regret