Portland Trail Blazers: 2017 NBA Draft Grades
Post-Draft reaction to the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2017 selections of Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan.
Coming into the night with three first round picks and 12 guaranteed contracts on the books for 2017–18, many anticipated the Portland Trail Blazers making a move of some sorts — perhaps packing multiple picks to move up or trading for future picks. The Blazers chose the first route, sending picks 15 and 20 to Sacramento for the 10th overall selection.
With that pick, the Blazers were likely looking for a player that fits well with the core of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, as well as someone that could help them contribute now. Portland also had a pick in the late first round where they were likely going best player available.
Zach Collins (10th overall), Center, Gonzaga
Stats: 10 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 65.2 field goal percentage
Analysis: Zach Collins is just an immensely skilled big. He runs the floor well, is a good leaper in space, efficient around the rim and can really rebound when he wants to. He also drew a lot of fouls at Gonzaga, leading the team in ‘and-1s’ in just over 17 minutes per game. In that limited time on the court — just 673 total minutes in 39 games — Collins also proved to be a really good three-point shooter. He only had 21 attempts, but shot 47.6 percent and had excellent form. There’s no reason to believe he won’t be a good three-point shooter in the NBA.
On defense, Collins doesn’t project to be a great shot blocker due to his lack of hops (if you will), but he’s not a sieve at the rim either. He’s 7-foot, which counts for something, and has a great understanding of when and how to defend a shot at the rim. He’s more likely to be used defending the perimeter, where he has the feet to sit down, slide and keep up with smaller, quicker players.
Fit: Terry Stotts will need to sit down and really figure out how he’s going to use Collins in his rookie year. Collins and Jusuf Nurkic should work fine together defensively, but offensively is really where the questions arise. Sure, Collins can space out to the three-point line, but he worked closer to the rim at Gonzaga and had a ton of success. Nurkic is also much better when he is around the basket. Collins could be a floor spacer as the starting power forward, but he wouldn’t be utilized correctly in that lineup. It seems more likely that Stotts starts Al-Farouq Aminu or Moe Harkless at the four with Collins backing up Nurkic at center.
Beyond next year, however, is interesting. The Blazers have a lot of money on the books moving forward and are going to have to start making some tough decisions. One of those decisions next summer may be on Nurkic. If Nurkic has an incredible year and Collins is so-so, maybe the Blazers try to find another route to shed some money and invest long-term in Nurkic. But maybe they see the potential in Collins to replace Nurkic moving forward, and do so on a rookie scale contract for three more years.
The fit is tricky at first, but the Blazers get an ‘A’ simply because Collins was far and away the best option at 10, and passing on him wouldn’t have been worth the trade-up.
Caleb Swanigan (26th overall), Power Forward, Purdue
Stats: 18.5 points, 12.5, 3.0 assists, 52.7 field goal percentage, 44.7 three-point percentage
Analysis: It’s getting hard to keep track of all the bigs on the Blazers’ roster at this point. With Nurkic, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh, Jake Layman and now Collins on guaranteed deals for next year, the Blazers clearly had no other option but to add another big man to this somewhat mediocre bunch, right?
Swanigan was a great college player and may be a useful pro, but the Blazers probably should have went in another direction. And, trust me, this is not anything against Swanigan. I’m a Purdue fan and enjoyed Biggie’s two years, especially this past season. After being named Indiana Mr. Basketball in 2015, Swanigan kind of disappointed in Year 1 as a Boilermaker. But he showed an incredible amount of dedication to improve, getting in better shape and working on all facets of his game. His numbers improved across the board to the point where he was named a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year Award.
Swanigan’s best skill is undoubtedly his rebounding. He is constantly active on the boards, boxing out and chasing down balls out of his area. At 6-foot-9, 247 pounds, even some NBA bigs will have trouble beating him out for boards. Finishing 18th in rebounding percentage this past season, perhaps that was the appeal for Portland in choosing Swanigan.
Biggie also became a much better three-point shooter this past season, upping his makes from 21 to 38 and his percentage from 29.2 to 44.7. He’s probably not ready to take 4–5 per game and make them at a high rate, but he may be in time. He’s a hard worker and has shown dedication to improving his shot.
The real downside to Swanigan is on the defensive end. He tries, but his physical limitations prevent him from being very effective. He’s not good in the pick-and-roll, can’t defend the perimeter and lacks the verticality to defend the rim. He will get blocks here and there with good timing and positioning, but it’s not something to rely on.
Fit: With so many other bigs on the roster, I’m not sure if Swanigan can really carve out a spot to contribute right away. If one or two of the longer tenured bigs are moved in a trade this offseason, maybe Biggie can make his way onto the court. But otherwise, I don’t see him playing much in this upcoming season.
As a whole, I’d probably give the Blazers somewhere between a ‘B’ and a ‘C’ grade — we’ll call it a B-. The Collins pick was solid, but taking either a 3-and-D wing to play with Lillard and McCollum or an athletic four that can shoot and defend the perimeter — like Jonah Bolden or Semi Ojeleye — with the 26th pick would have worked much better for the current roster construct. Finding complementary players for that dynamic backcourt should be the priority with every pick they make, and Swanigan just doesn’t feel like the best use of that pick.
It will be interesting to see how this draft looks in a few years. Collins may be their starting center, though they could be regretting not looking elsewhere at 26 if Swanigan is buried on the bench.