Jul 13

Video/Transcript: Neil Olshey On NBA TV With Steve Smith and Chad Andrus

By caseyholdahl

Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey joined former Trail Blazer and current NBA TV analyst Steve Smith and Chad Andrus in the second half of Portland's 82-69 loss to the Suns to discuss the new additions to the roster this off-season. Olshey talks about Robin Lopez and Thomas Robinson being "grit and grind" players, drafting CJ McCollum, the leadership quality of Damian Lillard, and the ying/yang of Will Barton and Allen Crabbe. You can watch the video above or read the transcript below, or both!

Chad Andrus: You're watching your guys. I think you'd have to be pretty pleased by your first round pick so far today.

Neil Olshey: Yeah, he's playing well. We were just talking over there, it took Damian Lillard about three games in the league before people started blitzing him on pick-and-rolls. It took about three and a half quarters here. So he's made his presence felt already. He's going to be a good player.

Steve Smith: You have Damian Lillard, you have LaMarcus Aldridge. I know you're trying to find somebody to play alongside. Meyers Leonard is a player I know has unbelievable talent and upside. Do you have that player that you're trying to find that can do the dirtily work next to LaMarcus Aldridge? JJ Hickson did a fine just last year, but a little bit undersized.

Yeah and I think that's why we went out and got Robin Lopez. We're hoping he brings the same energy and intensity that JJ did, but at 7-foot, where he can be more of a deterrent around the basket, protect the rim a little bit more. I think we gave up a lot of easy points in the paint last year as much as JJ tried. So between him and Thomas Robinson, we've got a couple of grit and grind guys now.

Smith: When you look Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, it's fantastic to see the opportunity of those two playing together. But as far as size-wise at that two-guard spot, do you think they can play both at the same time being on the floor?

Olshey: Yeah I do. I think our game has become so much more about spacing, about people who can play off the dribble. Damian is an elite shooter, he's a tough kid, he can guard some twos. I don't know if we want a steady diet of it, but it's a nice look for us to have. Damian's PER actually went through the roof when he was out there with (Eric) Maynor handling the ball and Damian moved off so guys couldn't load up against him.

Andrus: When you look at Damian and CJ grabbing headlines and a lot of the attention, that's not the only guys you have in the backcourt. I mean, with Will Barton, the way he's continuing to progress. You drafted Allen Crabbe, who's going to play on the wing and be part of that rotation. How do you envision playing all of these guys and getting everybody enough minutes, or is that just a good problem for Terry (Stotts) to have?

Olshey: (Laughs) Hey, that's Terry's job! Look, we haven't mentioned two really important members of our core in Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum. Those two guys are big-time players for us and I think Wes is one of the best perimeter defenders we have in our league. Nic Batum was playing at an all-star level before getting hurt, and that kind of set him back with the wrist injury. So I just think the more guys we have on the floor that can make plays off the bounce, and get guys like Tom Robinson and Robin Lopez to protect the rim, are going to make the game easier for those guys.

Smith: You're so right because you look at your team last year. The starting lineup did a phenomenal job, kind of wore down at the end of the year because you had some inexperience with talented guys. I think right now your filling out your roster. I want to speak about Allen Crabbe, one of those guys that a lot of people didn't get a chance to see, but I like his upside. He can shoot the basketball, wing player. I think he has a good feel. He's rushing a little bit in this first game but he has a good feel for the game.

Olshey: He does. Look, one of the knocks on him was he wasn't an attack-mode guy, wasn't aggressive enough, he didn't hunt enough shots, he didn't take over.

(commercial break)

Andrus: Want to go back to Thomas Robinson. Having a little of a ping-pong effect early in the career, bouncing around a little bit. What's going to make him have a home in Portland?

Olshey: I think you see it. Steve brought it up before, we just didn't get a lot of 50/50 balls, energy baskets around the hoop, we lacked a little bit of toughness last year. And that's clearly what he brings. He's an excellent weakside rebounder, he's just a monster physically. The ability to lay wood on people and kind of have LaMarcus' back. I don't think we had that last year, where teams could really come after and be very physical with LaMarcus, and we didn't have a five or a four that could come in and basically reciprocate. And I think we have that now.

Smith: Talk about this young man Will Barton. At the end of the season I watched him play. One of those players, just energy, energy, effort. I saw a game where he came up with 13 rebounds, nine rebounds. And you start to watch his skill set, he's so young and he still can develop a lot to his game, but unbelievable motor and engine Will Barton has.

