Trail Blazers: What did we learn during the 2012 Las Vegas summer league?

First Impressions?

The 2012 Las Vegas Summer League is officially behind fans in Rip City, and the Portland Trail Blazers showed us a few things throughout their five games this past week.

5) Damian Lillard Is A Dynamic Scorer

Damian Lillard’s 26.5-point-per-game average showed us exactly what we already knew heading into the Las Vegas Summer League—the kid is a flat-out scorer.

Questions about his collegiate competition are valid, but his diverse skill set and incredible motor should propel him to success despite being a rookie next season. Yes, it’s just Summer League, so take it with a grain of salt—even Jerryd Bayless won the Vegas Summer League MVP before he fizzled out of Portland.

That being said, Lillard did more than simply score with his athleticism.

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard provided one of the most memorable moments in Summer League with this slam.

When Jerryd Bayless won Summer League MVP back in 2008, his game consisted primarily of attacking the basket and finishing around and over lesser competition.

We certainly saw some of that from Lillard, but his high basketball IQ and deep-range jump shot were the ultimate weapons when it came to getting good looks in the five games this past week.

4) Meyers Leonard Is A Project Worth Taking On

Meyers Leonard has some things to work on, but he showed a lot of potential during the Las Vegas Summer League.

His offensive game is raw—although he showed he can score from the mid-range—and he was occasionally outperformed on the glass, but the effort was there and he had a big impact on the defensive end of the floor.

Consistently the tallest player on the court, Leonard played athletically and seemingly never gave up on a single play throughout the week. If the team can find a starter to relieve Leonard of high expectations next season, it’s going to be for the best.

If they can’t, they know they have a competent big man who can step in and do the right things as he continues to improve his game moving forward.

3) Will Barton (And The Rest Of The Young Roster) Should Be Fun To Watch

Summer League play is full of sloppy, fast-break basketball, but in such fast-paced games, you’re bound to see a compilation of highlight-reel plays.

Will Barton wasn’t fantastic in every game, but he showed flashes of high production and moments of extreme entertainment. His scoring outputs, shooting ability and above-the-rim plays made for a lot of excitement toward the end of the week.

The same thing can be said for a majority of the team’s young prospects.

Lillard and Meyers clearly showed promise, as the two of them connected multiple times in the two-man game. Nolan Smith—before he got hurt—was playing at a very high level and showed that he has the potential to find space within the rotation next season.

Whether or not the Trail Blazers compete next year with the top competition out West is debatable, but regardless, the young squad that takes the court at the Rose Garden is going to be exciting to watch.

Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers

Meyers Leonard will be fun to watch in a Blazers uniform.

2) Damian Lillard Is A Better Passer Than He Gets Credit For

Lillard is a scorer; we all know that at this point.

But what some didn’t know is that he can find his teammates on a regular basis. Whether it be in fast breaks, half-court curls or pick-and-roll situations, Lillard rarely showed any signs of selfishness when it came to his performance in the Las Vegas Summer League.

This is another big thing that separates him from Bayless.

Lillard is not your cliché point guard in a shooting guard’s body; he’s a point guard who can score, as he proved he can find his teammates and run an offense this past week.

His assist numbers aren’t sky high at this point, but 5.3 through four games is a decent mark compared to Bayless’ 1.3 assists in 2008.

1) Kaleb Canales Is A Good Coach For A Young Roster

Late in the 2011-12 season, we saw the passion and devotion that Kaleb Canales put on display when grooming a young NBA roster. This past week in Las Vegas we saw it once again, as the team went 4-1 in Summer League competition.

Canales may not have the experience of a Mike D’Antoni or the reputation of a Brian Shaw, but he certainly has fervor for success and the ability to get the most out of a young group of prospects.

Does this mean Canales will be the head coach come next season?

Maybe, maybe not.

What it means is that if Canales is chosen to fill the vacant coaching position, he’ll be a fantastic influence in such a young locker room.


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About Bryant Knox

NWSB Editor. Portland native and Oregon graduate, On a non-stop mission to consume as much Ducks+Trail Blazers content as humanly possible. His love of sports is what attracts him to the game, passion for writing drives him to uncover the stories. Connect w/ Bryant today!
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