We’re three games into the summer league for the Portland Trail Blazers and now the action is heating up, along with C.J. McCollum.
The Blazers played, by far, their most complete game of the summer Tuesday and were led by McCollum’s red hot shooting and 28 points. Will Barton also chipped in 17 points, as the Blazers guards did most of the damage, beating the the Atlanta Hawks 91-75. You can read Rip City Project’s recap of the game here.
The Blazers are 2-1 with 8.0 points and finished sixth heading into bracket play. Since Portland finished in the top-eight, they have a bye in the first round, giving the players an extra day to rest. Instead of looking ahead to what is to come in the bracket, let’s take a look back at the good and bad of Portland’s first three summer league games in Las Vegas.
- Highlight Reel Basketball
The third game of the summer against Atlanta was a cornucopia of awesome highlights. Check these out:
- The Barton-McCollum Tandem
Based on how they’ve played this summer league, I’m becoming more and more accepting that they each will play a role, possibly together, for Portland next season. There is just something about them playing together that makes me think this has a real shot of working out. Barton’s athletic, attacking game fits perfectly with McCollum’s perimeter-oriented play. Barton also has the ability to pressure the opposing team’s point guard which allows McCollum to guard a slightly bigger, and usually slower, player. At point guard, Barton is turning the ball over way too much, averaging 3.7 turnovers per game. I attribute that more to the fact that Barton has to do too much and has the ball way too often.
As for McCollum, I’ve been surprised his assist numbers have been as low as they are (2.0 apg), but that is primarily due to Barton and Bobby Brown acting as the point guards most of the time, allowing McCollum to play off the ball. Hopefully, the Blazers won’t need it much next season because it has its disadvantages (maybe the understatement of the summer), and with Steve Blake handling the backup point guard duties, I don’t think Portland will use Barton and McCollum together. Though, it is always good to have a backup plan or other combination to put pressure on defenses, and the Barton-McCollum backcourt has been far from disappointing this summer. They are not a starting NBA backcourt, but they compliment each other very well and seem to have good chemistry.
- “Michael Jordan of Summer League”
NBATV announcer Grant Hill called Barton the “Michael Jordan of summer league” after his sensational steal and 180-layup in the first quarter against the Hawks. You can tell Barton is playing an edge and trying to prove he’s worthy of more playing time next season.
After Barton’s success in the playoffs against the Spurs, his confidence is climbing even higher, which can be good and bad. He makes some sensational plays, but also makes some plays that make you scratch your head. He is still young, and I love his ability to get to the rim and carve up these summer league defenses with relative ease. Barton has the ball in his hand too much and has to force up shots at the end of the shot clock too often, but the fact that he isn’t afraid to take on that challenge and try to make plays is reassuring that he’s ready for more responsibility. To me, Barton has proved that he deserves more minutes off the bench next season.
- McCollum’s three-point breakout
McCollum struggled to make many threes in his first two games of summer league, but responded in the third game by drilling 6-of-9 from downtown, including a few deep, deep threes. We knew McCollum had a sweet stroke, but we had yet to see him establish himself like he did against Atlanta. There was no hesitation. He was just letting it fly from everywhere, and his shot was falling. It was great to see him breakout of his season-long slump, if only against Summer League defense.
Heading into next season, I’m excited to see what McCollum can do with a full training camp and regular minutes in the rotation. Players can be taught to shoot, but you can’t teach players to find the zone and catch NBA Jam fire. When guys can shoot as well as McCollum and make shots from the 26-feet to 28-feet, you have to get that guy on the court, even if it is only 10-15 minutes per game to see whether he’s in the zone that night.
- Thomas Robinson’s passing
If you regularly watch the Portland Trail Blazers, you’ve seen T-Rob make some phenomenal passes. It’s the one aspect of his game that is generally overlooked. He is known as the high-flying, energy guy, but Robinson has the ability to be so much more than that if he stays in Portland’s system and develops a midrange jumper. If he can do that, head coach Terry Stotts will find a role for him and the floor will open up more for Robinson to showcase his passing ability.
- T-Rob’s injury
After a hard fall in the third quarter against the Hawks, Robinson left the game with a thumb injury and never returned to the game. Afterward, the Blazers announced Robinson would miss the remainder of summer league with the injured thumb. Details about the injury were few and far between, although it was reported that x-rays were negative.
It’s a major bummer for Robinson and for all of us Portland fans who love to watch him play; however, it does open up more room for Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland to play more and show what they can do.
- Meyers Leonard
Leonard missed the first two summer league games because of a nagging shoulder injury. He did play in the third game, but didn’t look good at all. Summer league is especially difficult for middle of the pack big men to have much of an impact, so Leonard isn’t going to put up a 20-10 game or anything like that. We’d all just like Lenoard to do the little things that will make all the difference during the regular season, like defending the pick-and-roll and rebounding.
Routinely, Leonard couldn’t keep guards away from the basket in the pick-and-roll. If Leonard wants to play much next season, he’ll have to prove that he can force guards away from the basket, or at least slow them down so the player getting screened can catch up. Leonard struggled to do that against Atlanta. He also didn’t grab one rebound. Not even one in 21 minutes of action. I don’t even know what to say about that, other than Bobby Brown is averaging 3.3 rebounds per game.
Hopefully, he’ll be better in the next game and can get in a better rhythm when he sees more minutes.
- Chances of any fringe player looking to make contributions next season
Other than Barton, McCollum, and Robinson, no one else is making that great of an impression this summer league. Freeland and Leonard will be on the roster when next season rolls around, but the way they’ve played so far doesn’t bode well if they are trying to become integral parts of the rotation. With Chris Kaman and Blake most likely taking most of the minutes at backup center and point guard, that really only leaves three or four more spots to be available in the second unit. Right now, those four players are Barton, McCollum, Robinson, and Dorell Wright. Everyone else is on the outside looking in.
Injuries will give guys an opportunity to have an impact and more guys will see some action in garbage time, but there is definitely a clear cut line between who is going to play next season and who’s going to ride the bench.
Although this is just the beginning for the coaching staff to make decisions for next season and everything could change completely by the start of the season, I think Coach Stotts and Olshey have had many of their questions answered in the first three games of the summer.