Caleb Swanigan's solid Summer League play provides Portland with Options

I will be the first to say that making any accurate evaluations on a player based solely on their stats in the NBA Summer League is a fool's errand. If it weren't, guys like Josh Selby (2012 Summer League co-MVP) wouldn't have bounced out of the league less than 12 months after sharing the award with Damian Lillard.

Taken 26th overall out of Purdue, Caleb Swanigan has demonstrated the diversified offensive attack that helped make him a consensus All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year this past season. Swanigan can score with either hand in the post and has a jump shot that can stretch to the NBA three-point line. Swanigan lacks the ball-handling and footspeed to attack opponents off the dribble but can be a solid facilitator in the post. His shooting percentages (42.1% FG, 28.6% 3PT) through three summer league games are not indicative of his ability on offense, as a small sample size, coupled with a much higher usage rate than he would see in Portland have likely skewed his shooting efficiency. While Swanigan is arguably the team's best offensive big man right now (though Jusuf Nurkic is still likely the best), it is his ability to defend that will determine how much he will play this season.

Swanigan has been surprisingly solid on defense in the Summer League, as he's demonstrated good footwork and solid communication with his teammates. Through the three games of Summer League, he has been able to hedge on the pick-and-roll, and recover to defend the roll man afterward. Swanigan has also shown an ability to stay with his man on the perimeter, a trait not always shown when playing in college. It would be a stretch to think he has the lateral quickness to keep up with NBA small forwards, as he has picked up a fair amount of fouls due to taking bad angles trying to cut off dribble-drives. Swanigan won't block many shots, as his lack of NBA-caliber athleticism will prevent him from being a rim protector. His strong lower body and above-average wingspan will prevent him from being bullied in the post, but Swanigan isn't athletic enough to become a weakside shot-blocker.

On the glass, Swanigan has been as advertised, grabbing a whopping 11 rebounds over 30 minutes per game. Swanigan uses his strong lower body and low center of gravity to keep opponents off the glass. He also actively seeks out a man when a shot goes up and has shown a knack for reading the carom of a missed shot extremely well.

Through three Summer League games, Swanigan has averaged 15.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. Should Swanigan's three-point stroke successfully transition from college to NBA range (44.7% on about 2.5 attempts/game at Purdue this past year), his ability to stretch the floor could make him an enticing offensive pairing alongside the physical low-post presence of Nurkic. With Portland being over the salary cap for the foreseeable future, general manager Neil Olshey would like to make at least one "salary dump" trade this coming season. If the roster remains unchanged, it's likely that Portland will hit with the "repeater tax," which is a punitive financial punishment for teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold in consecutive years. The repeater tax becomes even more cumbersome if Jusuf Nurkic's performance last year with Portland wasn't just a case of "small sample size," as team president Neil Olshey would want to sign Nurkic to an extension before he reaches free agency. While team owner Paul Allen has shown a willingness to go into luxury tax territory before, it's unlikely he would want to do so for a team that went just 41-41 last season.

Portland has some solid players on very team-friendly deals, which the team would likely have to deal away if they hope to get rid of some of the uglier contracts on the roster. Guys like Al-Farouq Aminu (2 years, $16.8M), Moe Harkless (3 years, $31M) and Ed Davis (1 year, $6.35M) could all provide surplus value to a team battling for a playoff spot. It's highly unlikely that the team could rid themselves of Allen Crabbe (3 years, $56.3M with 15% trade kicker) or Evan Turner (3 years, $53.6M) this season. It would take additional assets (either a player listed above or draft pick compensation) to entice a team to be willing to take one of their ugly contracts in return, in spite of the fact that both are useful rotation-worthy players.

The good news for the Trail Blazers, as well as their fans, is that the traits Swanigan has shown in Summer League should translate well from Summer League to the regular season. Swanigan will not only give Terry Stotts another potential piece to his playing rotation (a rotation which I believe he will crack), but Neil Olshey will also have more flexibility to try and improve both the roster and salary cap situation via trade over the next 12 months.


Like what you've read? Share it with your friends on