The Portland Trail Blazers won game one of the 2023-24 season, routing the New Zealand Breakers 106-66 at the Moda Center. Coach Chauncey Billups’ squad was led by 14 points from Anfernee Simons.
Scoot Henderson flashed his all-around game, scoring 7 points, hitting a three and collecting 6 assists compared to just 1 turnover. Deandre Ayton, the prize of the Damian Lillard trade, finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds to go along with 2 assists and a pair of steals.
The Blazers blew the game open in the second half, outscoring the Breakers 58-27 over the final two quarters behind the team’s group of young reserves, one of whom had a particularly strong night.
It probably came as no surprise to Billups, though, who’s already showered this rookie second-round pick with praise.
Toumani Camara continues his strong start with the Portland Trail Blazers
Ayton was the headliner in the three-team deal that sent Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks and Jusuf Nurkic to the Phoenix Suns. Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams III were added to the haul after Jrue Holiday was traded to the Boston Celtics.
Meanwhile, Camara appeared to be nothing more than a throw-in lottery ticket from Phoenix, but the 23-year-old is quickly proving that isn’t the case.
The second-round pick from Dayton scored 13 points in fewer than 15 minutes in the win over New Zealand. He shot 5 of 6 from the floor and 2 of 3 from deep while adding 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
Billups has seen this show from Camara already in training camp, though, as he told Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian/Oregon Live.
"I’ve been very impressed with Toumani. He’s just a basketball player. He’s just in the right places. … He just has a good feel about him. He has a toughness about him.Portland Trail Blazers Head Coach Chauncey Billups on Toumani Camara"
It wasn’t just one preseason game or a few training camp practices, though. Camara averaged more than 16 points for the Suns in summer league while also pulling down 7 rebounds per game. In his final season at Dayton, the 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward averaged 13.9 points and 8.6 rebounds on 55 percent shooting and 36 percent shooting from three.
Heading into June’s draft, Camara was scouted as a big wing with a versatile offensive skill set, something he’s already shown in his first few bites at the NBA apple.
Will Camara be as impactful as Ayton, Brogdon or Williams? No. But he’s quickly proving to be much more than a slap-on piece in a mega-trade, and with the opportunity to grow on a young, rebuilding roster, the Blazers may be stumbling into a legitimate rotation forward in the unlikeliest of ways.