CJ Mccollum

Blazers’ Corner: Adversity, Rookie Debuts, Experimenting with Bench

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Portland No Longer Sneaking Up on People

If there’s one thing to take away from Portland’s recent slump (losing 4 of 7), it’s that the honeymoon of anonymity they enjoyed for the first two months of the season is gone.  Teams like Philadelphia and Sacramento remembered the drubbings they took at the hands of the surprise Blazers earlier in the season and they came prepared (guarding the 3-point line, doing work in the paint) in their victories.

Portland can expect this to continue moving forward as teams now have two months of game film to pore over.  But this can be said for every elite team in the league.  Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Indiana have all suffered multiple uncharacteristic losses recently and that’s a product of both attrition and in-season experience.

But an encouraging sign in Portland’s four losses recently is that they’ve all been by 4 points or less.  Winning close games tends to balance itself out as the season progresses and after enjoying a 13-1 record in games decided by 9 points or less, the Blazers are starting to see that the proverbial ball doesn’t always bounce their way.

Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews
Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews | (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Another positive to take away from the recent struggles is that the problems (shooting, turnovers) are correctible.  In the case of shooting, while teams have made it a point of emphasis to pay closer attention to the Trail Blazers on the perimeter, Portland is still getting good looks, they’re just not hitting them right now.

The turnover problem lately has been interesting.  Terry Stotts’ free-flowing offense involves a lot of improvisation in the passing game and teams are picking up on this by guarding the passing lanes better and getting deflections.  This disruption has caused the offense to be more vulnerable to fast-break baskets.  Nicolas Batum in particular has been guilty of a number of risky passes either in the lane or across the court that are not getting through.

Does the tighter defense mean Stotts will try to reign in the loose offense to avoid easy buckets at the other end?  My guess is no.  Why change your identity after it’s worked so well up to this point?  Portland is simply dealing with some adversity at the moment and how they deal with it may reveal how well and how prepared they are come playoff time.  It can’t always come easy.  Maybe this recent reality check is a good thing for the Blazers.

CJ McCollum Makes His Debut

CJ McCollum finally made his first appearance of the season on Wednesday night and despite a turnover early, the rookie appeared calm and cool under the bright lights.

In 14 minutes of action, the guard recorded 4 points on 2-of-5 shooting as well as 2 rebounds.  Nothing special, but he seemed to make a conscience effort to stay in control which will be important for him if he wishes to crack, and remain, in the rotation.  Stotts even ran a play for him out of a timeout that got McCollum his first NBA points which had to be a sigh of relief for the young player.

Perhaps McCollum can act as a perfect complement to Williams off the bench.  Williams likes taking risks and shooting early in the shot clock which can be good and bad at times and having a player like McCollum who’s more deliberate and methodical could be a nice change of pace.

Stotts Beginning to Experiment With Bench More

Coach Stotts has been tinkering with his player rotation lately.  First he began giving Meyers Leonard minutes in place of Thomas Robinson and the second-year center has played solid.  He grabbed 7 rebounds in just 12 minutes of work in a win against the Clippers on December 26 and he collected 8 points and 10 rebounds in a blowout win versus Charlotte.

Thomas Robinson - Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Thomas Robinson was a spark off the bench on Wednesday night. | (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Another recent development is Dorell Wright being benched.  Wright just hasn’t been right (no pun intended) since a 5-for-5 3-point night in Philadelphia on December 14 and Stotts finally made the decision to put in Will Barton in the second quarter of Portland’s loss at Sacramento.  Barton actually hit the team’s first 3 of the game, but that was really all he did on Tuesday night.

The Orlando game saw the debut of McCollum and the emphatic return of Robinson.  Though his sudden inclusion in the rotation was probably more due to Orlando playing small ball, Robinson was a bundle of energy in 11 minutes.  He scored 6 points on 3-for-3 shooting (including an impressive put-back dunk) and he threw in 3 rebounds and a monster block.

All of these random sightings from normally anonymous players is a sign that Stotts is beginning to realize that it might be time to expand his normally strict 9-man rotation.  But it feels like a 6-man rotation as Mo Williams is the only player getting legitimate minutes off the bench.  Joel Freeland has been good in limited action, but Stotts hasn’t trusted other guys enough to give them consistent time.

But we are reaching the halfway point of the season and the starters are most likely beginning to feel the affects of the grind that is the NBA schedule.  McCollum returning will be beneficial, but the team will need more help from the bench as the season moves along.

Blazers’ Corner: McCollum’s Debut Imminent, Former Blazer Suspended

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CJ McCollum Getting Healthy at the Right Time

Update:  According to Yahoo Sports, McCollum is expected to make his NBA debut on Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings following a weekend trip to the D-League.

On Wednesday, the Portland Trail Blazers announced that they had assigned rookie guard CJ McCollum to their NBA Development League affiliate.  Usually when a player is sent to the “minor leagues,” it’s an indication that the player is struggling and needs to improve his game and confidence against lesser opponents.

But in the case of McCollum, this is good news.  The former No. 10 pick in last June’s NBA draft fractured his left foot for the second time in training camp and has yet to play a single minute in the Association.  The fact that he’s been cleared to play in five-on-five competitive basketball is a sign that he’s close to making his debut for the Blazers.

Atlanta Hawks v Portland Trail Blazers
CJ McCollum in Summer League Action. | (Jack Arent / Getty Images)

And his inevitable debut couldn’t come at a better time.  For as much credit GM Neil Olshey received for the moves he made to improve the bench, so far, the reserves actually haven’t been that much better than last year’s atrociously and historically bad bunch.

