Damian Lillard’s absence may lead to CJ McCollum stock boom

Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

It was recently reported that Damian Lillard will miss the Portland Trail Blazers‘ upcoming six-game road trip, and instead, spend that time meeting with specialists to discuss his nagging abdominal injury. Potentially, fans may have already seen Lillard suit up for the last time this season. On the bright side, CJ McCollum is expected to return following the birth of his and Dr. Elise McCollum’s first child.

The last time McCollum played professional basketball was on December 4, 2021, in a massive home loss against the Boston Celtics. Since CJ’s been ruled out with a collapsed lung, the Trail Blazers have struggled heavily, going 5-11 in his absence. This woeful stretch has come despite strong play from Norman Powell without Dame and CJ and the supernova explosion of Anfernee Simons.

With the Trail Blazers currently in the 10-seed and essentially ruled out as a contender for the 2022 NBA title, the focus has shifted from winning games to winning future transactions. A big key in that will be rebuilding McCollum’s trade value.

CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs
CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

CJ McCollum will prove he can serve as an offensive engine for the Portland Trail Blazers in Damian Lillard’s absence

It’s astounding how quickly people have forgotten who CJ McCollum is: a bona fide offensive star and elite shot creator.

Between his uninspiring series last playoffs against the Denver Nuggets and his struggles to start the 2021-2022 season, McCollum’s trade value has taken a hit. His recent collapsed lung won’t help either.

These detriments have seemingly erased the jaw-dropping performances that CJ McCollum has crafted over the years from people’s minds. With Damian Lillard possibly sidelined for the foreseeable future, though, future father CJ McCollum has a perfect opportunity to remind them just what he’s made off.

CJ has appeared in 19 games sans his NBA Top-75 backcourt partner since the 2019-2020 season. In those contests, he’s averaged 28.1 points and 6.6 assists, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 37 percent from deep, according to statmuse.

There’s only one player in the league matching those numbers this season, LeBron James. The only one who hit those marks in 2020-2021? Damian Lillard.

This alone should prove that CJ McCollum is a top-tier offensive creator when he needs to shoulder that responsibility. For those that are still doubting, there’s more evidence where that came from.

A truly elite offensive creator should be largely responsible for the majority of his team’s baskets when he’s on the floor, be able to create good looks for himself when the offense gets bogged down, and set up up his teammates for easy opportunities.

In the 2020-2021 NBA season, the Portland Trail Blazers scored 120.7 points for every 100 possessions that CJ McCollum was on the floor. Of that 120.7 points, CJ scored 16.9 of those points, completely unassisted — purely creating for himself off of the dribble, not even counting free throws opportunities he got himself.

Of the remaining 103.8 points that the Trail Blazers tacked on while McCollum was on the floor, at least another 13.6 points were created from his assists. That means that CJ either created for himself or others 25.2 percent of the Trail Blazers offense when he was on the floor.

Let’s compare that to some other renowned offensive engines in the NBA in the 2020-2021 season:

LeBron James – 36.3 percent

Chris Paul – 39.4 percent

James Harden – 42.7 percent

While CJ’s numbers seem paltry in comparison to those figures, keep in mind that James, Paul, and Harden were all primary ball-handlers for their respective teams. CJ played next to one in Dame.

Damian Lillard – 35 percent

Let’s take a look at some elite second options as a better litmus test:

Devin Booker – 24.1 percent

Paul George – 26.3 percent

Jamal Murray – 23.4 percent

So while CJ McCollum isn’t quite in the same hemisphere as a LeBron James, Chris Paul, James Harden, or Damian Lillard as an offensive creator, he should be viewed on the same tier as Booker, George, and Murray.

Should he have an upcoming stretch where he’s featured as the Portland Trail Blazers’ primary engine, McCollum should easily remind people just how dominant he can be.

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