After a wild draft early on that saw Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore drop to 5th and 6th, while UNLV forward Anthony Bennett went 1st, the Blazers got to choose their next big rookie with the 10th pick of the draft. I had hoped for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (taken 8th by the Pistons, breaking the Timberwolves’ hearts), but the Blazers’ selection, CJ McCollum, is far from a booby prize.
McCollum is a 6’3” combo guard out of Lehigh University (Pennsylvania) and he could be just what the Blazers need. The Portland bench was mournfully inept last season and McCollum has shown an aptitude for leadership. He will almost certainly be used to ignite the offense in the Blazer’s second rotation.
First things first; let’s get to know McCollum a little bit. A four year collegiate athlete like Damian Lillard, he is a two time Patriot League Player of the Year (2010, 2012) and the league’s all time leading scorer. He also has a great head on his shoulders, opting to wait until this year to enter the draft so that he could finish his journalism degree.
On the court, McCollum can be deadly. He is most well known for his ability to create his own offense; great news since he may find himself at backup point guard from time to time, with no Lillard to come with the assist. The hesitation crossover is his signature move and he uses it to get to the rack, the line, and the scoreboard.
McCollum is also a phenomenal shooter off the dribble. His jumpshot is pure as the driven snow and a constant danger to opponents, as he is able to pull up at virtually any time. He averaged 23.9 points his senior year at Lehigh, though the sample size (12 games) may have caused some inflation since he broke his foot partway through the season.
What impresses me most about McCollum is his handles. He is one of those point guards that can make his defender look absolutely foolish en route to the rim. It’s not uncommon to see him shake defenders like Andre 3000 told him to and receive an And-1 for his efforts. So what’s the drawback?
Well, he’s not the most athletic guy. Sure, he’s got a quick first step, but we won’t be seeing many rim-rocking finishes. This average athleticism translates to defense as well, where he sometimes struggles to keep opponents in front of him and disappears behind screens. My biggest concern is how he will perform when his broken foot is fully healed. His general lack of explosiveness could be what holds him back in the NBA.
I’m very interested in the implications drafting McCollum has for the rest of the roster. Suddenly Eric Maynor is the elephant in the room. I have been saying since the season ended that the Blazers would be wise to re-sign Maynor in free agency, but it is looking like that might not happen now. There is no use wasting either McCollum or Maynor behind the other.
If another NBA team offers Maynor more than the Blazers want to pay him, the Blazers are unlikely to keep him around. I would hate to see him go, but there is a silver lining. McCollum is only owed $1.8 million for his rookie year compared to Maynor’s $3.3 million qualifying offer. Now that the Blazers have some wiggle room in the backcourt, they stand to save money for other free agents.
As for Matthews, his starting role is probably not in danger this year. However; McCollum’s rookie contract is set to expire at the same time as Wesley’s current contract (2015) and the Blazers may test McCollum at shooting guard to see what their landscape will look like down the road. If McCollum flourishes, they are in a much more flexible position.
From a court-sharing standpoint they should play well off of each other. In the instance that Lillard needs a rest and McCollum takes over, CJ’s ability to penetrate will create openings for Matthews on the perimeter. That’s the beauty of that quick first step; the defense is forced to collapse and stop the drive, leaving other players unattended. Those four years in college give McCollum the same court vision that makes Lillard so lethal, and I’d be shocked if he couldn’t find an open Matthews in the corner.
For the most part, though, I see CJ coming off the bench for Wes. This is the setup that makes my mouth water; Lillard and McCollum in the two point guard system like Lin and Harden of the Houston Rockets. Lillard can run the pick and roll with Aldridge (McCollum is still lacking in the P+R) and McCollum can sneak the corner while Batum cuts backdoor on the weak side. Alternatively, McCollum can set up the play while Lillard draws the defense out of the middle with Aldridge screening. There are so many options with both on the floor.
Ultimately, what McCollum brings to the Blazers, regardless of rotation, is efficiency. This comes from his aforementioned ability to create shots for himself (hopefully, his ability to create shots for others will develop in time). His senior year at Lehigh, he shot 49.5% overall and 51.6% from the arc. If any of that translates to professional ball, the Blazers will have found a go-to shooter to keep games from running away from them. Those numbers are unprecedented for a guard of any kind.
I know many of you (myself included) were hoping the Blazers could fill a more dire need with the 10th pick, as point guard is very well spoken for, but Olshey’s strategy of drafting talent over need may pay off sooner rather than later, as McCollum could be an immediate contributor. Drafting McCollum at 10 is a steal, and the Blazers have another strong piece for their future. Now about interior defense…