According to hoopsstats.com, Portland’s bench is averaging just 23 PPG which is good for third worst in the NBA.  Last year’s infamous squad averaged 18.5 PPG.  Not that big of a difference.  Adjusted per 48 minutes and the so-called improved bench is only averaging 3 points more (16.4) than last year’s team (13.4).

Of course the bench has to play in order to produce and coach Terry Stotts appears to have visions of last year ingrained in his brain.  Portland is fourth in the league in total minutes logged by the starters and this has resulted in 79 percent of the team’s league-leading 108.2 PPG coming from the usual five.  Imagine how many more points they would produce if they had a consistent scorer off the bench.

Mo Williams, who was expected to be that scorer in the second unit, is the only bench player averaging more than 20 minutes a contest and it drops off considerably after that (Joel Freeland; 14:50 MPG, Dorell Wright; 13:37 MPG).

Williams has struggled as of late resulting in his 3-point game dropping to 35 percent and his overall shooting dipping below 40 percent.  For as streaky as he is thought to be, his career shooting numbers are actually pretty decent (38.5 from 3, 44 overall).  He had a nice night against Charlotte (15 points, 10 assists, 6-9 shooting).  That’s a start.

Wright has been even worse lately.  After going 5-for-5 from 3-point range in a victory over Philadelphia on December 14, Wright is just 12-for-36 since.  His unmemorable performance in Oklahoma City (8 minutes, 0 points, 0-2 shooting) had me saying, “can we see Allen Crabbe get some run.”

Long story short, McCollum getting in Portland’s rotation can’t come soon enough.  Any question about whether he could after the team’s hot start have been erased in the last two weeks.  Yes, the team scores a lot of points, but they need more from that second unit.

Former Blazer Andre Miller Suspended

Former Blazers point guard and fan-favorite Andre Miller was suspended two games by the Denver Nuggets on Thursday.  The suspension comes a day after Miller was involved in a heated confrontation with Nugget’s head coach Brian Shaw during the first half of the team’s loss against the Philadelphia 76ers.  At one point, Miller had to be restrained by his fellow teammates in full view of the fans.

Andre Miller - David Richard : USA TODAY Sports
Andre Miller is having a season to forget. | (David Richard / USA TODAY Sports)

 

Denver was in the midst of suffering their eighth-consecutive loss and Shaw was trying any combination of players to end the slide.  Unfortunately Miller was not in consideration.  The veteran point guard was no doubt irked at the fact that not only did his 239 consecutive games streak end, but it was also the first DNP-Coach’s Decision of Miller’s career.

This isn’t the first time Miller has gotten into it with a head coach.  If Blazer fans recall, Miller had a similar shouting match with former coach Nate McMillan almost three years ago to the day.  At least Miller had the courtesy of undermining McMillan in practice rather than during a game.

A former first round draft pick back in 1999, Miller should obviously know better at this point in his career.  That being said, it still didn’t make sense for Shaw not to at least put him in the game.  The Sixers were seemingly in control for most of the night, but the Nuggets were still in reach.  Miller has been a savvy and underrated player wherever he’s been and he would have been effective against Philly’s young guards.

It’s been a frustrating year for Miller as he is averaging career-lows across the board.  If Denver has no more use for him, perhaps Portland can hire him as an alley-oop consultant.

Blazers’ Corner: Lopez or Asik? Plus, the latest on McCollum’s Injury

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Portland Not Interested in Trading Lopez for Asik

If you’re an NBA lover like me, then you probably listen to Bill Simmon’s B.S. Report Podcast, particularly when he chats with Grantland NBA writer Zach Lowe.  Their latest discussion began with the success of the Trail Blazers.  They talked about the team’s highly efficient offense and their slightly less-than-average defense, which Lowe concluded would be the reason that they wouldn’t be considered a contender in the West.

Kings Trail Blazers Basketball
Robin Lopez has been great so far as a Trail Blazer. | (The Associated Press)

This led them to bring up the possibility of Portland being an interesting destination for the suddenly embattled benchwarmer Omar Asik.  After the Rockets signed Dwight Howard in the offseason, many, including me, were wondering what they would do with Asik who was coming off of a great season that saw him average a double-double (10.1 PPG, 11.7 Reb) and play great defense.

I remember when Howard was signed because my immediate reaction to that was, “Do what you need to do to get Asik!”  Instead the team went with Robin Lopez, a weaker rebounder and defender, but a 7-footer who could clog up the paint none the less.  But after watching Portland’s first 22 games and seeing how Lopez fits with this team, I and a lot of Blazer fans (I assume) are just fine with keeping the eccentric guy with the big hair.

The team apparently feels the same way because earlier this week, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported that the team had no interest in trading Lopez to the Rockets for Asik:

“All indications at this point, though, suggest that Portland is thrilled with Lopez’s impact and not planning to make a run at Asik.  Houston is similarly lukewarm on the idea.”

Sometimes certain guys just fit on certain teams and so far Lopez has been a great example of that.  He’s a player who doesn’t mind allowing his teammates to score, but he’s still capable of putting the ball in the basket when he needs to, particularly on put-backs.  Plus his pick-and-role game with Nic Batum is getting better and he’s a much better free-throw shooter than many thought.  Asik in comparison is mediocre on offense and a terrible foul shooter.

Another factor to consider is money.  Asik is owed $15 million in salary next season as part of his high back-end contract (although only $8.4 million would count against Portland’s salary cap if they acquired him).  Lopez on the other hand will make $6.1 million in the final year of his current contract next season.  Is Asik worth $2 million more than Lopez?  I don’t think so.