Olshey: Well you know we always joke, Will's just out there hoopin', you know? I think after this he's heading over to Bishop Goreman because they've got a run going in a high school gym. He's having a tough day shooting the ball today, but Will loves to play, loves to compete. He tries so hard at times, he needs to just slow down. I think that's where Allen Crabbe is going to be good. We were talking about him before the break and Allen is just the opposite. Allen just lets the game come to him, he's very smooth, he takes what's there. I think there's a happy medium that they'll both find.

Andrus: After finding Damian Lillard last year and being the unanimous Rookie of the Year choice, a mid-major player is selected for the second straight year. Is there a key, is there a secret in scouting a player who maybe hasn't played at the highest level of competition compared to some of the guys playing at bigger-name schools who are always on television, the average fan sees every week?

Olshey: I think it's been demystified. I think guys like Steph Curry, Kenneth Faried, it started with Rodney Stuckey up at Eastern Washington. Now Damian Lillard's success. And I think guys are less gun-shy and the stigma of the low-major, mid-major player has gone away. You're still going to have the majority of guys from high-major schools that have been recruited since they were in eighth grade but there's something to the late-bloomers. What I like about it is the swagger that they carry themselves with. One of the things that was interesting about Damian was everything was accelerated because this is a kid that had to take ownership of wins and losses at a very young age. From the time he was a freshman at Weber State, he had to take responsibility for the outcome of games, and that's rare. And sometimes you get guys from high-major schools and they're so used to deferring, there's seniors, there's other McDonald's All-Americans. And I think you see that with CJ. It's his first game in an NBA uniform out of Lehigh playing against guys he watched on television like the Morris twins and Kendall Marshall, and he doesn't back down at all.

Andrus: Can he take on a leadership role on a young roster, even though he's a second year player? (ed. note: CJ McCollum is a rookie)

Olshey: I think he leads by example. Damian did, too. LaMarcus does the same thing. One of the guys we brought in this year is Earl Watson, a young man who I'm very close with. Part of the reason we brought him in, he's still got game left, but it's also teaching these guys how to be pros. It's no secret that when Earl plays on teams, they're winning teams and its as much for what he does in the locker room as it is what he does on the floor. It's an example that these guys, if they're going to emulate somebody, it's a hell of a guy to emulate.

Smith: You're so right. You talk about Earl Watson, those are those veterans you have where people don't get a chance to see what goes on behind the scenes. What I love what you've done with this team is you obviously acquired a lot of talent but you have a lot of quality character guys and young guys who get it, and that's the one thing I love watching your team. Yes, LaMarcus has been in the league, but you start looking at the young guys mannerisms, poise, professionalism. I love what you've constructed in this roster with these young guys.

(commercial break)

Andrus: Is there any one thing you look for in watching these summer league games to accomplish, whether it's from the coaching staff, whether it's from the individual players or a team element? Is there any one thing you're trying to keep your eye on as they play these games?

Olshey: Terry did a great job this year of getting our guys back in June. Meyers, Will, Joel Freeland and Victor Claver spent the month of June with our coaches working out. You want to see kind of their growth based on the focus being on them in terms of workouts. More than anything, I think translatable skills. There's times when guys can come to summer league, put up big numbers and you know they're just not going to be able to get it done against NBA-caliber guys. It's one of the things we were happy with Damian Lillard last summer. Everything he did here was something he was going to be capable of doing in an NBA game and I think we saw that transition.

Smith: Another great thing is to get a chance to see Damian Lillard, even though he's not playing in summer league, you can see he's in tune. He's getting a chance to help coach, even at a young age. He's talking to CJ and it's great to have. The more time you can spend around your teammates, the chemistry, you can see Damian and CJ, friends off the court, and now they're getting a chance to play together. I just love this young man, the way he carried himself last year. And I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with the USA Basketball after the summer league.

Olshey: And I think that's why Dame, he's such a great kid, he really enjoys being a part of it. It's not an effort for him to be here. He just got back from Beijing, he was on a trip with adidas. He was in the gym that night when the plane landed, he's been working out with our coaches. He came here to workout in-between sessions with our guys and then get ready to go to the Team USA minicamp, I guess in two weeks. It's a great example for these guys that even though Damian clearly distanced himself as a player from some of our younger guys right now, he's so much further ahead than they are in terms of his impact on an NBA game, he hasn't lost sight of who he is and knowing that him being here is just a leadership example for them to realize that summer league isn't just a throwaway, that it's important.


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