CJ McCollum looked better in his professional debut than his stats suggested, garnering 13 points (shooting 6-13 overall and 0-4 from range), 6 boards, and 6 assists with 2 steals and 3 turnovers in just 17 minutes as the Idaho Stampede fell to the Rio Grande Vipers 109-104. The minutes restriction was very much by design, and pending an a-ok from McCollum and the team doctors, he should get some more run when the Stampede play again tomorrow.
The game was ugly. Real ugly. I guess we’re just used to the usual NBA standards of, you know, a cohesive team with talented players and a gameplan. There was no flow, no precision, and no organization so far as I could tell. I’m sure that’s just the nature of a league whose purpose is to give its players a chance to prove themselves and, at some point, move on. As my partner pointed out, it gives you an appreciation for just how good NBA players are.
It would be frightening to see what someone like Thomas Robinson could do against these guys. Come to think of it… Neil Olshey? You listening? That might not be such a bad idea.
CJ’s first play came with 6:30 left in the first quarter. He immediately broke down the defense and kicked it to the corner for an assist, looking about two clicks more athletic and talented than anyone else on the floor. The defense noticed, and he clearly had a target on his head from then on, which made the looks he DID earn all the more impressive.
That theme (CJ being better than everyone) was consistent throughout, even if he didn’t have the gaudiest stats. He looked faster, more capable, and just… better than everyone else. To anyone wondering how my nose got so brown, that’s exactly how you’d hope a lottery pick would look against D-League competition, injury or no injury. It was less a pleasant surprise and more a pleasant sigh of relief.
The second half saw more of the same disorganized, street ball-level play as the Vipers started pulling away. McCollum came in halfway through the third and contributed a bucket, a few assists and a few rebounds, but the deficit grew to double-digits. He didn’t see any fourth quarter action, and the Stampede closed to within two with 3:30 left, but couldn’t get over the hump.
The Stampede’s Pierre Jackson (5’11” guard who’s averaging 28.6 points per game) had 40 in this one, but if you had to choose which you’d want on your NBA team between him and McCollum it wouldn’t even be close. McCollum can create, can see the court very comfortably, and looked like an elite athlete compared to everyone else tonight. It will be interesting to see how CJ does against NBA competition.
- Seemingly out of nowhere, the color commentator contributes, in all seriousness, “I just want to say, the D-League is a GREAT competitive product!” Okay, then.
- McCollum got emphatically rejected more than once. No complaints there, as it was good that he was aggressive despite (as mentioned earlier) earning a disproportionate amount of attention from the defense.
- Case in point: The Stampede went on a fast break, with CJ McCollum running on the right and drawing pretty much all of the defenders’ attention, leaving the guy on the left side totally open for the finish.
- McCollum took the ball up for the last play of the first quarter and kind of stumbled, but used enough crossovers to get free and make the shot.
- Exemplifying the game’s shot selection, Dee Bost was open above the three… shimmied… put it between his legs twice two times fast… put it up… and… airball.
- Bad passes, blown layins, miffed fast breaks, and jacked up shots characterized this game. To me, it looked worse than low-level college. I guess that’s to be expected considering what I mentioned earlier about this not being a place where players play forever, but I wasn’t prepared for it.
- The Oregonian Joe Freeman wrote today that CJ won’t crack the rotation when he gets back to the Blazers. I respectfully disagree. He will likely take some minutes from Dorell Wright, and maybe even a couple from Mo Williams, based on how fluent he looked tonight. In some ways, he might feel a little more at ease in Portland, especially if Dame or LaMarcus share the floor with him to take the pressure off.
- The Idaho Stampede try for revenge as they take on the Rio Grande Vipers again tomorrow, Saturday Jan. 4 at 6 p.m. PST.