The Portland Trail Blazers held their first official summer league practice today at the team’s facility in Tualatin in preparation for their first game in Las Vegas versus the New York Knicks on July 12. Some notes from Tuesday’s practice …
— Even though the Trail Blazers didn’t draft a player in either round of the 2014 Draft, they still have plenty of players under contract for next season on their summer league roster. With Will Barton, Joel Freeland, Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard, CJ MCCollum and Allen Crabbe all suiting up to play in Las Vegas, the Trail Blazers have an opportunity to see a good chuck of their second unit play alongside each other in a competitive environment.
“I think usually there’s at least one rookie, whether a first or second round pick,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Six guys who’ve been with us and know the program, just seeing the improvement they made from last summer to this summer, it’s unique … We’re a little bit further ahead of the curve and we can work on some different things.”
With no rookies on their summer league roster, the Trail Blazers are afforded the opportunity to work on specific areas of improvement during both practices and games, something that is much harder to accomplish when you’ve got players trying to learn a new system while dealing with the changes in the speed and physicality that comes when making the jump from the NCAA to the NBA.
“We’re in such a unique situation last year having eight players in their first or second year of their contract, so they’re all at the stage of their career where they need to get better,” said Stotts. “We need them to develop. That’s part of our job, that’s part of their jobs. I don’t know how things are going to pan out next season but for the sake of our franchise and the sake of their careers, this is a very important time for them.”
— As I reported about a week ago, Trail Blazers wing Will Barton has been working on his skills at point guard in hopes of being a more versatile player. That work continued at the first summer league practice, with Barton and CJ McCollum handling most duties bringing the ball up and initiating the offense.
“Sometime bring the ball up and initiate it, sometimes run the wings and just make plays that way,” said Barton. “Either way, it doesn’t matter. I just want to play and I feel like we’ve got a good understanding, me and CJ. We don’t fight each other on who is going to bring the ball up. We pretty much tell each other whoever is closest to it, just bring it up and go. We both can handle, we both can make plays for others. We have a good bond.
The Blazers do have players like Bobby Brown and Jonathan Gibson, players who have more experience running the point, on their summer league roster. But with the primary goal of improving the play of those under contract with the Blazers for the 2014-15 season, both Barton and McCollum are likely to get the majority of minutes at the guard spots.
“I do like the idea of Will and CJ , not necessarily being ‘point guards’ but being able to run an offense,” said Stotts. “I think they both handle the ball well enough. Last year, neither one of them was ready to do that and the improvement that they both made in a year, I think they’re both at a point where, if you have them both out there, we don’t have a point guard but we’ve got two playmakers.
Which is a role the Barton says he’s more than prepared to assume.
“I’ve been doing that all summer,” said Barton. “Sometimes I just look at how the game is going and say, ‘Let me get other involved. Let me get AC (Allen Crabbe) a three’ because I’m always in the scoring mode. I’m like ‘Have I taken two shots in a row? Let me get AC a shot, let me get Meyers a pick and pop or Joel a pick and pop. Let me get Thomas a lob or a roll to the rim or something like that. Kick it ahead to CJ.’ I try to make everyone happy on my team and guys like playing with me and I want to keep it that way. The only way you can do that is find the guys and have them run the floor and them knowing you’re going to give them the ball in their spots. That’s what I take pride in.”
— Having a good summer league performance might be the most important for second-guard guard Allen Crabbe, who was never able to find his way into the rotation after catching a nasty case of gastroenteritis during training camp. There have been rumblings that Crabbe, who was selected by the Cavaliers with the 31st pick in the 2013 Draft before being traded to Portland, has a shot at seeing a significant increase in minutes come 2014-15 due to his versatility and the belief that his skills are suited to playing alongside starters than in a unit comprised of bench players.
“Allen is a solid basketball player,” said Stotts. “He really fits in with whoever is on the floor. He has good length defensively, he’s a smart player, he can make open shots. He just kind of blends in with whoever is on the floor. Right now we’re not going to put him in positions to start the offense or be a playmaking guard, but we do what him to continue to develop his ball-handling skills and his decision-making and be able to create some offense.”
