Summer League Gets Underway Saturday Versus Jazz

by Casey Holdahl
Follow @chold

After four days of practice, the Portland Trail Blazers begin their Las Vegas Summer League odyssey by facing the Utah Jazz Saturday afternoon at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 pm on CSNNW and ESPNU.

Saturday’s game will be the first opportunity to see Trail Blazers rookies Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan after they were selected with the 10th and 26th picks, respectively, of the 2017 NBA Draft. Both Collins, a 7-0 center who jumped to the NBA after one season at Gonzaga, and Swanigan, a 6-9 forward who was second in the NCAA in rebound during his second and final season at Purdue, are both expected to start Saturday’s contest after undergoing somewhat of a crash course in Trail Blazers basketball over the past few days.

“They’ve just been trying to harp on playing together,” said Collins, who averaged 10.0 points, on 65 percent shooting and 5.9 rebounds in 39 games for the Bulldogs. “We’ve only been together for a couple of days. We just want to go out there, have some fun, learn the system that Portland has. Especially for me and Caleb, we’ve got to get acclimated to their style of play. Just looking forward to that.”

While Portland’s assistant coaches, who have been running practices at the team’s facility in Tualatin this week, have done well to install a few basic sets on offense and instill some basic principles on defense, everyone is aware that there’s only so much you can do with just a few days of preparation. But learning from and working through mistakes in a low-risk environment is one of the main reasons summer league exists, so not being well versed in the intricacies of Terry Stotts’ offense or especially familiar with rotations on defense isn’t much of a concern, at least not at this point.

“It’s a learning experience at both ends of the court,” said Stotts, who will be watching Saturday’s game from the bleachers at COX Pavilion. “(Collins and Swanigan) be a little bit anxious to make a good impression, but I think it’s really important that they play the way we want to play. I think defense is always a challenge for young players, especially bigs, so that’s going to be important. I won’t be too much concerned about stats or whatever they get scoring-wise. I’d like for them to be efficient and get good looks and execute the offense.”

Portland’s summer league team isn’t exactly flush with proven NBA players, they do have a few holdovers from last year’s squad in Pat Connaughton and Jake Layman, both of whom are also expected to start alongside Collins and Swanigan. Connaughton, selected with the 41st pick of the 2015 Draft out of Notre Dame, and Layman, taken with the 47th pick of the 2016 Draft, played sparingly during the 2016-17 regular season, making Saturday’s game an opportunity for both players to show what they’ve been working behind closed doors.

“They’re going to be in positions — Jake and Pat — that they weren’t in during the regular season,” said Stotts. “Any time either one of those two were in the game they were role-players and weren’t handling the ball that much. They have a chance to expand their game a little bit.”

Portland’s summer league squad also includes two guards — Jordan Adams and R.J. Hunter — who also have previous NBA experience, with the rest of the roster rounded out with professional players from overseas and undrafted rookies. As for the Jazz, guards Dante Exum and rookie Donovan Mitchell, selected with the 13th pick in the 2017 Draft, are expected to shoulder the load after leading their team to a 3-0 record in the four-team Utah Summer League held earlier in the week.   

Getting a win to start off their summer league schedule, especially against a divisional foe who has already had an opportunity to work out the kinks, would obviously be Portland’s preference, though wins alone are in no way the measuring stick for a quality summer league performance.

“It’s all about player development,” said Stotts. “The summer league is an opportunity for mainly our guys — Pat, Jake, Zach and Caleb — to get some time on the court, to bang. Winning is great — if you just watched Dallas win the Orlando Summer League, it’s fun — but the priority is all about getting these guys playing time.”

Kevin Calabro and Lamar Hurd will have the call on CSNNW starting at 3 pm. The game can also be seen live on ESPNU.