TORONTO — The Trail Blazers practiced Saturday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre in preparation for Sunday’s matinee contest against the Raptors (tipoff at 10 AM on CSNNW and 620 AM). The Trail Blazers will be looking for their sixth-straight victory while the Raptors are coming off a 96-80 loss to the Bulls, sans Derek Rose, on Friday.
Some notes from Saturday’s practice …
· LaMarcus Aldridge, whose 27-point, 12-rebounds, two-steal performance against the Celtics on Friday night helped the Trail Blazers get their first victory in Boston since 2004, reiterated the need for he and his teammates to keep perspective regarding their 7-2 start. Portland may currently have the third-best record in the league, but Aldridge has been around long enough to know a team has never made the playoffs by winning in November.
“I just don’t want guys to be overly confident too early,” said Aldridge. “In that season that Nate (McMillan) got fired and everybody got traded away, we started out 7-2 that year, too. Then we lost to OKC and it just snowballed from there. I just want everybody to stay hungry. We got here because of hard work and because of guys buying in and playing unselfishly. If we think we already made it, guys are going to feel like they ain’t got to work no more, but we do. We haven’t done anything yet, so it’s like, we have to do what we’ve done these first nine games over the whole season.”
Aldridge has made no bones about his frustration with missing the postseason the last two seasons, let alone never making it out of the first round, and his comments about this season’s hot start are an indication that he’s focused solely on the challenges ahead, rather than the successes in the rear view. And make no mistake: Aldridge is holding himself to the same expectations he has for his teammates. He’s not patting himself on the back for his own early season performance and says, despite averaging 21.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 9.1 rebounds, that he doesn’t feel like “I’ve played all that well.”
“I’ve had a couple games where I haven’t shot that well or I wasn’t in a good rhythm,” said Aldridge. “I feel like I’ve had some ugly games. I don’t feel like I’m playing all that great. I think the last game was a step in the right direction. I feel like if I can be that dominant more nights, that’s would be great for us. For me, I’m just trying to get better every day and I feel like last game was a great step in that direction.”
There has been plenty written about Aldridge’s growth as a leader this season, but maybe nothing is more indicative of the strides he’s made than his unwillingness to get caught up in a fast start. The idea of even a hint of complacency setting in after a 7-2 start seems to be almost offensive to the seven-year power forward, so if he has to rain on someone’s parade to make sure that doesn’t happen, so be it.
“I’ve seen teams start off hot before; you’ll have down spells,” said Aldridge. “You’ve just got to try to weather each storm. I feel like it’s early, so I don’t want to put much weight on being 7-2. It’s definitely a positive and it’s showing that guys are working hard. But I think on the other end, we’ve got to stay hungry and not be satisfied with it and know that we’ve gotten here because of hard work.”
· After the 7-2 start, the second-most talked about storyline this season has been Damian Lillard’s struggle shooting from the field. He’s shooting 38 percent from the field this season, five percentage points worse than this field goal percentage last season, but is also shooting six percentage points better from the three-point line.
“I get good looks,” said Lillard. “I need to finish in the paint better, it’s crazy some of the shots that I’ve been missing. I’ve just got to make this finishes and probably just wait for those shots to fall. I shoot the same. I ain’t worried about it.”
Part of the hand-wringing is due to his percentages the last five games in which he’s shot just 32 percent from the field. Of course, going one for 15 as Lillard did against the Kings on Nov. 9 will skew the percentages, especially this early in the season. Even though the averages tend to average out (after all, that’s why they’re called “averages”) and he’s legitimately not concerned, especially this early in the season, Lillard knows there are some areas of his offensive game that he could improve. He spent much of practice on Saturday watching film with assistant coach David Vanterpool, looking for areas he could tweak in order to get back on track.
“We were just looking at situations coming off screens and, not forcing the issue, but just being more in attack mode,” said Lillard. “Instead of coming off and seeing what’s happening, just going. I’ve just got to come off more aggressive right off instead of coming off, waiting to see what they’re going to do, just come off and attack … I’ve got to to a better job of getting to my spots. I just haven’t been in a good rhythm offensively. I think I’ve played good games but shots just haven’t fallen. But it’s not a concern of mine or nothing like that. You want to see shots fall but the positive part is we’ve been able to win games like that. It’s working for us.”
Which it is. Lillard is shooting a full ten percentages points better from the field in Portland’s two losses this season than in their seven victories, which he swears is perfectly fine by him. And even though he doesn’t thinking opposing defenses are keying in on him any more than they did last season, it’s worth considering that the attention Lillard draws has loosened things up for his teammates, particuarly Wesley Matthews, who is shooting well above his career averages from the field and from three. Lillard was reluctant to give himself much credit for his teammates’ improved shooting, but he did concede that, as the point guard, there’s some correlation between his and his teammates’ performances.
