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.
August 20, 2019, 10:33 pmTyronn LuePG, Los Angeles Clippers
Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting former Cavs championship-winning coach Tyronn Lue has agreed to join the Clippers as their top assistant coach to Doc Rivers.
The Lakers and Clippers rivalry continues to heat up. Lue was very close to a deal with the Lakers in May to become their head coach, but the sides couldn’t reach an agreement. Lue now joins Kawhi Leonard as another person to spurn the Lakers this offseason.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
August 20, 2019, 10:28 pmPJ TuckerSF, Houston Rockets
P.J. Tucker says he is optimistic about signing a contract extension soon.
The 34-year-old 3-and-D wing hopes to extend his deal with the Rockets, but a potential extension wouldn't begin until his age-36 season. Houston has him under contract for two more seasons at this point, so they may not be motivated enough to get something done this offseason. However, a maximum Tucker extension would only have him in the $10 million per year range. Even as a 37-year-old, that could be a great deal if he can keep up his current production. Tucker remains a sneaky source of threes and steals late in fantasy drafts or off the wire.
Source: Kurt Helin on Twitter
August 20, 2019, 6:11 pmJaylen AdamsPG, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks officially announced the signings of guards Jaylen Adams and Rayjon Tucker on Tuesday.
Adams and Tucker have their work cut out for them in their bid to claim a roster with the big club, as the Bucks have a reasonably deep guard rotation. Adams and Tucker are more than likely competing to get playing time in the G-League this season and can be ignored in fantasy.
August 20, 2019, 4:55 pmJeff LedbetterG, San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have offered summer league guard Jeff Ledbetter an Exhibit 10 deal, but he is still mulling over his options which include playing in Europe.
Ledbetter had a productive summer league and now finds himself with a chance to play for the Austin Spurs of the G-League. Ledbetter is sure to be staring at a bigger payday in Europe, so his choice will be an interesting one. We should have a decision soon.
Source: Nicola Lupo on Twitter
August 20, 2019, 4:49 pmEric MikaC, Sacramento Kings
The Kings announced on Tuesday that they signed summer league standout C Eric Mika to an exhibit 10 contract.
The former BYU big man is now set up to play for the Stockton Kings of the G-League. The Kings have a deep big man rotation, and it's unlikely that we'll see much, if any, of Mika on the roster this season.
Source: Sean Cunningham on Twitter
August 20, 2019, 4:44 pmJA MorantPG, Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant (right knee) said that he is completely healed from the minor knee surgery earlier this summer, saying he is "100 percent right now."
Morant will look to get back into the swing of things in the coming weeks as he prepares for his rookie season. Morant has the talent and the role on rebuilding team and is undoubtedly going to cost a pretty penny in fantasy drafts.
Source: Peter Edmiston on Twitter
August 20, 2019, 2:17 pmDerrick AlstonTeam, New York Knicks
The Westchester Knicks have named Derrick Alston as the new head coach, replacing Mike Miller who was promoted to join David Fizdale’s staff.
Alston, a former NBA player, has been an assistant for Westchester for four years. Before that, Alston was a player development coach with the Rockets. This will be Alston’s first head coaching gig as he continues to move up the ladder.
Source: Ian Begley on Twitter
August 20, 2019, 1:21 pmCory JosephPG, Sacramento Kings
Cory Joseph is not expected to play for Team Canada in the FIBA World Cup.
Team Canada has been taking a beating the last few weeks with NBA guys continuing to pull out. This news won't have any effects on Joseph's role heading into the season, but it does create another dent in Team Canada's chances of making noise in the World Cup.
Source: Doug Smith: Raptors on Twitter
August 20, 2019, 1:08 pmMarcus Georges-HuntSG, Free Agent
Jay King of The Athletic is hearing that Marcus Georges-Hunt is in Boston working out with the Celtics for the next few days.
Georges-Hunt last played in the NBA for the Wolves in the 2017-18 season. Last season Georges-Hunt was waived from the Celtics in mid-October and played nine games for the Red Claws. Georges-Hunt is a longshot to make the team and carries no fantasy relevance regardless of the outcome.
Source: Jay King on Twitter
August 20, 2019, 11:55 amDwight HowardC, Memphis Grizzlies
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that the Lakers are planning individual workouts to evaluate centers Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard and Mo Speights this week in Los Angeles.
Marcin Gortat is also in the Lakers’ radar as the team is actively looking to sign another big after DeMarcus Cousins tore his ACL last week. Speights spent the last season in China after 10 years in the NBA while Gortat remains overseas and it’s unclear whether he will be back to Los Angeles for a workout with the team.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter