September 17, 2018, 7:10 pm
Leading up to the Portland Trail Blazers’ season-opener against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at Moda Center on October 18, HoopBall is profiling the team’s 15 players with guaranteed contracts, in reverse order of price.
Player: Caleb Swanigan
2018-19 salary: $1,740,000
Age, experience: 21, second year
Measurables: 6-foot-8, 250 pounds (7-foot-3 wingspan)
Strengths: rebounding, interior scoring, passing
Weaknesses: quickness, speed, leaping, defensive tools, efficiency, ball security
Swing factor: rim-protection
Likely role: deep reserve, spot minutes
The offseason departure of Ed Davis and the Portland Trail Blazers’ subsequent decision to target the perimeter in free agency opens the door for an incumbent big man to break into the team’s rotation. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for Portland’s 2017 first-round pick to establish himself, right? That chance is undoubtedly coming for Caleb Swanigan in training camp. What’s far less certain, though, is the likelihood that anything comes of it.
Swanigan appeared in just 27 games as a rookie, starting three in November next to Jusuf Nurkic up front as Al-Farouq Aminu dealt with an injury. After a rash of DNP-CDs interspersed with spot-minute duty, he was assigned to the G-League the day before Christmas. Swanigan played 14 games in total last season for the Canton Charge, averaging 14.2 points, 12 rebounds and 2.7 assists on 50 percent shooting in 30.3 minutes per game. While those numbers are relatively encouraging on the surface, the same issues that plagued Swanigan during his brief early-season audition with the Blazers also reared their ugly head against competition that many young NBA players dominate from the jump.
There’s only so much Swanigan can do to mitigate the inevitable limitations of his physical profile. His journey from a 350-pound eighth grader to McDonald’s All-American and eventual first-rounder has been well-documented, and rightfully so. Other talents with his body type have had their NBA dreams dashed by an inability to control their weight. Swanigan, on the other hand, has worked diligently to get below the 250-pound mark, and has the guaranteed rookie contract to show for it. His story is already one of inspiration and success.
But as a basketball player, in 2018 and beyond, Swanigan still lacks the athleticism necessary to carve out a lasting role in the league. He doesn’t have the foot speed to capably switch onto guards or chase stretch 4s around the arc. At 6-foot-8 with subpar leaping ability, he struggles to finish in a crowd despite possessing the wingspan of a player several inches taller. He’s also stuck between positions, not yet skilled enough to stretch the floor from power forward and seemingly ill-suited to be a defense’s last line of defense at center. Some of those deficiencies can be marginalized through additional training with developmental coaches and in-game experience, but there’s simply no existing analog for a player like Swanigan in the modern NBA.
If he beats the odds and in time becomes a useful player, it will surely be due to major improvement as a jump-shooter – ongoing refinement dating back to his days at Purdue. Swanigan shot 44.7 percent from 3-point range during his last year in college, a 15-point increase from the previous season on a slightly higher number of attempts. Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the strides he took from the college line weren’t long enough to comfortably reach the extra distance of the NBA’s. Swanigan went 8-of-26 from beyond the arc in the G-League, and 4-of-9 in Las Vegas over the summer – hardly the type of volume that suggests he’ll be a legitimate 3-point threat as soon as this season.
While he’s a gifted passer, it’s not like Swanigan is dynamic enough offensively to have offense run through him at the elbows. He’s prone to tunnel vision when he gets the ball in the paint, too, a penchant that’s led to high turnover rates at each of his professional stops since being drafted. Swanigan is more skilled than most assume, basically, but hardly to an extent that obscures the inherent weaknesses of his game. In today’s league, it seems more likely he spends his career toward the end of the bench than developing the perfectly-polished offensive repertoire to become a regular contributor for a winning team.
Where does that leave Swanigan with the Blazers this season? Certainly behind Nurkic and Zach Collins in the frontcourt, and probably Meyers Leonard, a much better fit off the bench due to his legitimate stretch. Stotts will likely go super small more often in 2018-19, with Aminu and Moe Harkless at nominal center and power forward. Jake Layman, the Portland’s third and final combo forward, could factor in here, too. The chance that Swanigan becomes the Blazers’ third big man, or at least is in a season-long battle for that role with Leonard, probably rests more on his ability to successfully protect the rim than anything else – a long-shot given his aforementioned physical shortcomings, but still a possibility considering his wingspan, and how Portland’s staff has helped Nurkic become an impactful back-line defender despite less-than-ideal tools.
A full season removed from the draft, Swanigan has done little to assuage concerns the game has passed him by. That’s not his fault. If he was a second-round pick, the flaws poised to hold Swanigan back would be far more easily outweighed by his slowly-expanding skill set. As a prized first-round pick for a franchise lacking team-building assets, though, he seems destined to disappoint.
February 29, 2020, 1:31 amPatrick BeverleyPG, Los Angeles Clippers
Patrick Beverley looked off his game as he missed his lone shot attempt from the field for zero points, three rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes on Friday.
