The Portland Trail Blazers’ second unit has taken shape nicely this offseason. The additions of Steve Blake and Chris Kaman in free agency have given them a level of depth that has been alien to the franchise for several years. Each man to be called off the bench has a specific role: Blake is there to distribute, C.J. McCollum is there to score, Dorell Wright is there to space the floor, Thomas Robinson is there to be aggressive, and Kaman is there to anchor.
However; not everyone has proven capable of filling their given niche. I have faith in the veterans (Blake, Wright, Kaman) and faith in Robinson based on last season’s performance, but McCollum (possibly through no fault of his own) has yet to prove himself to be a capable scorer in the NBA. He shot a paltry 41.6 percent from the field during his rookie season, for just 5.3 points in 12.5 minutes per game.
On the whole, I am not concerned about McCollum’s growth. He missed the first two months of last season with a broken foot before finding himself woefully out of sorts upon return. It was a rough rookie season. It happens. What I am concerned about is the immediacy with which he must replace the production of departed teammate Mo Williams. Is he ready?
If McCollum is unable to provide a spark at the wing, the whole second unit falls out of balance. Blake is no scorer, Wright is supposed to draw defenders away from the primary scorer, Robinson has embraced more of a defensive role, and Kaman needs more than one outside shooter to create space for him to do his thing. Where do the points come from if McCollum does not pose a reasonable offensive threat?
McCollum’s development will be the difference between a strong bench unit in reality and strong bench pieces on paper. The latter could at least partially mire the Trail Blazers in the same problem they have faced for the past two seasons: a lack of bench production.
The Trail Blazers will by no means be bad if McCollum doesn’t rapidly excel—that would be far too alarmist—but in order for them to function fluidly he has to make early improvements. If McCollum can make even a calculable sophomore leap (think Jeremy Lamb’s last year), the Trail Blazers will be one of the most complete benches in the league.