Rookie guard CJ McCollum has now contributed to five straight Trail Blazer victories, with varying levels of production. It’s easy to see why the Trail Blazers selected him with the 10th overall pick, though his talents will remain restricted to the bench this season, barring serious injury. He’s displayed areas of specialty, but has simultaneously exposed areas of his game that need improvement.
Where McCollum Excels
Spot up shooting: CJ McCollum played a lot of point guard at Lehigh, but Terry Stotts has plugged him in at shooting guard in Portland. McCollum has adjusted well to finding his shot without the ball in his hands. Already a capable three-point shooter, he has taken to the Trail Blazers offense immediately and knows how to get open. He is able to catch and shoot quickly. This is of utmost importance since, like Wesley Matthews, he will be the recipient of swing passes more often than he will get his own chance to pull up in most Trail Blazers sets.
Scoring in traffic: CJ McCollum has one shot in his repertoire that I wish Damian Lillard would pickup; the floater. Driving to get the call is useful when the whistles are going your way, but when they’re not you need to be able to finish. McCollum uses a hang dribble to penetrate and can score over larger opponents with high arcing touch. He can also stop on a dime to pull up instead. The latter is already a Mo Williams trademark, and both allow a split second advantage over unsuspecting defenders.
Fighting through screens: We haven’t seen McCollum play enough to determine his initial value as an overall defender, but I have been watching him closely on screens since icing the pick and roll is the cornerstone of Portland’s defense. He seems capable of fighting through hard picks without losing too much ground on his man. This is something that Williams and Lillard struggle with at times, though sample size would suggest that McCollum won’t be perfect in this regard either.
Where McCollum Struggles
Play making: McCollum doesn’t seem as confident as I thought he would be with the ball in his hands. When there is time on the shotclock to burn, his brain looks like it’s working a mile a minute while his physical reaction speed slows in accordance. McCollum is nervous with the reigns. If he’s not looking to score right away, he’s too eager to make a pass that may not necessarily be the right one. I’d like him to take better stock of defensive positioning before moving the ball.
Court Awareness: This will come with time, but for right now it’s noticeable enough to mention. McCollum knows how to move to get himself open, but his route can draw unwanted defenders to parts of the floor where teammates are trying to operate. On occasion, Mo Williams can be seen correcting him on the court, so I don’t anticipate this being an issue much longer. CJ McCollum is a quick study.
Through his first five contests, McCollum has averaged 5.8 points in 13.6 minutes per game. Though his action has been limited and scoring is not the end-all-be-all, it is worth noting that he is scoring more points than Mo Williams per 36 minutes, with much higher efficiency. If that trend continues while McCollum works on his shortcomings, the Trail Blazers will have to re-balance minute allocation to favor his development.
Overall, CJ McCollum has done well in his first little stretch of NBA action. He’s a bit shaky, but no more than can be expected from a rookie that sat out for one year with repeated injury. Moving forward, his primary job will be to score off the bench, and he’s shown that he can do that handily. McCollum introduced more positives than negatives to an already successful team and he’ll only get better from here on out.