• The summer Portland Trail Blazers fared just a bit better than their parent counterparts in playoff basketball. Behind more well-rounded efforts from incumbents hoping to stick on the regular-season roster and their recent draft picks, the two-seeded Blazers beat the Atlanta Hawks 95-69 on Friday night at Thomas & Mack Center, advancing to the quarterfinals of the Las Vegas Summer League. Portland, 4-0, remains one of two undefeated teams in Sin City, along with the Los Angeles Lakers, who beat the Blazers in the championship game of last year’s event.

    Jake Layman was impressive yet again for Portland. The third-year forward came out firing from the opening tip, scoring his team’s first eight points on three consecutive jumpers en route to a team-high 20 points. He went 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, showing no hesitation whatsoever to launch no matter where he was on the floor or how much time was left on the shot clock. Layman also showed off his impressive leaping ability on an effortless alley-oop dunk courtesy of Wade Baldwin.

    Baldwin’s line was solid; 15 points, six rebounds, eight assists and one turnover is production of which any guard should be proud. Just like during Portland previous three Summer League games, though, Baldwin’s impact loomed even larger than his numbers suggest. He constantly pushed the ball in transition, creating countless easy scoring opportunities for his teammates, and looked every bit an NBA-level floor general in the half court, getting wherever he wanted with the ball in pick-and-roll play while maintaining complete control of the offense. Baldwin has obvious scoring and defensive chops. If he can make open shots and add a dose of playmaking dynamism going forward, he won’t just be on the Blazers’ roster this season, but could fight his way into meaningful minutes.

    Anfernee Simons, on the other hand, is likely to spend a significant portion of 2018-19 in the G-League, but you wouldn’t know it based on his play Thursday night. The rookie first-rounder scored 20 points and grabbed four rebounds on 6-of-10 shooting, and connected on three of his seven attempts from beyond the arc. Simons looked comfortable running the show offensively, and found his way to the paint for several notable finishes, including an acrobatic and-1 layup after taking contact in the air. He was a bit disengaged defensively at times and got carried away with his dribble on two occasions late, but this was clearly the most encouraging performance of the teenager’s nascent career.

    It wasn’t quite all roses for Portland, though. Zach Collins, returning from a sprained ankle, needed 10 shots to score eight points, struggling to finish in a crowded paint. Caleb Swanigan was thoroughly outplayed by rookie Omari Spellman, a player cut from a similar cloth whose superior mobility makes him a better fit for the modern NBA. Gary Trent, Jr. had his moments on both ends of the floor, finishing with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals, but consistently failed to take advantage after producing good looks on the interior with off-dribble craft. He went just 4-of-13 from the field, though shot 2-of-5 from deep – including this buzzer-beating triple on a broken play to end the third quarter, a sequence that sapped Atlanta’s spirit.

    It’s certainly worth noting that the Hawks played without John Collins, Trae Young and Tyler Dorsey, each of whom project to be in Lloyd Pierce’s rotation next season. Collins, exhibiting additional comfort as a shooter and playmaker, was arguably the best player at Summer League before being shut down in advance of elimination play, while Young, especially as a passer, began living up to NCAA hype in Las Vegas after laboring in Salt Lake City last week. The Blazers were facing an inferior foe, a reality the scoreboard reflects.

    But Summer League isn’t really about winning as much as it is about player development. With Layman splashing threes, Baldwin making his mark all over the floor and Simons consistently flashing his prodigious natural gifts, this win is another reason for Portland fans to be excited. Here’s hoping Collins and Swanigan get back on track come Sunday afternoon, when the Blazers face the winner of a matchup between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.

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