With the departure of Mo Williams to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Blazers find themselves with a hole in their bench. While Williams’ nine points and handful of assists can be replaced, there is something about having a “sixth starter” that can agitate the offense, keep the defense on their heels, and provide fluidity and movement when your starters are resting.
The two obvious candidates to fill that role are Will Barton and C.J. McCollum. While the Blazers were able to snag Steve Blake with their biannual exception, he thrives in a system in which he can be a facilitator of the offense (not the focal point), or a spot up shooter.
Williams, Blake is not, and most Blazers fans might be more than okay with that. But, for however much Williams may have frustrated us with his terrible shot selection and his propensity to turn the ball over while sprinting headlong into traffic, there is no denying that he did spark the bench. All one needs to do is look at who else was available to sub in for the Blazers backcourt: Victor Claver, Earl Watson, Allen Crabbe, Dorell Wright… these are not players that inspire confidence, or players that you want seeing running your offense pretty much ever. So who between McCollum and Barton will step up?
The more natural fit to replace what Mo offered is Barton. He is reckless, ever churning, ever worming his way down the court in inexplicable and endlessly entertaining ways. Does it always lead to something positive? Absolutely not, but that’s not nevessarily the point. Barton offers an indefinable, unteachable energy and confidence that nobody else on the Blazers has, save for Damian Lillard. While LaMarcus Aldridge is the Blazers’ best player, he does not have the swagger of the People’s Champ. For that reason alone, Barton seems like he is Williams’ natural successor
However; there are other considerations. With Steve Blake and Chris Kaman now coming off the bench– two guys who are more likely to thrive in a structured environment– does it make sense to have someone who churns the water of your offense more violently than a broken washing machine?
The more system-oriented choice is four-year college veteran (and now one year NBA “veteran”) McCollum. Sure, he doesn’t play with the flash and pizzazz of Barton, nor did he show the growth Barton did toward the end of the season. A lot of this had to do with missing not only most of his senior year in college, but training camp and the first half of the season last year with injuries. But, as McCollum showed by averaging over 20 points per game during this year’s summer league, he knows how to score. He can shoot from outside, has some decent moves to get himself open in the mid range, and has a better floater anyone else on the team. That is a nice suite of weapons to pull from if you want to be an impact offensive player.
McCollum doesn’t have Barton’s confidence, but he doesn’t necessarily need to create in order to keep himself going, while Barton thrives on making noise, whether or not it turns out to be the right decision for the moment. Barton is arguably more ready for the limelight right now, but I am intrigued by what McCollum can offer, especially if he shows growth this year. Who would you rather be the first Blazers guard off the bench?