Omar Asik - sportige.com
Omar Asik, as you can see, is not happy to be a Rocket. | (sportige.com)

The last thing to think about is Asik’s behavior over the last month.  Privately, he requested a trade numerous times following the Howard signing (understandable), but after the Asik/Howard starting-together experiment failed after just a few games, Asik was relegated to the bench where his minutes have gradually decreased.  This resulted in the Turkish big man zoning out his team for a couple of games.  The situation was chronicled in a piece on sheridanhoops.com:

“Asik played just four minutes in Wednesday night’s overtime loss to Philadelphia and showed little to no interest in playing in Thursday night’s contest, where he didn’t play at all without any official reason why.  Houston went 11 deep in the game, yet Asik did not see the court.”

“Asik looked completely emotionless and listless on the sideline, seemingly totally detached from what was going on during the game.  He was either at the back edge of the team huddle during breaks in the action or not paying attention at all.”

Obviously he wants to be starting and playing the minutes he got a year ago, but to basically quit on the team for two games has to hurt his trade value.  Would Lopez do something like that?  Any time you see Lopez on the bench, whether he’s just been in the game or not, he’s always right in the middle of the huddle, paying close attention and constantly asking questions.  He’s all about the team and what can be done to make it better.

Is Asik a better player than Lopez?  Maybe, but once you look at the two players more closely, you realize that Portland has a good thing going with their current center.  Plus look at the guy.  Has there ever been a more perfect player/character to have in Portland than Robin Lopez?  If it aint broke, don’t fix it.

CJ McCollum’s Return Still Not Known

The Portland Trail Blazers are off to their best start in more than a decade.  The offense is outstanding, the defense is slowly becoming respectable and team chemistry couldn’t be any better.  Now imagine this team if they had their 2013 first round draft pick!

CJ McCollum (Getty Images)
CJ McCollum
(Getty Images)

CJ McCollum, the 10th player taken in last June’s draft, had a CT scan on his injured left foot to see where he’s at in his recovery.  According to a team spokesman, doctors will review the results and learn more on his possible return in a few days.

This is the second time McCollum fractured the fifth metatarsal on his left foot.  The most recent injury occurred on Oct. 5 during practice.  He also did it in January while playing at Lehigh.  McCollum opted to have surgery then, ending his senior season.

The guard could have had surgery again, but he instead opted for an ultrasound procedure which is less invasive and is designed to stimulate bone growth.  The team is still mum on when McCollum might return to practice, but once the results of his scan are available, everyone will have a better idea of when he can resume basketball activities.

As I said earlier, the team doesn’t exactly need him right now with an 18-4 record.  But the bench hasn’t exactly been great as of late (Williams: turnovers, Wright: poor shooting, Freeland and Robinson: inconsistency), so any productive body would be welcomed.

Blazers’ Corner: Training Camp Injuries and Free McMuffins

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Rash of Injuries Plaguing Blazers in Training Camp

Injuries are a part of basketball (or any sport for that matter), but as Blazers’ fans know very well, injuries have become expected at this point for the organization.  I don’t need to go into all of the significant injuries that have befallen this franchise over the years (there’s plenty of coverage on that subject online), but once again, the injury-bug has hit the team.

Here’s a list because there’s been so many in a week:

LaMarcus Aldridge: Left quad strain.

Dorell Wright: Dislocated finger.

Will Barton: Concussion.

Mo Williams: Right angle sprain.

Nicolas Batum: Concussion.

C.J. McCollum: Fracture in left foot.

As I said earlier, injuries are a part of sports and I’m sure if you look at many training camps in the NBA so far, you’ll find a number of minor issues and the majority of these for the Blazers are not long-term concerns.  But that last name mentioned is a concern.

Atlanta Hawks v Portland Trail Blazers
C.J. McCollum | (Jack Arent/Getty Images)

McCollum, taken with the 10th pick in last June’s NBA draft, fractured the 5th metatarsal bone in his left foot at practice on Saturday.  The rookie guard previously broke the same bone in the same foot last January during his senior season at Lehigh causing him to miss the rest of the season.

His recovery time for the first injury was set at 8-10 weeks, but McCollum said that it wasn’t until the Blazers played at the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League in July that he was fully healed.  That’s more than six months recovery by my math and if you go by that, fans will not be seeing the rookie for quite some time.

As far as the team goes, the injury isn’t as significant as people might think.  McCollum was already fourth on the Blazers’ depth chart behind Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Mo Williams so besides youthful energy, the team will not miss much at the guard position.

Another silver lining is that McCollum has already gone through this injury before.  He knows what it takes to recover and the fact that this happened before he’s played a minute of NBA basketball should be motivation for the rookie to work even harder to get back on the court.

The injury is certainly a blow to the Blazers’ season and their bench, but the team now has the depth to sustain a major injury.  As long as another one doesn’t occur at a weaker position, the team will remain competitive.  But the way training camp has started (and history), perhaps the team and the fans should hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

No More Chalupas, How about McMuffins!

This week the Blazers’ organization unveiled the new logo for the Moda Center.  The Moda Center is named after Moda Health, an Oregon-based insurance provider.

One thing not associated with health is fast food, which until recently, was given to fans in the form of a coupon for a free Chalupa if the team reached the 100-point mark in a game.  Sadly, the Chalupa promotion ended this off-season.  Some speculated, myself included, that perhaps in connection with the name, the organization was headed towards a more healthy free food option.  Instead, they traded one fast food item for another.

Blazers and McMuffins - nba.com
Blazers and McMuffins | (nba.com)

The team on Monday announced that they have partnered with McDonalds on a new “100-Point Play” promotion for the next five seasons.  Every time the team reaches that magical milestone, fans in attendance will be offered a voucher for a free McDonald’s Sausage McMuffin with Egg.

Beginning Nov. 2, which will be the team’s home-opener against San Antonio, fans are encouraged to chant “MICK-E-DEES, MICK-E-DEES” if the team is nearing 100 points.  Cheesy video graphics will no doubt follow.  My money is on Robin Lopez chomping down on a McMuffin.

