The Portland Trail Blazers won the 2022 NBA Summer League championship this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada. The win capped a 4-1 run through the tournament, a fine – if not entirely unexpected – performance for a talented, experienced club.
Portland didn’t win the Summer League crown with dazzling individual brilliance. Instead, they finished with a solid team defence, sharing the ball, rebounding well and making the most of their chances. An event designed to showcase individual talent eventually went to the most cohesive team.
The two-week trip nonetheless brought some revelations. Here are my three biggest takeaways from Portland’s performance this summer.
I still like Trendon Watford
The Summer League is all about the guards, at least under normal circumstances. In an environment where 99% of attendees are trying to make the league – or justify why they already have high choices – showing your own wares is paramount. Shot creators and ball handlers get first choice at the buffet. Big men often become an afterthought designed to set up screens and snap the misses their smaller peers throw.
Forward Trendon Watford became Portland’s anchor during this tournament. He became the team’s second-top scorer, but his dedication to defence, intelligent – but unobtrusive – attacking play and refusal to get upset kept his team grounded.
In a world full of people who want to be the next celebrity chef, Watford is a line chef. He will enter his station, make sure wrong on the spot fully prepared, then prepare your menu items efficiently and with good quality. You won’t see his name on the menu and he’ll never have tweezers in his hand, but if you bite into that medium rare steak with just the right amount of char on the sixteenth time, you’re in this restaurant, just like you were on your first night there… that’s him.
All hail Jabari Walker
Second-round pick Jabari Walker was an eye-opener for many observers. He appeared alongside Watford and provided a strong 1-2 strike in the run-up.
It’s tempting to predict great things for Walker based on his performance in Vegas. Be careful. My stance has always been that you can’t win a spot in an NBA Summer League rotation. You can only lose it.
That Walker didn’t lose is a positive sign. The Blazers, who are offering him an admittedly team-friendly but still quite real NBA contract based on his performance in Vegas, are another. They’re optimistic about the former Buffalo.
Three granular things struck me about Walker that warrant the optimism.
- His footwork looks really good. Many bigs need to overhaul their technical skills when entering the NBA. Walker is looking really good.
- His energy and dedication match the best of his teammates. His engine was mentioned so many times in Vegas, he might as well have played for Detroit.
- His offensive game is further than I thought. It looks like he’ll have both range and indoor scoring potential. That’s a big advantage if he’s hoping to see bottom time.
No one knows what the future holds for Walker, but if this is any example of Portland’s deep scouting prowess, we should be impressed.
Who is Shaedon Sharpe?
The biggest question on the road to Summer League is still the biggest question on the road out. Shaedon Sharpe had less basketball experience than any other player to compete in Las Vegas, let alone among high-profile draftees. A torn shoulder ligament 5 minutes and 33 seconds into Portland’s first game robbed Sharpe and the world of a chance to see who he is.
It’s impossible to get much out of such a limited game scope. Even guessing is dangerous. I was wrong on players I thought would break through (Armon Johnson) and players I thought would take longer to develop (Nicolas Batum) based on their performances in the summer league.
If you got me speculating about Sharpe, I’d say his micro gifts are exciting, but the macro needs work. He walks lightly and you can see where his cuts and drives could be dangerous for opponents. We haven’t actually seen him jump, but we do know that he’s capable of climbing to the ceiling. When his speed and lateral agility translate to both defense and offense, he becomes dangerous. If his shot comes in NBA form, he could be dazzling.
As might be expected, the consciousness just wasn’t there, at least from what we’ve seen. He seemed to be looking for the right game instead of making it. It’s tough watching guys stand tall on defense with their arms at their sides, even when they’re playing on the weak side. Soil reading, willingness and commitment with urgency must develop.
Assuming he recovers, I expect Sharpe to be one of those players who’ll pull off a few minutes per game, play strong on blowouts, and bring a buzz through the arena when he takes the floor. I see 16-point trips in his future if the gap on the scoreboard is big. I could also occasionally see 10 dots in 8 minutes. But I suspect that there will be many stops and new beginnings in between. Keeping the Goldstar rookie happy without disrupting the overall flow of the team will be an interesting challenge for head coach Chauncey Billups.
This is blind tea leaf reading though… just gut feeling. The preseason will be Sharpe’s next test. He must bring it to the next exhibition.
you are up!
I promised myself to limit my observations to three major ones. It’s your turn to fill in the rest. What did you take away from Portland’s 2022 Summer League performance? Share in the comments below.