As the Trail Blazers prepared for the 2013 NBA Draft around this time last year, there was talk that C.J. McCollum, a talented combo-guard out of Lehigh, could be available for Portland to take with the 10th selection. He was, the Trail Blazers swooped, and his promising season to come was almost immediately snuffed out when he re-broke his left foot in pre-season. Even after return from injury, the anticipated Rookie of the Year frontrunner faded into the woodwork. He is now the subject of trade discussion as often as he is team building.
Let us not undervalue the latter. I think many of us are still eager to see how quickly McCollum develops and what he develops into. Lately, Trail Blazers talk has been consumed by the touted ‘win now’ mentality, so much so that every Tom, Dick, and Harry has mentioned McCollum in one trade scenario or another (myself included). However; I believe it would be a mistake to ship him out without at least giving him a proper chance. Consider, for a moment, how he stacks up against this former Trail Blazer that was never given a chance in Portland:
That’s about as close as you will get to an identical stat-line. Mills was somewhat neglected by Nate McMillan three years ago just as McCollum was somewhat neglected by Terry Stotts this year. Of course, this year, Mills played a pivotal role on a championship team while McCollum merely watched his teammates from the bench like the Mills of old. They are not quite the same player, but given similar opportunities, they could fill similar roles.
Developmentally, McCollum may even have an advantage over Mills on paper. Although I chose to compare the two in years when they were the same age, you may have realized that while it was McCollum’s rookie season, it was Mills’ second season in the league. Mills had already spent one year practicing with his team at that point in time, while McCollum could not have done so. Despite this experiential discrepancy, McCollum put up the same in-game numbers as Mills. He also played in 26 fewer games.
Where McCollum is at a disadvantage is coaching. Even if he is afforded the trust in Portland that Mills never was, I do not think he will realize his full potential as quickly under Stotts as Mills did under Gregg Popovich. Fortunately, there is a good chance that McCollum’s full potential is higher than that of Mills, despite the deserved hype train Mills is riding into free agency this year.
Again, that whole “full potential” business does not deal in immediacy. If the Trail Blazers want McCollum to be their backup point guard (or starting shooting guard) of the future, they need to keep him, teach him, and use him. The best teams can make ‘win now’ contributors out of their best building blocks. McCollum is one of Portland’s best. His potential is just as apparent as Mills’ was, if not more so, and he is in position to capitalize if the Stotts gives him more responsibility.