The shooting percentage was dreadful, but though 50 shots were clanged, the up-and-coming players who had to show some aggressiveness did. That was a good sign, and in the Summer League, that’s enough.
Small forward Dante Cunningham was the only efficient Blazer in the first half in particular. He entered having been the most impressive member of the team so far, and he built upon his previous efforts.
Last year, he was chiseled and built more like a power forward. He trimmed down this offseason, which didn’t seem possible considering he seemingly didn’t have much to lose, and added even more muscle to his carved frame.
He looks and moves more like a small forward, a position he sees himself playing in the league. He’s quicker, lighter on his feet, and, because of this, he has added more moves to his arsenal.
He has been even more physical, and has looked to do more than just hit the 15-18 foot jumper that was the lone trick in his bag during his rookie season. His offensive maturity and new physique has certainly paid off.
Portland missed Travis Outlaw after he was traded during the latter part of last season. He was sometimes erratic, but he had the ability to create for himself and either be aggressive or perimeter-oriented.
The Blazers lacked someone with his talents on the wing, which led to offensive inconsistencies.
They are about to add Wesley Matthews, which should definitely help replacing No. 25, but Cunningham could end up making even more of an impact than the soon-to-be $9 million man.
He had eight points on 4-of-6 shooting, five rebounds, a block, and a steal in the early going.
Portland’s offense was woeful in the first half, scoring just 28 points on 10-of-32 shooting, but they would have been down more than just two without Cunningham's activity. He seemed to have a hand in everything.
With the combination of finesse and power, he impacted the game every way he knows how. And, though it seemed it would be a one-man show, considering no one else had more than four points by halftime, his energy eventually rubbed off onto the supporting cast.
Small forward Luke Babbitt, who is trying to win some of the minutes Cunningham deserves, showed the Blazers coaching staff he should get some solid burn this season.
He was tentative for the most part in the first three games of the schedule, and didn’t do much at all in the first two quarters.
But that all changed in the third period. He had 10 of the team’s 22 points in the frame, and finished with 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting.
Five for 17 shooting? Of course that’s woeful, but he was looking to score. That’s what has to be taken away from his shooting performance. Portland knows he’s a shooter. And now, despite missing 13 times, he’s starting to show what he can do.
He hit three three-pointers and helped the Blazers considerably in their effort to pull away from the Timberwolves, a team that doesn’t seem to have many players capable of making the 15-man roster.
Patrick Mills was key as well, despite shooting a Babbittesque 5-19 from the field. But, though he’s thought by many to be a point guard, he’s a shooter first and foremost.
He took seven three-pointers and made just one, yet that means he’s looking for his offense. Looking to be as aggressive as he can be, trying to rely heavily on his strengths.
His lone three-pointer came late in the fourth, off a nice feed from Jeff Pendergraph . He was ready to lock and load just like Babbitt. The two certainly weren’t bashful.
The lack of an offensive conscience carried over to Pendergraph and Cunningham. The former second-round draft picks took 11 shots a piece.
There was a mistake on Comcast Sportsnet’s documentation of Pendergraph’s numbers, listing him as 3-111 instead of the 3-11 he was.
It was an appropriate error, not for Pendergraph in particular (though he has been aggressive trying to master an outside jumper and develop moves around the rim) but for the team in general.
Seventy-six shots is a pretty good amount for a 40-point game, especially since a hefty amount were taken by those who should be firing at will.
Babbitt, Mills, Pendergraph, and Armon Johnson combined to shoot 5-26 in the first half and finished 18-55. And that’s with Johnson making an efficient five of nine attempts.
The quartet, as well as Cunningham, all bring something different to the table. They have different offensive strengths.
But the five have three things in common, as this 67-58 win exemplified: aggression, an energetic, intense, and enthusiastic attitude, and confidence.
Three attributes that could translate into solid NBA careers for the Blazers immensely talented starting five.