Of course one of the fun aspects to the 100-point/free-food milestone is guessing which player will be the one to accomplish the feat.  The organization thought of this and in connection with McDonald’s, have created a digital “100 Point Player of the Game” contest.  Fans will be encouraged to vote online for which Trail Blazers player they think will score the 100th point.  If the team gets to 100, one fan that selected the correct player will be chosen to receive a Trail Blazers merchandise item, courtesy of McDonald’s.  The contest will be good for both home and road games.

Side note: It will be interesting to see if fans go along with the “MICK-E-DEES” chant.  “MC-MUFFIN, MC-MUFFIN” sounds better or if they want to be more accurate, how about “HEART ATTACK, HEART ATTACK.”

Blazers’ Corner: Analytics, McCollum Popular Among His Peers, Babbitt Headed to Russia

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NBA to Install Data-Tracking Cameras in Every Arena

Analytics is all the rage in the world of sports these days.  Baseball and football in particular have, over the last few years, begun to heavily rely on data and statistics to make decisions during games and in team’s long-term plans.  In contrast, the NBA has been a little behind the curve when it comes to using new technology and data to help shape their franchises.

But that will change for the upcoming season with news that all 29 NBA arenas (Including the Moda Center) will have state-of-the-art cameras installed.

STATS LLC Cameras - Doug Pensinger:Getty Images
STATS LLC Cameras | (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

STATS LLC, the company responsible for the optical tracking data that half the league used a year ago to assist them in basketball analysis, has reached a deal with the remaining NBA franchises to have their cameras available.

The cameras open up the potential to track things as basic as the distance run by a player in a given game.  They also enable teams to create complex systems to evaluate their defense against an ideal model.

This stuff is geeky and complex, but necessary for teams looking for a competitive advantage.  The fact that Portland owner Paul Allen didn’t sign off on this sooner (Considering his background in technology), is surprising.  But it will be interesting moving forward to see how the Blazers organization incorporates this technology into their decision making.

Now if they could just get their hands on a crystal ball foreseeing players with bad knees, then they’d really be in business when it comes to player evaluations.  For now they’ll have to settle for fancy HD cameras.

C.J. McCollum Popular Among his Peers

The 2013-14 NBA rookie class hasn’t played a single game in the pros yet, but they did take the time to pick their favorites for rookie of the year, best career and best defender among other categories.

CJ McCollum (Getty Images)
CJ McCollum | (Getty Images)

 

Filling out the NBA.com Rookie Survey, the 36 first-year players voted Portland’s C.J. McMollum and Orlando’s Victor Oladipo as the top picks to win Rookie of the Year.  Before the Mo Williams signing, I would have felt pretty good about McMollum’s chances, but now he has to compete with Lillard, Matthews and Williams for minutes.  A tall order indeed.

On which rookie will have the best career, McCollum finished third with 15.2 percent of the votes.  He’s a four-year player who seems motivated and confident he can be an elite player in the NBA.  Seems like a logical pick.

He also finished tied for third for best rookie shooter, but he was nowhere near the best defender or funniest player lists (Because that’s an important skill in the NBA).

These lists mean nothing at the end of the day, but McCollum at least has the respect of his fellow rookies.  Hopefully his play on the court will garner respect from the veterans as well.

Luke Babbitt Finds a Home

You can never have enough shooting in the NBA.  Or can you?  Former first-round pick Luke Babbitt apparently didn’t find any suitors in the league, so he signed a one-year deal with Russian club BC Nizhny Novgorod.

Portland decided not to pick up the option for the fourth year of Babbitt’s rookie contract last fall following another underwhelming season which saw him average 3.9 points and 2.2 rebounds  on 37 percent shooting.

This past year was Babbitt’s make-or-break season.  After playing well toward the end of the 2011-12 season (He ended the year shooting 43 percent from 3-point range), Babbitt was primed to have a productive season and there certainly was an opportunity with that dreadful bench.

Luke Babbitt - Getty Images
Luke Babbitt | (Getty Images)

But the former Nevada star failed to consistently produce (Albeit in limited minutes) and the franchise decided they’d seen enough.

A year in Europe might be good for Babbitt.  It gives him a chance to play more minutes and with their style of play over there, he should see plenty of open 3-pointers.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him in the NBA though.  Steve Novak was given a nice fat contract to sit in the corner shooting threes and he’s slower and less athletic than the former Blazer.  I have to imagine Babbitt will find a similar situation somewhere in the states.  At the very least he can be that specialist who comes in at the end of games to win fans free food.  He was always good for that.

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Fact or Fiction: CJ McCollum Will Finish the 2013-14 Season as a Starter

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CJ McCollum
CJ McCollum
(Jerry Lai-USA Today)

Considering CJ McCollum’s impressive talent and the relatively weak 2013 draft class with which he was drafted, at number ten, the Blazers got an absolute steal. While point guards such as Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams were uncomfortable at best and horrendous at worst in the NBA Summer League, McCollum looked right at home in the semi-NBA atmosphere and looked superior to the vast majority of his competition.

McCollum averaged 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 36% from the floor and 31% from the three-point line. I wouldn’t worry too much about the poor field goal percentage as the blueprint of summer league seems to be “there’s no I in team but there are multiple I’s in exhibition.”

But will McCollum crack the starting lineup? While analyzing this question, I want to analyze McCollum’s game.

