How many players in the NBA can say they have a 44 inch vertical and also throw a 95 mph fast ball? If it is anyone outside of Pat Connaughton of the Portland Trail Blazers, then they are lying. The rare two-sport athlete is trying to break through in the NBA, even though he was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 2014.
After a season that saw him riding the bench behind accomplished players like Allen Crabbe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, and Gerald Henderson on a playoff team, Connaughton only averaged 1.1 points, 0.9 rebounds, and 0.3 assists on 4.3 minutes per game. The addition of Evan Turner and re-signing of Crabbe will make it difficult for Connaughton to find a role. However, if he plays at the level he did in Summer League, coach Terry Stotts will have no choice but to play him.
In five games played he averaged 14.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game on 32.2 minutes per game. For the first time in his career he was given the keys to the team, much like he was at Notre Dame, and he had some very big games.
His supreme athleticism and clutch demeanor was put on display against the Utah Jazz, where he hit the very rare, sudden death double-OT winning shot that is only seen in Summer League to avoid triple overtime. Insane three pointer aside, he played great that game, as he broke out of a recent shooting slump. He finished with 19 points on seven of sixteen shooting overall and 40 percent from deep.
In his Summer League finale against the Boston Celtics he played his best game of the summer, netting 23 points to go with four rebounds and a steal in the victory. Even when matched up against premier prospects like Jaylen Brown and Jordan Mickey, he was still able to finish and get his shot off. Connaughton was very aggressive against shot blockers like Mickey, going right at them and finishing through the contact.
No one expected the Portland Trail Blazers to be as good as they were last year. After a year of roster development and adding Evan Turner in free agency, playing time will be hard to come by for the two-sport athlete. The Trail Blazers don't have a D-League affiliate, so assigning Connaughton to a team via the Flexible Assignment rule isn't ideal for player development.
If given a shot, Connaughton could definitely rise up. The 6'5 guard has that experience as a leader while combining all the physical tools to develop into a good NBA player. His jumper is already serviceable and will only improve with time, and his athleticism has never been a question. Hopefully Coach Stotts will give him an opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation, because no one will work harder for it than Pat Connaughton.