C.J. McCollum had a rough rookie year that was at least partially caused by a variety of external factors. He missed the first 35 games of the season recovering from a re-broken foot suffered in pre-season, could not find a meaningful role upon return because the Trail Blazers were on a roll without him, and received no real responsibility from Terry Sotts who isn’t exactly known for trusting young players. That is what you will mostly hear, because it is mostly true, but there is one important piece of this puzzle that is seldom discussed.
As a bench player, McCollum frequently shared the court with Mo Williams. In fact, 255 of his total 476 rookie minutes (53.6 percent) were spent playing shooting guard while Williams ran the point. Remember that McCollum played mostly point guard in college, so it wasn’t exactly easy for him to come into his first NBA season halfway through, out of position, and play alongside Mo “black hole” Williams in the secondary.
Despite leading the league in assists off the bench last season, Williams was more of a scorer than a distributor. His job was to score as much as possible as quickly as possible, which was mostly achieved through volume shooting. For reference, he attempted more shots in 2013-14 than McCollum, Dorell Wright, Will Barton, and Allen Crabbe combined and was assisted on just 38.1 percent of attempts. That is what he was there for.
It worked out very well for the Trail Blazers on the whole, but it was not what McCollum needed for personal success. He was left to take a backseat when playing with Williams and take the wheel when he was not. Problem being, when he was not playing with Williams, there was almost no scoring help whatsoever from the rest of the bench. That is a difficult unit to man as a rookie with irregular minutes.
However; now that the Trail Blazers have acquired Chris Kaman and re-re-acquired Steve Blake, McCollum should have a much easier time excelling. Kaman can provide the additional scoring in the post that the Trail Blazers’ bench lacked last season, while Blake takes care of distribution. It has potential to be the perfect storm for McCollum to grow as an NBA wing.
Unlike Williams, Blake is a pass-first point guard. He can still score when called upon (at least from deep), but his primary focus will be on making everyone else better. Since McCollum is a pure shooter above all else, having Blake around to actually create shots for him will be a tremendous help; and since Kaman is a strong offensive center, McCollum won’t have to worry about being the solitary focal point of opposing defenses.
This all bodes very well for the Trail Blazers on paper. As I have stated before, McCollum’s improvement will be key to the effectiveness of the second unit, but the reverse of that holds true as well. The effectiveness of the second unit will be key to McCollum’s improvement. How he fits in this re-designed bench will shape him as a player and the Trail Blazers as a fully functioning whole. The offseason shift from Williams to Blake/Kaman is constructed to benefit McCollum.