Introducing Portland’s New Sixth Man: CJ McCollum

All the JR Smith talent, none of the JR Smith blunt smoking. We hope.

All the JR Smith talent, none of the JR Smith blunt smoking. We hope.

When the Blazers drafted CJ McCollum with the 10th pick in the 2013 draft, it was hard for me and many other Blazers fans not to expect him to perform much like Damien Lillard did in his ROY campaign last season, enticed as we were by McCollum’s statline from his Junior year at Lehigh: 31.0 MPG, 23.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 2.7 TPG, 49.5% FG, 51.6% 3FG, 84.9% FT.

CJ McCollum College Highlights:

 
McCollum suffered a left foot injury midway through last season, limiting him to only playing 12 games. Fortunately, his previous two years at Lehigh seem to indicate he wouldn’t have slowed down much, if at all, had he remained healthy the entire season. What really jumps out to me though are his shooting percentages. Nearly 50% from the field and 51.6% from three! While it may not be realistic to expect those numbers in the NBA, if McCollum is anything like the scorer we expect him to be, he should be able to post better percentages than Lillard did his rookie season 1.

We got our first glimpse of McCollum at the Summer League, where he led the League in scoring with 21.0 points, but shot just 36.6% from the field. However, I want to dispel any notions that his Summer League performance will reflect how he does in the regular season. “Why not?” you may ask. First, McCollum spent a lot of time playing Point Guard, which he didn’t do in college and won’t do during the regular season 2. He’s a shoot-first player who was asked to play the role of primary ball handler, so he was given more opportunities to shoot than he will have during the regular season. Second, his Summer League teammates weren’t exactly high-efficiency options either. Will Barton, Allen Crabbe, Joel Freeland, Victor Claver, and Meyers Leonard were the only players on the Summer League squad to have played in the NBA last season, so McCollum was saddled with talent far inferior to what he’ll play with during the regular season 3.

CJ McCollum Summer League:

 
Several NBA experts from NBA.com, ESPN 4, and SI, had CJ McCollum ranked high on their early 2013-’14 ROY award predictions. While it’s nice to see McCollum attract that much attention from the media, many of those predictions came while McCollum was expected to play at both SG and PG, which was before the Blazers signed Mo Williams in early August. Since Williams’ signing, it’s been widely expected that McCollum, while still expected to play well, simply won’t garner enough minutes to make himself a serious ROY contender.

With Mo Williams providing the ball handling and running plays, Dorell Wright spacing the floor and knocking down open threes, and Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard looking for alley-oops, put-backs, and the occasional post move, McCollum can expect to be the focal point of the bench’s offense. All four of them appear capable of producing for Portland, so McCollum won’t be pressured into handling the ball and taking as many (bad) shots. By solely focusing on playing Shooting Guard instead of both guard positions, McCollum should be able to adapt to the role of being Portland’s sixth man. Whether he can play with other prolific scorers like Aldridge and Lillard, who both take a large numbers of shots, and play as the third or fourth scoring option is something the team will have to discover when the regular season starts.

With Damian Lillard still fresh in everyone’s minds, it’s hard not to get too excited about Portland’s next high-scoring first round draft pick. McCollum won’t play major minutes for the Blazers and won’t average 18+ PPG like Lillard did, but he could very well be more efficient than Lillard and provide Portland with a role that they desperately needed, but never got, last season: a sixth man. McCollum alone should be enough to kick Portland’s record up a few wins, and while he may not be a front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award at the end of the season, few rookies will be as valuable to their team as McCollum will be for Portland.633 Oranges Squeezed

Notes:

  1. Which weren’t bad either: 42.9% FG, 36.8% 3FG, 84.4% FT
  2. During Summer League, the Blazers hadn’t signed Mo Williams yet so McCollum was expected to try his hand at playing both PG and SG behind Lillard and Matthews. However, the addition of an experienced and still productive Williams will delegate McCollum solely to playing SG unless we see Williams or (gulp) Lillard suffer an injury.
  3. He’ll get to play alongside Lillard and Mo Williams and play off the ball like he did in college, where he will undoubtedly be more comfortable.
  4. most notably ESPN.com’s NBA expert Chad Ford
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