“They’ve shot the ball well and my job is to make them better, to get them shots and get them the ball so they can be in the position to do good things,” said Lillard. “I think I’ve done a good job of that and they’ve done a good job themselves … When you’ve got guys who are good players like they are, they’ll take advantage of it. When they’re open on the wing when (opponents) crowd me in the paint, they’re going to make the shot. Good things come of it.”
· Finally, C.J. McCollum went into a little more detail Saturday describing the process of rehabilitating the fifth metatarsal in his right foot that he broke in training camp. He recently had an x-ray of his right foot taken, after which he was told by the doctor that the bone was reacting well after undergoing a non-surgical ultrasound procedure on Oct. 16.
“They said I’m progressing as they thought I would throughout the process,” said McCollum. “Basically (the doctor who performed the procedure) said I can continue to progress and they have different type of progression for me on the court, in the weight room, the type of stuff where I’ll increase some of my workload and some of the stress loads. Right now I’m on low stress, limited impact, so I’m trying to limit that with the minimum amount of jump shots a day. We’ll continue to progress as we get closer and closer to the next CT scan.”
That next scan, according to McCollum, will likely take place in a month, as was the original plan of action.
McCollum, much like the people who cover the team, is asked all the time about when he’s returning, which is not entirely surprising considering he was selected with the 12th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. But with the knowledge gained from rehabbing the same bone in his senior season at Lehigh, he says it’s not so difficult being patient, even with the constant stream of inquiries.
“When you go through injuries you’ve got to get used to taking your time,” said McCollum. “You don’t want to rush anything or make anything worse, have lingering effects just because you didn’t want to sit out a complete months or whatever. Just trying to train myself to make sure if I’m supposed to shoot 70 jumpers, I shoot 70 jumper. If it’s an 80 (jump shot) day, you take 80 and you don’t go over just because you don’t want to put too much stress on your foot when you have a fracture.”
What McCollum says isn’t so easy is seeing his fellow rookies playing while he’s relegated to wearing suits and watching from the bench. But he’s trying to view the time as a chance for preparation rather than a punishment.
“It’s tough to watch other rookies, especially guys that you worked out again, guys that you know you can compete with,” said McCollum “At the same time in this situation now there’s nothing I can do about it but get ready and get myself back for when I do return. In the meantime, the best thing I can do is get my body ready and get mentally ready for the roller coaster ride.”
Greetings fans of NBA offseason news. With the 2106 Draft now completed and the free agent moratorium less than 48 away, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the Moda Center studio to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
This week, Trail Blazers power forward Meyers Leonard joins the show to discuss his travels around Oregon this offseason, rehabbing from the shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his 2015-16 season, “sprint mechanics” and his upcoming restricted free agency. As for the rest of the show, we briefly recap Portland’s draft night, which netted the team Maryland forward Jake Layman, discuss what we know about the negotiations regarding the team’s television rights and discuss the unpredictability that is free agency.
The relationship between Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver predates both of their current occupations. When the two first sat down for a interview back in 2010, McCollum had not yet been drafted by the Trail Blazers with the 10th overall pick of the 2012 Draft (though that would happen later that night) and Silver, while already tabbed to take over for outgoing commissioner David Stern, was still pulling duty as deputy commissioner.
Every year since then, McCollum and Silver have met up in New York City after the end of the season to discuss topics pertaining to the NBA and society in general. In 2014, they discussed the situation with the previous Los Angeles Clippers ownership, the age limit, emerging technologies, Silver’s first year as the NBA’s head honcho and their favorite Jay-Z tracks. In 2015, McCollum, armed with a few seasons of experience and a new job at The Players’ Tribune, followed up on some of the questions from the year before regarding the age limit while also bringing up issues such as ads on jerseys, transparency in officiating and head injuries.
And in their fourth annual interview, released on The Players’ Tribune as a part of McCollum’s summer internship with the athlete-owned website, the two discuss how far they’ve come (or in CJ’s case, how much weight he’s lost) since their first meeting in 2012, Silver’s handshakes, whether the NBA would have their All-Star Weekend at “remote locations” like the NFL, whether the league is considering moving the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, the 2016 NBA Finals and the suspension of Draymond Green and recent efforts to increase diversity in NBA front offices. You can watch an excerpt of the interview in the above video, or read the entire Q&A over at The Players’ Tribune.
Maryland forward Jake Layman took questions from the Portland media via conference call for the first time Friday afternoon since being acquired by the Trail Blazers from the Orlando Magic after he was selected with the 47th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. The 6-9 wing, who averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in four seasons with the Terrapins, discussed being selected by the Trail Blazers, whether he knew the team was interested in him prior to the draft, what skills he has that are most applicable in the NBA, his defensively strengths and his plans to come to Portland in time for summer league workouts…
What was your initial reaction after being drafted by the Trail Blazers and your impressions of the franchise?