That's pretty much rock-bottom for a not-injured PatBev. Owners will just have to write this stinker off as he's capable of bringing it strong and ticking multiple category boxes on most nights. Stay patient. Off the bench, Reggie Jackson flirted with a triple-double, recording 10 points (4-of-6 shooting), eight rebounds, seven assists, two 3s and one steal in 19 minutes.
February 29, 2020, 1:28 amPaul GeorgeSF, Los Angeles Clippers
Paul George looked more like his 100-percent healthy self in Friday's easy win over the Nuggets, notching 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
PG13 had the hot hand and led his team with 6-of-8 shooting from deep to complement his four rebounds and two assists. This has been his best performance since returning from his latest hamstring injury. Hopefully, it signals his improved recovery and that he's closer to being back to 100 percent – where he can pose as a top-10 fantasy threat.
February 29, 2020, 1:25 amMontrezl HarrellPF, Los Angeles Clippers
Montrezl Harrell had one of is better games on Friday night, putting up 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field and a 4-of-4 run at the line in 20 minutes as the Clippers easily dispatched with the Nuggets 132-103.
Harrell actually double-doubled, recording 10 rebounds and added four assists and three blocks to cap off his solid line for the night. The big man is shooting .769 at the line over the last week, making him the 50th best player in the league in 9-cat scoring formats. His partner in crime, Lou Williams, also had a good run tonight with 17 points (6-of-12 shooting), five threes, seven assists and a steal in 22 minutes.
February 29, 2020, 1:16 amWill BartonSG, Denver Nuggets
Will Barton was back to his old tricks on Friday, tallying 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting with four 3s, four rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes.
Barton, who had been slowed by some inflammation in his right knee recently, found his way back to fantasy-productivity with tonight's line. He's been playing outside the top-150 over the last week, but a few more of games like this should pull his needle closer to the mid-round range that its been for most of the season.
February 29, 2020, 1:08 amNikola JokicC, Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic struggled to keep the Nuggets within striking distance of the hot Clippers on Friday, logging 25 minutes in a blowout loss but still recording 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
Jokic nearly double-doubled with his nine boards and was also able to chip in two assists and one steal to the box score. This was not par for his top-10 trend lately, but was more a testament to how good the Clippers are than how poor the Nuggets play. Jokic will surely bounce back with a stellar top-10 worthy line sooner rather than later.
February 29, 2020, 1:04 amMichael Porter Jr.PF, Denver Nuggets
Michael Porter Jr. was invisible in Friday's loss to the Clippers, getting just nine minutes off the bench from coach Mike Malone and wound up chipping in seven points on 3-of-4 shooting with three rebounds, one 3-pointer, one assist and one block.
So much for MPJ being someone the Nuggets would like to see develop this season. He's shown his fair share of flashes this season, but random night like this make him difficult to trust, even in ultra-deep H2H leagues. Drop him if your fantasy team needs a consistent end-of-bench kinda guy.
February 29, 2020, 12:58 amJerami GrantSF, Denver Nuggets
Jerami Gran was productive yet again in 29 minutes off the bench in Friday's 103-132 loss to the Clippers, providing the Nuggets with 20 points (5-of-15 FGs, 8-of-10 FTs), four rebounds, two assists, two steals, two treys and one block.
It appears that Grant is fully engaged on both ends of the floor, which has allowed him to be stay productive despite returning to a reserve role. Paul Millsap was nothing short of a hot mess in his 21 minutes as the starting four, delivering zero points (0-of-2 shooting), three rebounds, two assists and one block. Grant's the guy to own right now. That's for sure. Give him a look in case he was dropped in your league.
February 29, 2020, 12:42 amJordan ClarksonPG, Utah Jazz
Jordan Clarkson was heavily involved on offense in Friday's win over the Wizards, registering 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting with eight rebounds, two assists, two treys and two steals.
Clarkson made up for his nine-point disappointment on Wednesday with tonight's output. He's been up and down all season, but has seen much more consistency since joining up with the Jazz. He's a late-round value as a scoring specialist with some minor peripheral contributions ROS.
February 29, 2020, 12:40 amKristaps PorzingisPF-C, Dallas Mavericks
Kristaps Porzingis had 24 points (9-of-21 FG, 6-of-14 3PT), 13 rebounds and two assists in Friday's 126-118 loss at the hands of the Heat.
This qualifies as Porzingis's most 3-point attempts in a game this season, but only by one. His season average is 35% from deep, which is respectable, and he knocked down six of them tonight. KP has been a beast lately and has provided top-10 value over the past two months. If it weren't for his injury history, he'd be a lock to go in the first-round of fantasy drafts next fall, especially with Luka as the primary distributor for the Mavs for the foreseeable future. Keep riding this extended hot streak he's on right now.
February 29, 2020, 12:38 amRudy GobertC, Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert was a beast on the defensive end of the floor for the Jazz in a 129-119 win over the Wizards, recording three steals and four blocks to go with his nine points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes.
While the scoring was not there and Gobert shooting 1-of-4 from the stripe, his contributions in the defensive categories were surely well received by his owners. Gobert's post-game was not too much part of the equation tonight as the Wizards tried to push the pace of the game. He should have a more balanced two-way performance soon.