Trey Burke and CJ McCollum entered the 2013 NBA Draft as the clear-cut best point guards available. Burke was selected with the 9th overall pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves (and foolishly traded to the Utah Jazz for Shabazz Muhammad), and CJ McCollum was selected 10th overall by the Portland Trail Blazers. Their struggle for positional dominance in the rookie class was one of my favorite covert plot lines of the coming season.
Prior to preseason, it seemed that McCollum had become the favorite. After impressing in Summer League, CJ McCollum tied Victor Oladipo in a survey of their peers for most likely to win Rookie of the Year. Burke came in fourth. Preseason would be the true side-by-side test; especially with back-to-back matchups between the Blazers and the Jazz, but McCollum re-broke the 5th metatarsal in his left foot, just two days before it all began.
With CJ McCollum out a probable 8-12 weeks (reevaluated after six) Trey Burke stole the advantage, but it would not last. One week later, on October 12th, Burke broke his right index finger during Utah’s matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. He was given the same 8-12 week timetable, so it looks like the gruesomely injured twosome will return to NBA action around the same time. This is where I drum my fingers with a sinister grin and wait.
Yes, serious injuries are always bad. I’m comfortable with that generality. But the emerging parallel between CJ McCollum and Trey Burke has reignited a quiet rivalry I thought had snapped with CJ’s foot. Michael Carter-Williams can do his best in Philly, and Victor Oladipo can make the PG transition while Orlando tanks, but the real point guard show begins in December. Which rookie will rise above and which will take a backseat?
CJ McCollum is a versatile scorer that can create his own shot. He is mentally and physically quick, but cannot be considered a natural facilitator. Still, his strengths fit well in Portland.
2012-2013 Statistics: 23.9 PPG, 2.9 AST, 5.0 REB, 1.4 STL, 49.5 FG%
Trey Burke is also an efficient scorer, but functions more as a court general. He gets excellent penetration off the dribble, and uses his court awareness to dish or finish.
2012-2013 Statistics: 18.6 PPG, 6.6 AST, 3.2 REB, 1.6 STL, 46.3 FG%
The rivalry becomes more complex when you consider each team’s rotation. Where Burke is a starter, McCollum comes off the bench. This is balanced by McCollum being a combo-guard, capable of getting minutes at the 1 and the 2. I’ve begun my countdown for their respective returns to see who ended up with the better deal. When healthy, they may be competing for more than point guard bragging rights—Rookie of the Year is anyone’s game.