So, the NBA Draft has came and gone and your favorite team, the Portland Trail Blazers, drafted former Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan with the 26th overall pick. Any college basketball fan knows Swanigan’s name and the relatively unique skill set he brings to the table. But how does he fit in the NBA? More importantly, how will he fit with the Blazers? Let’s check it out.
Swanigan was one of the top players in college basketball last season. The 6-foot-9, 246-pound forward lit the Big Ten on fire, averaging 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game on 52.7 percent shooting for the regular-season champion Boilermakers.
A first-team All-American, Swanigan set an NCAA single-season record with 28 double-doubles in 35 games. He also stretched out his offensive game, shooting 44.7 percent from behind the arc after not having much of a perimeter game as a freshman.
Swanigan’s found success everywhere he’s been. After reclassifying to graduate high school in three years, Swanigan was ranked ninth in the ESPN Top 100 for the Class of 2015. Indiana’s Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American, Swanigan entered Purdue as one of the most high-touted prospects in school history.
He came in and was one of the best freshmen in the country in 2015-16, averaging 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds in 25.7 minutes per game. Swanigan could have left for the NBA after his freshman season, but he came back and validated his decision by greatly helping his draft stock.
What he brings to the table
While Swanigan showed some outside game, he still gets it done inside. The Big Ten Player of the Year has always been a back to the basket guy, and that’s what he’ll need to lean on in the pros. He doesn’t possess overwhelming size, but guys like Zach Randolph have shown that post moves and a feel for the game are good enough to score inside in the NBA.
Defensive is a little more of a question. He looks like he has the wherewithal and willingness to be where he needs to be, but who can he defend? At his size, it’s hard to run around on the perimeter in today’s NBA. He’ll likely have to try to continue to improve his footwork and play in a similar fashion to Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson, laying back on screens and contesting late.
Swanigan will also need to his the glass hard. As always, a defensive possession doesn’t end until there’s a rebound, and Swanigan can do that at a high level. He’ll hope that all the analysts are correct when they say that rebounding is one of the skills that translates the best from college to the NBA.
Swanigan has also shown that he is willing to work, having dealt with major weight issues in high school. He continues to work on his body, increasing his minutes played from 25.7 per game as a freshman to 32.5 per game as a sophomore.
His development also shows in his outside shooting, as he shot 29.2 percent from behind the arc as a freshman and 44.7 percent as a sophomore. His free-throw shooting (71.3 to 78.1) and floor game (1.8 assists per game to 3.1 assists per game) also jumped between 2015-16 and 2016-17. These are all promising signs for a player who just turned 20 in April.
Pick Grade: A-
Swanigan has plenty of supporters out there in the national media. If he’s successful, there will be plenty people claiming that he was one of “their guys”. And they’re not wrong, Swanigan has the ability to carve out a long career in the NBA.
He’s one of those guys that knows how to use his body and play the game. Will this be enough in the NBA? It can be, if Portland finds a way to use him. Finding role players in the NBA is all about putting them in positions to accentuate their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. If the Blazers can find this balance with Swanigan, he should be able to contribute.
The Portland fit appears to be good, as the Blazers have a bunch of competitive, tough guys who are learning how to win. Going to a good team is ideal for Swanigan, as not too much will be expected off him other than doing what he does well.
Swanigan likely won’t be a star. But with the 26th pick, it’s all about finding a guy who can fill his role, stick around the league and hopefully contribute for a winning team. Can Swanigan do that? We’ll see, but I wouldn’t bet against it.