Skill set– The two may be nowhere near mirror images of each other, but I see a lot of Brandon Roy in McCollum. While neither would be considered exceptional athletes, they both are exceptional at changing speeds, especially in pick and roll situations. McCollum likes to use the hesitation dribble to freeze his defender and then either cross over to set up either a driving lane or open outside shot. Also, Both Roy and McCollum thrive in the seemingly extinct area of the court between the three-point line and the paint, i.e. the mid-range. When his defender cuts off his angle to the hoop, McCollum will spin backwards and shoot a fade away jumper. He also utilizes a feathery floater. This shot could be crucial to his success in the NBA considering his lack of size or elite athleticism will prevent him from being able to attack the rim consistently. Just ask last year’s number 10 pick Austin Rivers how important a consistent floater is to NBA success for undersized scoring guards. He arguably won the title of worst rotation player in the NBA partially do to his lack of consistent finesse shots in the face of treelike NBA centers.

But one thing that McCollum possesses that B-Roy lacked coming out of college is a proficient three-point shot. Despite only shooting 31 % from deep in summer league, in four years at Lehigh, he averaged 38%. While his shot looks somewhat unorthodox, it does look fluid and consistent in release point.

What position does McCollum play?

To me, McCollum seems like a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. While he does run the pick and roll well, he doesn’t seem to be all that comfortable setting up his teammates and commanding the offense. His assist-to-turnover ratio in college was only 2.7/2.4 in the Patriot League. Even if he matches those statistics is the NBA, accumulating only .3 more assists than turnovers is simply not good enough for an NBA point guard. On the other hand, he does not have the necessary size and strength to matchup with most shooting guards. Opposing backcourts would chomp at the bit when seeing a Lillard and McCollum combination on the starting lineup card. Obviously McCollum would have no business guarding elite shooting guards like Dwyane Wade or James Harden, but could he even guard middle of the road guards like Lance Stephenson or Wilson Chandler? I have my doubts. Luckily for McCollum, the crop of talented shooting guards in the NBA is scarce.

Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews isn’t too bad either

Let’s not forget what we have:

Wesley Mathews might not be as intriguing or as offensively talented as McCollum, but he provides everything the Blazers need out of a starting two guard. The Blazers have scoring power in spades in its starting lineup and the last thing Portland need is a rookie to take shots away from Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. The four things Portland needs out of a starting two guard are defense, energy, toughness and three-point shooting. At this point in his career, McCollum is not as good as Mathews at any of these four attributes. Mathews is a sneaky good three-point shooter, hovering around 40% for his career. He is also a tough defender possessing the necessary speed and strength to keep elite guards like Kobe Bryant and Wade honest.

The most likely way Mathews will relinquish his starting spot to McCollum would be due to injury. Although Mathews has been quite durable throughout his NBA career he had a platelet-rich plasma injection on his ankle and an arthroscopic procedure on his elbow this offseason. Plus, the full throttle nature with which Mathews plays could hinder his durability.

But although I don’t think McCollum will start by the end of the season, I do think he will do a great job as a bench warmer and enthusiastic clapper for his Blazer teammates! Just kidding. I see McCollum as becoming the leading scorer off the bench by the middle of the season and providing useful relief for both Mathews and especially Lillard, who logged the most minutes in the NBA as a rookie last season.

I see McCollum as turning out to be a more unselfish version of Jamal Crawford and potentially being a future 6th man of the year candidate. But will he start over Wesley Mathews by the end of his first year? Highly doubtful.

[yop_poll id=”32″]

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What We’ve Learned From The Blazers Summer League Play

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The Portland Trail Blazers are four games into NBA Summer League play and the one question to ask is, have we learned anything about these players so far?  The answer to that question is, maybe.

Let’s take a look at each player who will be on the roster for the upcoming season (Sorry Cedric Jackson, Dallas Lauderdale, Olek Czyz, Terrel Harris and Dexter Strickland) and point out one like and one dislike from their play so far.

CJ McCollum

Like:  It’s hard to narrow this down to one like for the Blazers’ 2013 first round pick but I will go with his overall poise on the basketball court.  Remember, McCollum hadn’t played since January after breaking his foot.  Despite all that time away from competitive basketball, McCollum looked calm under pressure in his first summer league game.

CJ McCollum - USA TODAY Sports
CJ McCollum | (USA TODAY Sports)

Scoring 22 points, grabbing 3 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists, the former Lehigh player was under control for most of the game.  He carried that demeanor and consistency over to the next three games.  So far McCollum is third overall in scoring averaging 20.8 points per game.  He’s been Portland’s best player by far and fans should be even more excited about what he’ll bring to the team this upcoming season.

Dislike:  Shot selection.  Among the five leaders in scoring, McCollum has the worst shooting percentage by a wide margin.  At just 37 percent, McCollum has forced up a lot of shots so far and many times they haven’t had a prayer of going in.  For a young player, it is expected he will try to do too much, especially in summer league where arrant shots are commonplace. But once the regular season comes along, coaches and fellow players will rain him in.  If you’re going to take a shot, make sure it’s a good one.

Thomas Robinson

Like:  Rebounding.  The one thing everyone knew Robinson could do well is rebounding and in the last two games in particular, Robinson has been a beast on the glass.  Recording 18 and 17 rebounds respectively, the former Kansas standout has been a human magnet for the ball.

The rebounding coupled with his hustle and athleticism will be major factors in his development and they are perfect ingredients for a bench player to contribute.  This putback dunk was also not too shabby.

Dislike:  Scoring mentality.  Robinson appears to have the green light to go one-on-one but overall it hasn’t been affective.  He’s settled for too many outside shots and while he appears to have a good handle for a big man, seeing him attempt to take his man off the dribble can be painful at times.  He should reside in the paint at all times.  Portland has plenty of guys to take the outside shot.

