The Portland Trail Blazers have completed their 2023 Summer League schedule. Their 3-2 record didn’t separate them from the field, especially compared to their Summer League Championship showing from last year. But the annual tournament is not so much about accolades as it is about judgement. In Vegas, trends and observations weigh more than trophies. To that end, here are a few general observations from Portland’s tour this summer.
As always, these should be taken with a grain of salt. Exhibition games aren’t the best showcases for young players, especially those who haven’t experienced the crucible of NBA basketball in season. Nicolas Batum famously surpassed his Summer League showing as a rookie back in 2008, while players like Armon Johnson and Jerryd Bayless would be All-Stars if Summer League was the yardstick.
With wiggle room and a few stars, here’s what we know from Summer League 2023
Scoot Henderson is the real deal…
…but watch out for the bumps.
Nobody got more out of 21 minutes of play, 12 minutes of real production than Scoot Henderson did this summer. His first quarter against Houston Rockets was legend after legend. Dribbling is like sorcery; his shots were untouched. For a single period, he made Trail Blazers fans forget about Victor Wembanyama AND Damian Lillard in one fell swoop.
If you want to know how an NBA dribbler does on his drive, look at his shoulders compared to his defender. If the shoulder is even – or, for Pete’s sake, beyond – the defender’s, the offensive player has a huge advantage.
Not only does Scoot have the reflexes and handle to get the first jump on the opponent, his shoulders are about the size of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His size and athleticism should allow him to convert with contact. He won’t be diverted much on the drive. He can be a true force of nature. It is exciting.
If defenders come to help, Henderson has two options. We knew about his pull-up jumper from his G League game. It is as good as advertised. The only surprising thing was how little hesitation he showed in taking it. His confidence is off the charts. It’s like he’s already playing his own game out there.
Portland’s point guard in waiting also demonstrated court vision and passing ability, better than advertised from the brief glimpse we got. His change of pace dribbling was also a revelation. When he puts defenders on a leash, it’s like hummingbirds bursting into Handel’s Messiah.
Because of his quick-twitch ability, vision and strength, Henderson projects to be a better defender than the Blazers have seen at guard in a while.
In short, Scoot is the real deal. What’s not to like?
However, he’ll still face a steep learning curve adjusting to the league, especially if Lillard leaves and Henderson becomes the starting point guard on Day 1. He didn’t look as assured from distance as he did after the mid-game dribble. range. Opponents will sink off him and give themselves a three-foot head start in the shoulder run until he shows he can knock down that shot consistently.
Henderson also hasn’t encountered true NBA athlete defense, especially in the passing lanes. His vision and boldness may work against him at first. When he (inevitably) turns the ball over, remember it’s not bad decision-making, but adapting to how quickly NBA defenders can close.
Eventually, Henderson will round out his game and adjust to the Big League pace. At that point it gets scary.
For those accustomed to Damian Lillard’s limitless grace, Henderson will be an eye opener. While he doesn’t have anywhere near the height, he’ll be closer to Clyde Drexler and Jerome Kersey in style of play. Portland probably needs some of that.
Shaedon Sharpe, good and bad as always
The good news for Blazers fans is that Shaedon Sharpe looks as intimidating as ever. At any given moment, he is exactly half a nanosecond from one step back three. He’s also a spider’s nail away from a sky-high dunk attempt. Once he rolls down the runway on either, there’s no stopping him.
We knew that in the tournament. The real question on everyone’s mind is, “Is he ready to start yet?”
At this point not even close.
Even the best part of Sharpe’s game, offense, remained sketchy. Over four games in Vegas, Sharpe shot an ineffective 34.8% from the field, 27.3% from the three-point arc. His inability (or unwillingness) to put the ball on the floor and move forward against defenders was almost disconcerting. The three steps back seem like a crutch for him. It is his first, second and third option, the fourth is to pass the ball. Or turn it around.
Defensively, Sharpe was a puzzle. He looks great reading from the utility position and swooping in to block or alter shots. Right on defense, he ranges from decent to “Ummm…where is he? Over there? Why???”
This is not to address Sharpe. He hasn’t played nearly enough organized ball to expect anything different. All we know is that if anyone was hoping for a miracle habituation, it hasn’t happened yet.
Sharpe can and will play. He will get more minutes this year than he did last. But he will have to work and study to catch up if he wants to be reliable. Starting him on a team with any sort of winning agenda is, well…a non-starter.
He has a few months between now and October. Let’s see what happens then.
The Blazers threw a bunch of frontcourt spaghetti at the wall this summer, hoping something would stick. Their big one ended up just noodling around.
John Butler, Jr. had Victor Wembanyama’s body type before it was cool. His combination of shot-blocking potential and shooting is enticing, but he played less than 12 minutes per game. battle, not exactly a vote of confidence. He was the wild card in the field.
Jabari Walker was the most solid of Portland’s bigs. His shooting percentages and rebounds were phenomenal. You can see why they like him. He will contribute nicely. He gives every indication of being a stalwart, reliable bench player, at least with added efficiency and IQ. That’s more than you could hope for from a second round pick, but he won’t be Portland’s savior.
Ibou Badji was a non-factor. Duop Reath had a few good games, but whether he can carry that over to the next level is questionable.
“Not bad, but not great” encapsulates Portland’s young big man corps. If they’re looking for a bump at power forward or center, they’ll have to depend on veterans or additional draft picks.
The surprise of the tournament
Michael Devoe scored 18.8 points per game. game and shot 53.2% from the field and an amazing 64.7% from the three-point arc on 4.3 triples per game. match. He also showed some passing skills, although he did turn the ball over a bit as well.
Devoe should look around training camp. It will be interesting to see if he can flourish with the Rip City Remix. Portland is floating with shooting guards right now. Devoe hasn’t shown the defensive chops to recommend him over their incumbent. But if they’re switching guards away and need an immediate offense, at least he’s put his hand in the air to be called up. If he translates that scoring ability into G League honors, he’ll see somewhere.
You’ve seen my big take-aways. What were your observations and surprises from Summer League, 2023? Feel free to share below and further expand our knowledge of the state of the young Trail Blazers!