Originally written July 13, 2013 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
Back to Vegas The Portland Trail Blazers are set to enter the Las Vegas Summer League, and while fans can be excited that the NBA has returned, there are a few questions we’ll have in mind as the competition begins. The first question, which we won’t include below, is: Can the Blazers win the Las Vegas Summer League championship? We’ll skip over the answer for now, as the sad truth is that most fans will completely forget who won by the time the regular season tips off. But while that may be a query worth skipping, there are a handful of storylines that we can’t ignore as summer play begins. How Much Have the Second-Year Players Improved? Meyers Leonard has worked on his offensive game during the offseason. (Photo: Trailblazers.com) The Trail Blazers had hands-down the worst bench in the NBA during the 2012-13 season, and a number of the reserves responsible will be playing in Las Vegas. Will Barton, Victor Claver and Joel Freeland will be on the roster, and it will be interesting to see if they’ve refined their often-frenzied games at this stage. Damian Lillard will also be on the roster, but we’ll hit on that a bit later. While there are a number of names to look out for, the big one is Meyers Leonard. News out of the team’s camp is that he’s worked on both his low-post and long-range shot, and the question now becomes how much has he improved? As much as everybody wants to see a polished offensive game, the bigger question mark is defense. If he’s worked on his rim protection over the summer, things will go his way during preseason competition. What will Damian Lillard’s Role Be? It’s not very often that a summer league squad features a top-two player from a team’s finalized roster. So is the case, though, for Portland, as Lillard will be on display for the crowd in Vegas. While Lillard will certainly be fun to watch, don’t expect him to put on the same kind of show he did last season. He’s no longer trying to prove himself, and chances are, he’s been put on the roster to see what he can do playing alongside CJ McCollum. The two point guards talked extensively during the offseason about playing with each other, and both expressed positive sentiments both before and after the draft. Now is the time for the two to prove they can coexist, and if they can, the question becomes: Who plays the point? Can CJ McCollum Run an Offense? We all know McCollum can score. He put up 23.9 points during his final year at Lehigh University, and he shot 51.6 percent from long range in the process. “One of the biggest things is I want to try to be is consistent.” – @CJMcCollum on his No. 1 goal heading into Summer League #RipCity — Trail Blazers (@pdxtrailblazers) July 9, 2013 The question, as it was with Lillard a year ago, is whether or not he can run an offense as an NBA point guard. During summer league, we won’t see him against top-caliber competition, but we will see him act as a floor general alongside Lillard. The two will likely share time at the 1-spot, but don’t be surprised if the second-year player spends more time off the ball in order to test McCollum’s ability to facilitate early in his career. Can Allen Crabbe and Thomas Robinson Really Contribute? One of the major questions moving forward is whether or not Thomas Robinson is a bust or a project waiting to burst on to the scene. We won’t have that answer leaving Las Vegas, but we will have a good idea of what he’s capable of when given a chance to play. Thomas Robinson puts poor Joel Freeland on a poster. (Photo: Trailblazers.com) After being drafted by the Sacramento Kings—one of the worst-managed organizations in the league—the big man fell into a pit of lost minutes. He was playing behind bigs who had seemingly earned minutes ahead of him, and then he was traded to the Houston Rockets where he was nothing but a bargaining chip toward acquiring Dwight Howard. Now in Portland, Robinson has a chance to prove his worth. If he’s as hungry to succeed as he says he is, Las Vegas is the first stop on a path toward a solid career. Allen Crabbe, on the other hand, is being given his first chance to succeed. He was passed over by a number of teams in the draft, and it was Neil Olshey who saw a chance for him to flourish on Portland’s roster. The question, of course, is whether or not he’s ready to contribute. Like Will Barton before him, he was a versatile scorer at the collegiate level. Now is the time for him to put that shot to use, and in summer league, he’ll have a chance to prove to so many teams that he was a valuable pick in 2013. Who Will Make the Final Cut? This is the ultimate question when it comes to any summer league roster, but the truth is that it shouldn’t be a tough one for Portland to answer. The team’s official Las Vegas roster has two types of players: ones you’ve heard of, and ones you haven’t. If you’ve never heard of a player on the team’s roster, he probably won’t make the cut. Sorry, Olek Czyz; we’re talking about you. But not just Czyz. There are a number of players on this year’s team that will be overshadowed by the returning players from 2012-13. The Blazers are finally starting to figure out what their long-term picture looks like, and those youngsters from the year before—and this year’s draft—are all likely to be a part of the organization moving forward. There shouldn’t be many surprises once the season tips off, which is a good thing for fans craving consistency in Rip City. CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE BLAZERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
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