Name: CJ McCollum
Last Week’s Stats: 7.0 PPG, 0.5 APG, 1.5 RPG, 54.5 FG%, 40.0 3PT%
It took 36 games, but CJ McCollum has finally made his debut with the Portland Trail Blazers.
When McCollum was drafted 10th overall in 2013, fans were split on the selection. One side believed that the guard would clash alongside Damian Lillard, while the other saw a need at backup point guard — a need that could be filled by one of the most NBA-ready prospect of the entire rookie class.
Entering the 2013-14 season, nobody quite knew what McCollum’s role would be. Would he strictly be a backup to Damian Lillard? Could he help be a reserve to Wesley Matthews? Could he possibly earn the starting shooting guard spot with his ability to make plays off the ball?
All those questions came crashing down when McCollum broke his foot in training camp, giving us time to add more questions without earning any answers.
Since McCollum’s injury first took place, we’ve seen a lot of surprises in Portland. First the acquisition of Mo Williams, who was a late-summer signing (and was likely signed large in part because of McCollum’s absence).
The second, and more astonishing surprise is just how good this team appears to be. Nobody expected Portland to be contending for a Western Conference championship, and while it was clear that the offense would be the team’s crutch, few anticipated that the shooting would be this spot on this far into the year.
Before we flash forward and begin to project McCollum’s long-term position on this roster, let’s take a look back at his first minutes as a professional basketball player.
The rookie made his official debut with 14 minutes against the Orlando Magic. He recorded an unimposing four points and two rebounds, but he shot the ball with confidence, making two of his five attempts.
Despite looking assertive in Game 1, his encore against the Boston Celtics is what really got fans on their feet. Not only did McCollum make a first-quarter appearance, but he hit on his first three-point attempt of the night. To get the crowd going even more, he followed it up by connecting on another contested three.
In 14 minutes, McCollum scored 10 points and knocked down four of his six shots. Fans in Portland haven’t seen much from him at this juncture, but in his own words, “I haven’t even displayed my total game yet.”
— NBA (@NBA) January 11, 2014
So this begs the question: What is McCollum’s total game? And just as importantly, how does he fit into Portland’s already stellar offense?
If you’ve watched Portland play this season, you know that the backcourt is rarely the problem. Mo Williams was a bit sporadic at times early in the year, but his consistency has improved and he’s become an extremely reliable asset out on the perimeter.
As for the notion of McCollum taking over the starting 2-guard spot, you can forget that. Wesley Matthews has been fantastic this season, as he’s hands down one of the best “three and D” guys at the position.
Where McCollum fits in is primarily two spots. First and foremost, he’s going to take the pressure off of Damian Lillard. The reigning Rookie of the Year was simply burnt out by the end of last season, and with McCollum there to take a few of his minutes each night, his legs will hopefully be ready to go when the playoffs roll around.
Responsibility No. 2 is providing an offensive spark when Williams’ shot isn’t falling. As we’ve found out this season, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson are far from reliable offensive options, and even Dorell Wright has lost minutes as of late.
McCollum needs to remain consistent, and finding a way to put the ball in the bucket is the best way to make that happen.
As excited as fans should be about watching McCollum torch defenses this year, we’d be remiss not to point out one detail: He’s still a point guard.
Chances are, we’ll see Williams run the point at times while McCollum plays off the ball; but having him on the floor comes with the hope that he can get others involved.
More specifically, having him on the floor comes with the hope that he doesn’t take bad shots. If his shot isn’t falling, so be it; there are plenty of guys on this team who can step up. The problem is that he forced a few looks in his first two games, and if they hadn’t gone down, we’d be saying how he was a bit antsy and overexcited to hit the floor.
As long as the production is there, McCollum will be fine — just keep an eye on how aggressive he is early in his career. With this kid, the problem will never be “he’s not aggressive enough.” It will be learning the pace of the game and finding a way to slowly integrate into an already prolific offense.