“Coach said that he doesn’t want me to just a shooter,” said Crabbe, who will likely start at small forward during summer league. “He said work on my playmaking, work on my passing, being more comfortable in the pick and roll situations, not just sitting in the corner all the time. I feel like that’s something I can work on. Being more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and going to the rack. Those type of things I need to work on.”
The NBA’s July moratorium isn’t even over yet, so we’re still a ways away from knowing what Portland’s roster will look like come the start of the 2016-17 regular season. But there is no such mystery, at least not anymore, regarding who the Trail Blazers will be taking to Las Vegas.
On Tuesday, the team announced their 2016 Summer League roster and as expected, current Trail Blazers Noah Vonleh, Pat Connaughton, Cliff Alexander and Luis Montero are all on the team, as is rookie second round Jake Layman out of Maryland, who was acquired from the Magic during the 2016 Draft for a future second round pick and cash considerations. As for the rest of the roster, it’s rounded out with undrafted rookies, players who recently saw time in the D-League and overseas and even a few familiar faces…
Both Johnsons (no relation) have had previous runs with the Trail Blazers, with the lanky Chris playing a combined 30 games over the course of two seasons in Portland while Omari, a former Oregon State Beaver, was a training camp invite in 2015. There are other recognizable names on Portland’s summer league roster, from Pierre Jackson, who seemed to be on the cusp of cracking the NBA before blowing out his Achilles in a summer league game back in 2014, to Stacy Davis, who finished his career at Pepperdine as their all-time leading scorer, to Russ Davis, who won a national championship with Louisville in 2013. Assistant coaches Dale Osbourne, David Vanterpool and Nate Tibbetts will share head coaching duties (as is often the case at summer league).
Though many of these players, if not all of them, have been working out at the team’s facility in Tualatin, summer league practices officially run from July 6th through July 8th, with their first game scheduled for July 9th at 1 pm versus the Phoenix Suns at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. That game, along with their contests versus the Spurs on the 10th, the Jazz on the 12th and whenever and whoever they play in the summer league tournament, will be broadcast on NBA TV.
LAS VEGAS — The Portland Trail Blazers completed pool play at the Las Vegas Summer League Tuesday afternoon with a 79-75 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV. With the loss, the Trail Blazers move to 1-2 at summer league, meaning they’ll start tournament play Wednesday at 7:30 pm versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Trail Blazers had a chance to tie the game late in regulation, but rookie Pat Connaughton’s baseline jumper missed the mark with 4.3 seconds to play, tipping the scales in San Antonio’s favor.
“It’s a learning experience,” said Connaughton, who was selected with the 41st pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Nets before being traded to Portland. “Whenever you lose a game, you’ve got to learn from it. The last shot is something I’ll think about for a while, but it’s not just the last shot. I was more or less disappointed in myself on being short on the majority of shots I missed. The ones I made, I wasn’t short. As a shooter, you never want to be short and the end shot was just a little short as well. It’s a matter of trying not to think about shooting it, you’ve got to just shoot it. You’ve got to trust in yourself and it’s something I’ll learn from moving forward. The older guys have done a great job helping me with that and a phenomenal job to draw up the last play for me.”
Connaughton finished with 8 points on 4-of-9 shooting, seven rebounds and a steal in 25 minutes. Dale Osbourne, who handled head coaching duties for the Blazers Tuesday afternoon after Nate Tibbetts ran the first two games, said Connaughton turned in his best defensive performance of the summer league, though that effort might have played a part in the 6-5 shooting guard missing what would have been a game-tying jumper.
“Noah Vonleh set a good screen and Pat was wide open,” said Osbourne. “Pat’s young, he plays hard. This was probably the first game he understands what it means about locking and sprinting and chasing guys around screens, so he expended a lot of energy on the defensive end, kind of lost his legs a little bit in the second half. But he’s going to be fine, very coachable and works hard.”
While Connaughton hitting what ended up being Portland’s final shot of the game would have put the Trail Blazers in a better position to come away with the victory, it was in no way the reason they lost the game. That honor goes to turnovers. The Trail Blazers gave the ball away 22 times, which the Spurs turned into 24 points, or roughly a third of their total Tuesday afternoon.
