C.J. McCollum: Season Reflection and Bust Evaluation


In two days, the NBA Summer League kicks off for the Portland Trail Blazers. C.J. McCollum is entering his second year in the NBA and is listed on the Trail Blazers summer league roster. Drafted 10th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, McCollum has taken his share of rookie lumps. He suffered a re-broken foot in the 2013 pre-season that kept him out of the first two months of his first NBA season. While he has only been a professional for one season, there are some that are ready to label him as the next Trail Blazers bust.

A year in review reflection is something many people do on a yearly basis. It is a great way to figure out what went right and how to fix the wrongs in the upcoming year. McCollum reflected on his rookie season, putting his thoughts into words for a blog on Basketball Insiders. Here is a snippet of his thoughts:

"“Overall, I am grateful for the situation I was drafted into with the Portland Trail Blazers, because I wasn’t given anything. I wasn’t gifted minutes “just because.” I was lucky enough to be put in a situation where I could learn and gain valuable experience from veterans. This makes me that much more hungry, and ready for success, especially when I have watched my peers succeed.”"

McCollum has experienced team success as a rookie lottery pick. The Trail Blazers were not expected to be competitive but made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. This is something that is very rare in the NBA. Most lottery picks are on teams that don’t make the playoffs. Those teams are in rebuilding stages and are not looking to win now. Lottery picks on teams in the developmental phase sometimes play heavy minutes and are often either successful or labeled a bust.

If McCollum was forced to play heavy minutes backing up Damian Lillard, he probably would have a different view of his season. Most likely, the media and fans would call him a bust. Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com recently broke down the 2013 Draft class in order to project the future of its members. Using his projection method, Pelton considers McCollum a bust. His reasoning is somewhat skewed but does have some validity. McCollum played all four years in college (which hardly ever happens these days) and most thought that would make him more NBA ready.

I was convinced that McCollum was a natural scorer and would be a perfect backup to Lillard. I didn’t expect it to be instantaneous but I did believe he would receive playing time by the end of the season. He proved that he can score but success in the NBA requires a whole lot more than that. No matter how much time you play in college, the transition to the NBA is the same for everyone. It’s not easy and most players fail to meet their potential early in their career. Let’s hope that McCollum continues to put in the work and improve in order to prove Pelton and his other critics wrong.

This could be a little more difficult now that Steve Blake has rejoined the Trail Blazers fold. Blake will absorb most of the minutes at backup point guard, leaving McCollum to scrap with Will Barton and, potentially, Allen Crabbe for minutes at the 2 behind Wesley Matthews. The Trail Blazers see McCollum as more of a shooting guard anyway, so with any luck he is up to the task. It will be interesting to see what his usage in Summer League looks like compared to Barton’s, as that could provide a small window into his level of readiness and the Trail Blazers’ intentions with him.

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