Jake Layman: First off, I’m very excited. It was such a stressful night. I was nervous all night, I didn’t really know what to expect with what was going to happen the way the draft was going last night. To finally hear my name called was just a big sign of relief, I was very excited, especially to be picked up by the Blazers because I’ve watched them play a lot. I think that their style of play fits me very well.
Why did you watch them a lot over the season?
Jake Layman: I think it was really more playoff time when I saw them play.
Where the Blazers on your radar? Did they interview you in Chicago at the combine, have any interaction with the team leading up to the draft?
Jake Layman: I did an interview with them at the combine but they were still in the playoffs, so they didn’t have really anybody there who could interview. That was really it. I didn’t work out for them. But I did know that they were very interested going into the draft, but they had no picks, so I really didn’t think much of it. So when my agent called me to tell me they traded in for the pick, I was excited.
What did you think about Portland’s recent playoff run?
Jake Layman: It was very exciting. Watching them with how young they are, how much talent they have, to be battling out there against some of the best teams in the NBA. I know how excited the fanbase was to see that happen.
What are your most applicable NBA skills right now and how do you see yourself projecting as an NBA player from a position or skill perspective?
Jake Layman: I think for me, my shooting ability, it’s gotten better each year that I was in college. So I think for me, just carrying that into the NBA is going to be huge. And also for me, I think being able to guard multiple spots on the floor is what teams are looking for now. I think that’s something I can do.
Do you know Pat Connaughton at all since you’re from the same area? Did you play against him at all?
Jake Layman: I know him pretty well. We never really played against each other in high school or anything, but just being from the same area. We were part of the Boston Globe all-star team one year, so yeah, we definitely know each other.
Do you know when you’re going to come to Portland, when you might sign and whether you’ll play for the team at summer league?
Jake Layman: Talking to the GM yesterday, I think I’m going to fly out to Portland either July 3rd or 4th and then I’ll be there for the practices leading up to summer league, which starts pretty soon after that. Then I’ll play in summer league. I’m not really sure about signing contracts or anything right now, but for summer league I’ll definitely be there.
What was your conversation like with Neil Olshey?
Jake Layman: He just asked me how I felt. All the emotion going through your head when you get drafted, it was definitely nice to talk to him. Asked me how I’m feeling and if I’m ready to get going. I was very excited to hear from him, I talked to Coach Stotts also.
How would you describe yourself off the court? What’s your personality like? How do you approach the game? Approach life or leadership or being in a locker room.
Jake Layman: I think for me, I’m a little different off the court than I am on the court. I think when it comes to being on the court, I’m definitely pretty intense. I’m always going hard, going crazy on the court. Then off the court, I’m a pretty quiet guy, very laid back, definitely a great locker room guy. I get along with everybody. That’s how I would describe myself.
You said you feel like your defensive versatility is an asset. Could you break down your strengths defensively?
Jake Layman: I think my on-ball defense has definitely gotten better over the years. But I think playing off the ball on defense, being able to come over and help and then block shots from the weakside, it is something that I’m definitely good at.
Do you feel like joining a young team, but one that has already had some success in the playoffs, give you an opportunity that other guys in the draft might not get?
Jake Layman: I think it’s a great chance to be able to come in this next year and help, make an impact on the team, just go in and help whatever way I can, whether it’s scoring, defending or all of those. I think the makeup of this team definitely gives me a chance to go in and make an impact right away.
What’s your hometown of Wrentham like? What was it like growing up there?
Jake Layman: Growing up in Wrentham, I’m one of five boys in my family, so there’s always something to do, always someone to play with. I was big into sports when I was little. My dad played baseball in college, my mom played basketball in college so I was always involved in the youth leagues, whether it was baseball, football or basketball. I think for me, my childhood was definitely run by sports when I was little growing up.
Can you see someone in the NBA who reminds you of yourself or someone who has the same skillset?
Jake Layman: Someone I’m trying to model my game after — I’m not saying I’m him right now, but it’s someone who I definitely think my game over time could be just like his — is Gordon Hayward, plays for the Utah Jazz.
Can you describe waiting to hear your name called last night?
Jake Layman: From the start of the night, you’re going in with the thought of what you’ve been hearing from teams and what your agent’s been telling you. Once the draft starts going, especially last night, it was definitely not what I expected. I was surrounded by a bunch of family and friends, so they were keeping me calm the whole time. I was just hanging in there, staying strong and to finally hear my name called, it was definitely a sigh of relief.