Meyers Leonard

Like:  Shooting.  Leonard was already an above-average shooter for a center, but his shooting stroke has been pretty to watch.  The majority of centers who can shoot from the outside aren’t built like Leonard.  He has the muscle to bang in the paint and the talent to fill it up from the outside.  That’s a rare combination that reveals why Portland selected him with the 11th pick in the 2012 draft.  He’s shot 50 percent from the field and he even made a 3-pointer during Portland’s win against Atlanta on Wednesday.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz
Meyers Leonard | (USA TODAY Sports)

 

Dislike:  Everything else.  Leonard has said that during the offseason, he’s been working on his interior play both offensively and defensively but so far, the “chicken with his head cutoff” Leonard has been far too present.

He still has trouble judging where a ball will bounce off the rim for a rebound resulting in diminished rebounding numbers so far.  After grabbing 9 in his first game, Leonard has only managed 13 in the following 3 games.  Not what you want from a 7-1 center.

He also said he’s improved his defense when it comes to keeping his hands up when a player attacks him at the rim.  While he has managed to reduce the number of fouls called on him in each game, he’s still showing a propensity to bring his hands down on smaller players resulting in a foul.  You’re 7-feet tall man?  Use that length.  But it’s only four games, his raw potential far outweighs his deficiencies at this point.

Will Barton

Like:  Fearlessness.  Barton bounced back from his leg injury which caused him to miss the team’s game against Chicago.  In 37 minutes against Atlanta, Barton finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists and he made the game-winning basket with 9 seconds remaining.  It wasn’t exactly pretty, but Barton’s off-balance baseline jumper sealed Portland’s first win in the summer league.

Barton’s mentality of throwing caution to the wind and giving it his all out on the basketball court is something every bench player should have.  He isn’t afraid to make mistakes and that will serve him well when it comes time for coach Terry Stotts to look at the bench and decide who to put in when the team needs a spark.

Dislike:  Overstepping his bounds.  Fearlessness can also lead to wreckless abandon.  Barton’s stat line from Wednesday also included 7 turnovers and 0-5 from 3-point range.  Barton is the opposite of McCollum in that he never seems to be in control.  He’s like the Tazmanian Devil out there just putting his head down and causing havoc both good and bad.

He needs to realize that shooting isn’t his strong suit and focus on other aspects of his game.  He made a wonderful pass to Robinson late in Wednesday’s game and he definitely has the potential to be a playmaker.  If there was one player I would tell him to try an emulate, it would be Tony Allen.  Hone all that crazy into becoming a speciality player that teams have to prepare for.

Victor Claver

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz
Victor Claver | (USA TODAY Sports)

Like:  Intelligence.  Claver just has a high basketball I.Q.  He makes smart passes, goes after the ball and is active on defense.  His size (6-10, 230 pounds) coupled with his versatility allow him to play multiple positions and he’s certainly shown flashes of being a talented NBA player.

Dislike:  The shooting isn’t getting any better.  Claver went 2-12 against Atlanta including a couple of air-ball shots.  He’s shooting a horrible 24 percent from the floor overall and the majority of his shots are always short.  The shot selection is mostly good, but he just hasn’t developed that part of his game yet.

He has a lot of potential and his ability to do so many things well will go along way in getting minutes, but if you can’t shoot, your time in the NBA may be limited.

Joel Freeland

Like:  His continued efficiency.  Despite playing roughly 18 minutes a game, Freeland is contributing 6 points, 5 rebounds and 1 block while shooting 45 percent.  Those are solid numbers for a bench guy getting limited minutes.  He’s not flashy in any way but at the end of the night when you look at the box score, it shows he’s done something.

Dislike:  He’s unmemorable.  Robinson’s play in the last two games does not bode well for Freeland going into the season.  It’s looking more and more likely that Freeland will be the forgotten man on the bench.  He rarely makes mistakes when he’s out there, but Robinson and Leonard are just sexier picks with better upside.

Freeland has a future in this league as a serviceable backup (I’m envisioning a stop in San Antonio for him) but I just can’t see it happening in Portland.  This guy has been in the Blazers’ organization for seven years now, but I can’t see it lasting too much longer.

Allen Crabbe

Like:  His potential.  Portland management has said that picking Crabbe in the second round was a steal, but so far I haven’t seen a whole lot from him.  The good news is he isn’t jacking up a lot of shots.  He hasn’t taken more than 8 in any game so he appears to know when to shoot and when to pass it up.

Dislike:  Shooting hasn’t been there.  While he hasn’t shot the ball a lot, the ones he has taken haven’t been going in.  Through four games he’s shooting 30 percent from the floor.  His 17 minutes against Atlanta on Wednesday resulted in 0 points on 0-1 shooting.  But the guy was the Pac-12 Player of the Year at Cal so I’ve got to imagine it’s just nerves at this point.  There’s still a couple more games for Crabbe to prove himself.  It’s still early.

Projecting the Portland Trail Blazers’ Depth Chart in 2013-14

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We’re not even two weeks into NBA Free Agency and yet the Portland Trail Blazers’ roster is just about set for the upcoming season.  The Blazers have 14 contracts on the books for next season with one spot open.  Terrel Harris, who was acquired via the Robin Lopez trade, is on a non-guaranteed contract and will more than likely be let go.  If that’s the case, Portland will still have a $2.6 million exception they can use to sign one more player.

But let’s not worry about the 15th player on the roster.  Now that there’s a clear picture on what the team will look like for next season, it’s time to project the depth chart for the 2013-14 season.

Point Guard:  Damian Lillard, Earl Watson

There’s not much to project here.  Damian Lillard was by far the best rookie in last year’s draft class, culminating in him winning Rookie-of-the-Year, and he is undoubtedly the future of the Blazer organization.  With all the trade speculation surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, Lillard is the only asset on the Blazers’ roster who is untouchable.

