There is still no official date set for the surgery to repair CJ McCollum’s left foot. The fractured 5th metatarsal he sustained in the Blazers’ practice on Saturday is the exact same injury that put an early end to his college career. When he broke his foot for the first time, the timeline for his return was 8-10 weeks. At this point, that schedule is optimistic.
Even if CJ McCollum is ready to resume basketball activities by early December, he is unlikely to be 100% ready for a return. Moreover, the Blazers will take every precaution regarding the health of their 2013 first round draft pick. A repeat injury of this severity should be a wakeup call, if not a red flag. McCollum is talented, but sometimes the Blazers will have to go without.
So how does that affect the rest of the team in the meantime?
Well, for starters, Will Barton and Allen Crabbe will no longer be duking it out for leftover scrap minutes. Instead, they will be competing for meaningful, developmental minutes. Iron Man Wesley Matthews will continue to start, but his protégé has temporarily changed.
McCollum is excellent on the drive as well as spot-up jumpers. Interestingly enough, Barton and Crabbe split the difference. While I would be off-base to call Barton a “finisher” at this point, he has the reckless confidence to get to the rim, whereas Crabbe prefers to have the ball fed to him at the 3-point line. The beneficiary is situational.
Barton is more NBA ready in my opinion. Believe me, I know how crazy it sounds to even string those words together, but it’s true. He has a season under his belt, he’s got the energy Portland needs from the bench, and he has spurts of genuine contribution. If he can ease past backyard hero ball, he may find a secure spot while McCollum recovers.
On the other hand, the name of the game for the Blazers this year is spacing; which Barton offers little help with. He shot just 9/65 from deep last season, for an abysmal 13.8 percent. Enter Allen Crabbe. Crabbe shot 38.2 percent from deep over a three year college career. He may not have handles, but defenders will certainly need to step out on him.
In that regard, it’s entirely possible that Crabbe sees the largest upshoot in anticipated court time. If the two played for minutes 1-on-1, I’d give it to Barton, but basketball is a team sport and the Blazers will have to choose what is best for the team. If that means Crabbe leapfrogging Barton for McCollum’s backup slot until December (minimum), so be it.
However, who’s to say that sixth man Mo Williams won’t swing to the 2 from time to time? He did so rather successfully for the Clippers in 2011-2012, and the fact that Portland was ready to play the 6’3” McCollum at shooting guard shows a little flexibility when factoring in size. The Blazers could potentially play Lillard and Williams side-by-side, albeit for short stretches.
In this case, the implications of McCollum’s absence reach beyond available shooting guard minutes. Damian Lillard, who had been hoping to play fewer minutes after leading the league in minutes played as a rookie, would have to retake his mantle as the Blazers’ workhorse. Without Mo Williams always readily available to play point guard relief, we may see Lillard stay through the substitutions.
Fortunately, the Blazers’ are deep at point guard and shooting guard, so there are still plenty of options for them. In fact, while the team is now weaker in the absence of CJ McCollum, the guard rotation is less muddled. By the time McCollum is ready to rejoin the team, we will have seen a couple months of what Barton and Crabbe independently bring to the table; informing who will be solidified in the third string upon his return.