Trail Blazers Begin Summer League Play Saturday Versus Jazz

by Casey Holdahl
Follow @chold

According to Trail Blazers forward Caleb Swanigan, the Portland Trail Blazers enter the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League with one goal after finishing second to the Lakers in the 2017 Las Vegas Summer League Tournament.

“Win the championship this year.”

After a week of practices at their facility in Tualatin, Swanigan and the rest of Portland’s summer league squad will begin their quest Saturday versus the Utah Jazz at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. Tipoff is scheduled for 12 p.m on NBA TV.

Saturday’s contest is the first of at least five games in Las Vegas for the Trail Blazers, who boasts a roster featuring Swanigan, Zach Collins, Jake Layman, Wade Baldwin IV and Georgios Papagiannis, all veterans of the summer league, along with rookies Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr. and a host of unsigned players who most recently played in the G League, college or overseas.

“We’ve had a good week of practice,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “One of the things about this camp is we’ve got a lot of guys who have been in the NBA. I think we have nine players who have played at least one NBA game and then we have our two draft picks. I think the talent is very good… The one thing about having guys like that is they kind of know what’s going on, what to expect.”

Given their experience, the Blazers are hoping to get off their summer league off to a quick start versus the Jazz, a team that will has already played three summer league games in Salt Lake City.

“All the sets we put in are basically what we run during the season,” said Collins, who is expected to start in Saturday’s game despite suffering a broken nose in the first day of summer league practice. “Obviously not the more complicated ones and the ones that have like four or five reads, but basically just our basic sets, we’re going to be running a lot of that. A lot of screens for guards, a lot of postups for big guys, a lot of ball screens, what we usually do. We’re going to share the ball pretty well.”

Last year, sharing the ball and finding Swanigan in the post were two of the main reasons they were able to advance to the Summer League Tournament championship, and that approach seems unlikely to change this time around. Swanigan, who was named First Team All Summer League last year, didn’t have many opportunities to get on the court during the 2017-18 season, so he’s looking forward to playing significant minutes in Las Vegas.

“Just want to go play hard again,” said Swanigan. “It’s the NBA, it’s out of sight, out of mind. If people don’t see you for a while they think you’re out of the league or they don’t know. It’s big for the fans to help them believe in me.”

Fans will also get their first live look at Simons, a 19 year old guard who opted to play at IMG Academy last season. The Trail Blazers selected Simons with the 24th pick in the 2018 Draft, and Saturday’s game will be the first time fans will get to see him go up against NBA caliber talent. It’s also the first time Gary Trent Jr., who Portland acquired from Sacramento during the 2018 Draft, will suit up as a pro.

“For me, summer league is a learning experience for (Simons and Trent Jr.),” said Stotts. “As you saw last summer, Zach (Collins) struggled a little bit with summer league but he continued to work. So I’ve always viewed summer league as a really good learning experience for these rookies coming in because the game is quicker, you’re playing against good guys every night. It’s kind of an eye opening experience for some of them. There are a lot of good players out there.”

Saturday’s game can be seen locally and nationally on NBA TV. Tipoff is scheduled for 12 p.m.