Earl Watson - Getty Image
Earl Watson | (Getty Image)

But as much as we all loved Lillard last year, leading the league in minutes played as a rookie probably wasn’t in his best interests moving forward.  But considering the team’s backup point guard options, can you blame coach Terry Stotts for playing him so much?

Ronnie Price and Nolan Smith are thankfully gone, but so is Eric Maynor, who provided some much-needed relief for Lillard during the second half of last season.  To fill the void, Portland signed veteran guard, and a Blazer pest over the years, Earl Watson to the veteran’s minimum.

Watson is a solid backup point guard who hopefully has a little bit left in the tank.  The 34-year-old is an excellent defender and his years of experience could prove to be invaluable for both Lillard and rookie CJ McCollum.  I can’t see him playing a lot of minutes, but at the very least you can count on him to run the team and not make mistakes.

Shooting Guard:  Wesley Matthews, CJ McCollum, Will Barton, Allen Crabbe

Wesley Matthews has been the starting two guard for the Blazers since Brandon Roy’s career was cut short due to injuries.  To say he has filled the giant void left by Roy would be an understatement.  Matthews is one of the toughest and competitive players in the league and his 3-point shooting and perimeter defense have been great.

But the question is, how good is CJ McCollum?  He’s third in the odds to win Rookie-of-the-Year and because of his similar background to Lillard (4-year player, small school, good character), the former Lehigh standout is expected to contribute immediately.

Unless he has a spectacular first season like Lillard did, I can’t see McCollum supplanting Matthews as the starting two guard for two reasons: his lack of size and defensive deficiencies.  The Blazers can’t afford to start two 6-3 guards on the wing no matter how dynamic they are on offense.

CJ McCollum - dishingtherock.com
CJ McCollum | (dishingtherock.com)

The great thing about Matthews and Nicolas Batum is that they are outstanding perimeter defenders who make up for Lillard’s defensive lapses.  I can see Lillard and McCollum being on the floor together in spurts (similar to when Maynor played with Lillard last season) and have Lillard play off the ball, but unless the two young guards improve dramatically on defense, the team can’t afford to have them play heavy minutes together.

Will Barton showed some flashes down the stretch last season.  His irratic play from earlier in the season decreased once he was given the opportunity to play more minutes.  He seemed much more free and confident on the court.  Hopefully that late-season surge carries over into next season.  Barton has the potential to give Portland what they desparately needed last season; scoring punch and energy off the bench.

Barton has a little irrational-confidence guy in him and his ability to rebound at the guard position is a valuable tool the Blazers can utilize in their second unit.  With so many new faces in Portland, it will be tough for Barton to crack the rotation, but due to his resurgence at the end of last season, Barton should be ready to contribute when needed.

Selecting Crabbe in the second round was considered a steal for the Blazers.  The former Pac-12 Player-of-the-Year is considered an elite shooter with good size.  If he can consistently make shots, there’s an opportunity for him to move above Barton in the depth chart.

Small Forward:  Nicolas Batum, Dorell Wright, Victor Claver 

Nicolas Batum was more than living up to the contract he signed a year ago in Portland before nagging injuries stunted his play and confidence.  You could make the argument that Batum was playing at an All-Star level during the first half of last season as his scoring rebound and assist numbers all increased dramatically.

While none of the injuries he sustained last season appear to be serious, the big thing to watch with Batum is his confidence.  When he’s engaged, Batum is a tremendous playmaker who can score, penetrate or pass at a high level.  The disappearing acts that plagued him earlier in his career seemed to be behind him, but once the injuries occurred, Batum appeared to be too passive and unwilling to contribute offensively.

With an entire offseason to get healthy, I see Batum returning to an All-Star caliber level.  With the additions made to the roster, Batum will hopefully not have to play huge minutes which contributed to his injuries.

Dorell Wright - Jesse D. Garrabrant:NBAE
Dorell Wright | (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Speaking of additions to the roster.  One of the better moves Portland made was signing Dorell Wright to a two-year deal.  Wright is a nine-year veteran who has proved he can shoot and defend at a high level.  Two years ago he was given an opportunity to start for Golden State and averaged 16.4 points-per-game while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range.

He won’t put up those numbers in a reserve role, but his career numbers of 9 points  and 4 rebounds are better than what the team saw from Luke Babbit.  Wright is more of a scorer than a shooter, but whether he’s hot or not, Wright isn’t afraid to take a shot when it’s given to him.  That’s exactly what a team needs in a bench player.

Due to the injuries to Batum, Matthews and Aldridge last season, Victor Claver was usually the player Stotts called upon to take their place in the starting lineup.  At 6-10, 230 pounds, Claver is a versatile player who can play multiple positions and his basketball intelligence was better than other young players.

But the reason he will be third on the small forward depth chart is because of his less-than-desirable shooting ability.  Some of his misses, both from the free-throw line and 3-point strike, where among the ugliest I’ve ever seen.  While 49 games might be too small a sample to judge the shooting ability of a player, Claver’s ugly misses are too glaring to ignore.  If he can dramatically improve his jump-shot, then Claver will definetely find minutes in the Blazers rotation.  But that’s a big if at this point.

Power Forward:  LaMarcus Aldridge, Thomas Robinson, Joel Freeland

You know what you’re getting from Aldridge.  He’s an All-Star, the best player on the team and arguably the best power forward in the game.  So I’m going to move on to the most interesting player on the Blazers’ roster.

