So, Caleb Swanigan is now a Portland Trail Blazer. Congratulations.
Sincerely. You’re going to love him. Caleb had a storied sophomore season. By storied I mean he collected rebounds and stats in combinations that were only surpassed by a couple #1 draft picks. (I’m talking about Tim Duncan and Blake Griffin #1 picks.)
Despite being a top-15 recruit, he didn’t get to these numbers by just being a better athlete or more talented than everyone on the court. Instead, Caleb worked his ass off, making himself one of the best five college basketball players in the country after a freshman campaign that was often times disappointing.
It’s important for your happiness to know Biggie’s transition won’t be seamless. That he won’t just magically be a great NBA player. He lacks real quickness. He lacks explosiveness. He struggles scoring over bigger players. He still doesn’t entirely know what he is on a basketball court. He’ll turn over the ball too much.
I’m saying this as someone who was clearly in the anti-Biggie the freshman camp. He made too many mistakes, didn’t understand what he was good at on the basketball court and seemed distant from his teammates. But if you stick with him, you’ll come to the same conclusion I did. His elite skill is his work ethic.
His tenacity and heart are incredible to watch and it never stops. He goes at every ball. He wants to make every play. He’s never going to be the best player on the court. He’ll probably never be an NBA starter, but I’d be willing to lay a large wager that Caleb’s going to have a ten-plus year career. He’s the exact type of player you want as your 8th man, gobbling up boards and 15 minutes a night.
He helped transform a Purdue program from ash into a 2-game winner of the B10 in two years. He won us an NCAA tournament game against Iowa State to get to the Sweet Sixteen by grabbing an offensive rebound ON A MISSED FREE THROW over two Cyclones players on the other side of the paint than he started on. He’s got championship DNA, a hard hat and big hands to hold course in tough seas.
He’s not Draymond Green, a popular comparison. He’s never been that kind of defensive player though he continues to add to his athleticism, cutting weight and getting quicker. But he’s an offensive force who knows how to rebound - a skill that translates more consistently to the NBA than any other. His jumper has improved, he can pass, and he’s capable of hitting difficult mid-range fall-aways.
Don’t think Draymond Green, think Kevin Love. He’s a basketball contradiction, a flicker of history and future in one screen shot. He shot 45% from 3 on 85 attempts while having the 3rd highest defensive rebounding rate in the country. He can bully inside; he can drain it from deep. It doesn’t always make sense on the court. He hasn’t entirely figured out when it’s best to try and get inside or when to stretch the floor, and he still struggles to take a guy 1 on 1, but in the NBA he’ll be asked to do this less.
The NBA is always evolving, it’s best to have as many players that can be as many things as possible. Caleb has that multi-faceted skill set, particularly on the offensive end. He also has the work ethic to keep adding to his game in whatever way his team needs.
His offensive game and inside toughness will be a huge boost for a team full of talented and undersized guards. He’ll provide inside toughness and rebounding and grow with a young and promising core.