“That hurt,” said Osborne. “That’s a good team, they do a good job executing. When you look at the stat sheet, our defense was really good, but you can’t give a team like that opportunities to score and score and score. That kind of hurt us. It’s a learning process, obviously we’re a young team and we’ll continue to get better.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Noah Vonleh, who turned in yet another quality performance Tuesday with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 shooting from the free throw line to go with eight rebounds and an assist. Vonleh hurt his right knee in the second half, but said post-game that he planned on playing in Wednesday’s contest.
Allen Crabbe went 7-for-13 from the field for 15 points, two rebounds and two assists, though he turned the ball over a game-high seven times in 31 minutes.
Malcolm Thomas went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and 3-of-6 from the free throw line to finish with 15 points and four rebounds off the bench. Tim Frazier added eight points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes.
The Spurs were led by Kyle Anderson, who shot just 5-of-14 from the field but went 9-of-12 from the line to finish with 19 points in 29 minutes.
Though it comes one day late, Noah Vonleh is ready to make his summer league debut as Portland Trail Blazer.
After sitting out Portland’s 85-76 loss to the Boston Celtics Saturday night in the Trail Blazers’ 2015 Las Vegas Summer League opener with a sore left ankle, Vonleh, a 6-10 power forward out of Indiana, will play in Sunday night’s game versus the Dallas Mavericks at COX Pavilion on the campus of UNLV.
“I went through shootaround yesterday, I felt really good,” said Vonleh, who the Blazers acquired along with Gerald Henderson from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Nicolas Batum. “I went through it this morning and I’m feeling even better, so I’m definitely going to play tonight.”
There is probably more interest among Trail Blazers fans in Vonleh than any other player on Portland’s summer league roster. Not only is he new to the team, but after playing in just 25 games during his rookie season in Charlotte, Vonleh is still a relative unknown. And while summer league performances aren’t typically a great gauge of how skilled a particular player is, the book on Vonleh is so small that any game reps, even in Las Vegas, could prove enlightening even in a guard-dominated environment.
“I don’t think that limits me,” said Vonleh of the guard-heavy play at summer league. “I’m a real versatile player. In high school and college I played on the wing so I’m used to covering guards and using our versatility. I like when teams go small, it just creates a mismatch problem for me on the other end.”
The addition of Vonleh to Portland’s summer league rotation comes at just the right time, as the Trail Blazers gave up 15 offensive rebounds to a much smaller Celtics team in Saturday night’s loss. One assumes Vonleh, who looks to have added quite a bit of muscle since his rookie season, will be able to help in that regard.
“Last night the Celtics were just playing real hard against us, they were beating us on the boards,” said the 19-year old Vonleh. “They had a small lineup in, so it was crazy how they were beating us on the boards but we picked it up in the second half. I think it’s going to translate to the game later tonight. We’re going to be aggressive on the boards and try to stop second-chance points.”
Vonleh also gives Portland another big to throw the ball to in the paint, something they did too infrequently in the first half of Saturday night’s loss.
“I think we needed to get that first game under our belt,” said Allen Crabbe, who scored 15 points before fouling out Saturday night. “During the minicamp that we had, we were playing against each other and everybody knows the plays, we kind of cheat, so I think it’s different once you play against another team who hasn’t seen your sets. The way we played in the second half was good. The guards didn’t just take all jumpshots like the first half, we kicked it into the post, let them feel a little good about themselves instead of just having them run up and down and rebound and not getting any touches.”
As the only big man on Portland’s summer league roster who is also under contract with the Trail Blazers for next season, you should expect to see Vonleh get the majority of those touches, though Malcolm Thomas and Daniel Orton both had success at times in the paint Saturday night.
But more than anything, just getting a chance to see Vonleh in game action as a Trail Blazer for the first time, regardless of how many touches he get or points he scores, will be a welcomed event considering the hopes many have pinned on his development in Rip City.
“Tonight, just try to go out there, play hard, help my team win the best way I can,” said Vonleh. “I’m going to rebound the ball really well, go after every rebound, offensive, defensive, and just try to help my team win. When they find me open looks on the offensive end I’m just going to try to go to work down there and try to create for the other guys.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm on CSNNW and 620 AM.