As I write this, we are closing in on tip-off for the Blazers’ Summer League matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers. Yesterday, the Blazers lost to the Phoenix Suns (69-82). It wasn’t what I was expecting, since the Portland Summer league lineup is comparatively stacked and Phoenix was without their injured 1st round pick, Alex Len, but it did highlight some very important things; both positive and negative.
CJ McCollum is just as gifted as anticipated and has fully recovered from his broken foot. He scored a game high 22 points and on nearly 50% shooting (9-19). This guy is a great shooter and does not hesitate to pull up, run in, or step back.
He’s not the greatest facilitator. This was also anticipated, but it hurt the team quite a bit. He was unable to handle the double-team (understandable at this stage) which made it difficult for Portland to set up the offense.
Unless CJ rapidly improves his game, he’ll likely see more time at shooting guard when the regular season starts (a position at which he is undersized). There could be more minutes available behind Matthews than Lillard, so that’s ok, but it does crowd the court for Allen Crabbe and Will Barton to find opportunities to play. If Earl Watson assumes the role of backup PG instead of McCollum, the team will run in a more organized fashion than yesterday’s bedlam, but the guard rotation will be clogged. A lot is riding on McCollum finding his place.
Thomas Robinson is a beast. He was in their affecting shots, blocking a few, poking the ball away, and ripping down rebounds. He is every bit the defender Portland needs on the interior, and his aggressive play will only get better from here.
He’s definitely raw on the offensive end. I find it doubtful that he will be much of a scorer this year, though he could be in the future. For now, his physique is impressive, but it can’t change that the occasional rim rocker is primarily form over function.
If Robinson develops properly, Aldridge’s days in Portland are numbered. Robinson will not be a bench player for much longer and Portland can get more return by trading Aldridge at the February deadline than if he leaves as a free agent in 2015. However; if Robinson’s offensive game does not blossom, he’ll be used as a stopper behind LMA, which is by no means something to sneeze at. I wouldn’t mind seeing Robinson get minutes at small forward either if he can learn any sort of touch from Aldridge, but right now that’s not his game.
Meyers Leonard can crash the boards. He’s even bulked up a little since April. He’ll be an asset on offense as he supplies second chance opportunities at rim, and can bury open looks from the elbow. He has potential to be a scoring center.
Although he has worked on his defense, it still leaves something to be desired. Summer League allows 10 fouls per game and he used up 7. He doesn’t quite have that split-second instinct that distinguishes a good foul from a bad foul yet.
He will probably be 2nd fiddle again this year, but behind Lopez this time. I like his offensive game, but he needs to improve his footwork before he is ready to contribute positively on both ends of the floor. Still, 9 points and 9 rebounds are not damning numbers (yesterday’s statistics). Of the active Summer League Blazers that played for Portland last season (Barton, Claver, Freeland, Leonard), I am most interested in his development. He needs to pick up some aggression from Thomas Robinson.
As for everyone else, there isn’t much to say yet. Lillard, Czyz, Strickland, Lauderdale, and Waters, were all DNPs yesterday, and the rest of the players that weren’t were practically invisible (with the exception of Will Barton who initiated a little garbage time spray and pray). Portland’s Summer League debut was less than what I’d hoped for, but McCollum, Robinson, and Leonard have emerged as the three to watch more closely. How they bounce back this afternoon will say a lot about their ability to make adjustments and build chemistry.
If you missed yesterday’s game and have a penchant for unnecessarily goofy music, have a look at the highlights to whet your appetite for game 2.