Thomas Robinson - Bill Baptist:NBAE
Thomas Robinson | (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

In last week’s Blazers’ Corner, I wrote about the mystery and intrigue surrounding Thomas Robinson.  The fifth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Robinson has already been traded twice in his young career.  He won’t see a lot of minutes playing behind Aldridge, but his rebounding ability and athleticism will enable him to play both the four and five.  Besides McCollum, Robinson is the player I’m most interested to see play in the Summer League.

Joel Freeland has a chance to move ahead of Robinson in the depth chart as well as play a little center.  He’s a crafty offensive player with years of experience playing overseas.  But in order for him to crack the rotation, Freeland will have to improve on the defense end.  He’s a smart player who doesn’t make mistakes, but he lacks Robinson’s attractive and freakish athleticism.

The margin for error is paper thin for Freeland.  The organization wants to see what they have in Robinson which will likely result in Freeland riding the pine (or comfortable chairs in the case of the NBA).  The Blazers will pay Freeland more than $3 million this year.  That’s an expensive benchwarmer.

Center:  Robin Lopez, Meyers Leonard

The biggest offseason acquisition both literally and figuratively was the team obtaining Robin Lopez, AKA Sideshow Rob, in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.  The organization was never going to bring back J.J. Hickson, so the top priority was to find a legitimate 7-footer to clog up the lane and provide some defense and rebounding.

While Lopez is an immediate upgrade defensively over Hickson (just about anyone is), this pickup is good, but not great.  Lopez is coming off his best season statistically, but a starting center needs to average more than 5.6 rebounds per game.  He’s also quite slow on his feet which could be a problem in defensive pick-and-roles with Lillard.

But the encouraging thing about Lopez is that New Orleans gave him an opportunity to play more and he seized that opportunity.  The 15th pick in the 2008 draft, Lopez was unmemorable in four seasons in Phoenix, but he never averaged more than 19 minutes in any of those seasons.  In his lone season in New Orleans, Lopez doubled his minutes played which significantly increased his scoring shooting and defensive numbers.

He started all 82 games for the Pelicans, but his 26 minutes per game could have been more if not for Anthony Davis’ presence.  Lopez will likely play more minutes in Portland and the team should see even better numbers from him.

The number of minutes Lopez plays depends on the development of Meyers Leonard.  When Portland’s season was lost, Leonard was given an opportunity to play more and he proved to be a capable offensive player with great range for a big man.

But offense isn’t Leonard’s problem.  At 7-1, 250 pounds, Leonard needs to improve his defense and rebounding dramatically in order for him to challenge Lopez for the starting job.  Like most young bigs, Leonard struggled to move his feet, recognize when to collapse and when to run to the perimeter on pick-and-role defense and position himself for rebounds.

According to Leonard, he’s worked on those areas this offseason.  But the practice court is not the same as playing in a game so it remains to be seen how much he has learned and developed.  Playing behind Lopez should help Leonard in his improvement.  At the very least, now he has a fellow 7-footer to watch and guard in practice.

CJ McCollum Third in 2014 Rookie of the Year Odds

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CJ McCollum (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
CJ McCollum
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

According to BovadaLV the Blazers have the possibility of adding another rookie of the year trophy to the collection.  Bovada ranked guard CJ McCollum the third most likely rookie to win the award.

Fellow guards Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo rank one and two respectively.  Burke has 4/1 odds while Oladipo has 11-2 odds.  Mccollum is tied with former Georgetown forward Otto Porter at 15-2 odds.

Prior to his landslide victory in the rookie of the year race, Damian Lillard was given the second best odds to win the award behind 2012 number one pick Anthony Davis.

Strangely, despite being the number nine and ten picks, Burke and McCollum have some of the highest odds of anyone drafted.  This is likely because of both players tremendous success at the collegiate level and the perception that both are ready to play in the NBA immediately.

McCollum led his Lehigh team to an improbable victory over the Duke Blue Devils in the 2012 NCAA tournament and won patriot league player of the year twice in 2010 and 2012.

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Blazers Updates: Portland Doesn’t Offer Maynor, Aldridge Wants Out

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Terry Stotts (Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire)
Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts will have some big decisions to make
(Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire)

The Portland Trail Blazers are going to let go of Eric Maynor — a point guard the team acquired midway through last season. Maynor did all the things a backup to the Rookie of the Year was required to do, scoring 6.9 points and dishing out 4 assists per game in 27 outings in Portland, but the powers that be with the Blazers chose before Thursday’s draft not to extend the restricted free agent a qualifying offer.

The decision, GM Neil Olshey said, was based on financial concerns with the summer’s free agent market.

There’s also the matter of who the Blazers drafted that makes it a pretty wise decision. Though it will make it a young position, the drafting of C.J. McCollum to pair with 2013 Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard will present a number of possibilities that are cheaper than hanging onto Maynor.

It’s not easy though to say goodbye to any Blazer who performs the way Maynor did perform in his short stint in Oregon. Portland fans are the best and recognize the hustle players put on the floor and excellence they embody off it more than almost anyone. Maynor especially played well as a member of Portland’s extremely stagnant bench which frequently finished games under double digits in points.

Also in Blazer news this week, All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge reportedly requested to get out of Portland — to either Dallas or Chicago. Jason Quick of the Oregonian said that Aldridge called Portland too small and boring.

The Blazers have started some work on those sorts of deals, what with Aldridge’s contract being up at the end of next year. However, Chicago is unwilling to part with Joakim Noah and that makes any current deal to the Bulls a “non-starter.”

Back in May, Aldridge was tentative to talk about his role in the future, saying that he thought they had a great team and that he looked forward to what their cap room could provide.

But his talk has escalated recently, starting with the week before the draft. His future is now anything but certain and his destined location is probably anywhere but Portland as the ruling factions of the Trail Blazers appear to be trying to get their money‘s worth from the last pieces of the team’s former championship aspiration.

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