Despite the absence of fellow guard Mo Williams last night, CJ McCollum spent no more time on the court than usual. The nod went instead to 34 year old veteran Earl Watson, who saw the same number of minutes (12), but doesn’t normally play at all. This circumstantial perfect storm allows us a rare opportunity to compare the service of these two players as directly as possible.
Both players shot 100 percent from the field, though McCollum’s 4-4 (9 points) was far more impressive than Watson’s 1-1 (2 points). The point differential isn’t especially important because Watson is not intended to be a scorer. In fact, last night marked Watson’s first field goal of the season across 13 outings. However; it is certainly worth noting that McCollum has a more direct impact on the scoreboard.
He also looks a lot more comfortable on the floor. Regardless of who outranks who in career longevity, CJ McCollum has spent more time playing amongst his teammates than Earl Watson has. Watson looked out of sorts last night. Did anyone catch him attempting to intercept a pass for which he was not the intended recipient? The blunder resulted in one of his two turnovers (to McCollum’s one).
Leaving all that behind, let’s examine defense. Watson is an absolute liability. Do you know what happens when you’re too slow to defend your opponent? You commit FIVE fouls in 12 minutes. Hi guys, I’m a red flag. He would have fouled out two and a half times with starter minutes. McCollum, on the other hand, committed only two personals. His dearth of experience is balanced by young legs and a sharp mind.
Is anyone surprised that CJ McCollum outperformed Earl Watson? Probably not. My intention isn’t to convince you that McCollum has more to contribute anyway. It’s to illustrate a fundamental problem that will prevent him from succeeding with the Portland Trail Blazers unless it is resolved. McCollum barely registers as a priority to head coach Terry Stotts.
No Mo Williams to compete for minutes? Check. No Lance Stephenson to hamper execution? Check. Wesley Matthews struggling from the field? Check. Earl Watson in foul trouble? Check. How much more of a green light does Terry Stotts need to trust his prized rookie with a modicum of responsibility? It’s difficult to argue that big names win big games, when it was George Hill who burned Portland for a career high 37 points. A little more McCollum could have made a lot of difference.
So let’s broaden the scope. Terry Stotts has a reputation for neglecting the development of his young bench players. Do you see CJ McCollum having an impact this year? How about next year? If Mo Williams re-signs as he hopes to, the Trail Blazers’ backcourt rotation will remain the same. McCollum could be waiting a long time to contribute at the level he is capable of.
The Trail Blazers could try to trade him for a toy that Stotts would play with as the deadline approaches, but I don’t think that’s the right move here. I would rather see him stifled than gone, and there isn’t a lot out there that the Trail Blazers could get more use out of in return. McCollum’s rookie contract is cheap enough that it won’t hurt to save him for a rainy day. The enormity of his potential cannot be ignored.
Despite opposition, I still contend that if (and that’s a big if) Portland tries to move anyone at the deadline, it should be Mo Williams. At least over CJ McCollum. The only reason to trade the 22 year old instead of the 31 year old that fills the same role is to make a championship run. The Trail Blazers aren’t close enough to the Larry O’Brien trophy to lose sight of the long term. McCollum is on his way up and Williams is in decline, but either trade seems unlikely:
“We can and we need to improve defensively with what we have now, because I don’t anticipate any roster changes. Our growth is going to have to come from within. Our young players are going to have to continue to improve, our starters are going to have to continue to remain engaged, and we have shown — we would not have the record that we have if it were not for our defense. We have played very good defense in spots, but we have just not been consistent with it.”
– Terry Stotts via Sean Deveney, Sporting News NBA
So when does age priority translate to the basketball court as well as the trade block? Now is the time to test McCollum. With Williams away from the team indefinitely, Stotts needs to give McCollum more run. If he continues to improve, I would like to see Stotts consider a shift upon Williams return. Not a drastic one, but McCollum should be hitting the 15 minute mark on a nightly basis at this point. Even Meyers Leonard averaged 17.5 during his rookie campaign.
In the short term (this season) McCollum will probably remain an afterthought. Given the way Stotts uses him (or doesn’t) there is no reason to believe that will change. He can have an impact, but he won’t have an impact. That’s going to have to wait at least a year or two. It’s more of a frustration than an atrocity, but many of the league’s best have had to wait their turn. Ever look at Steve Nash’s rookie season? Unfortunately, it’s up to Terry Stotts to prepare him for it.
The Trail Blazers selected CJ McCollum with the 10th overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft. McCollum sat out 35 games with a broken foot and has averaged 5.2 points per game since joining the team.