C.J. McCollum and I have a history. I went to Duke University and McCollum was the main culprit in delivering my school one of its most embarrassing postseason losses. So, to me, McCollum is more than just the guy from the little school in Pennsylvania. He’s an old foe. Familiarity breeds something or another.
However, I like to consider myself an objective observer of basketball and not a raging partisan. So I figured I’d check my feelings at the door and write a tempered review of McCollum’s D-League debut.
Good God, this kid is going to be awesome.
Ok, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. This was one D-League game, of which McCollum only played 17 minutes and none in the fourth quarter. But I couldn’t help but be encouraged by his performance, not only because he’s a rookie, but because he’s coming off a foot injury that has kept him out of action this season (and a prior foot injury that kept him out of action for almost all of his last collegiate season).
McCollum entered the game off the bench, as Terry Stotts wants the Idaho Stampede to utilize McCollum in the D-League in the role in which Stotts will eventually use him with the Blazers. So with 6:31 left in the first quarter, McCollum checked in and went to work. His first sequence was as follows: assist on his first offensive possession after driving baseline and finding a teammate in the corner for an open three; good defensive anticipation that ended in a steal that would lead to a transition dunk by teammate Pierre Jackson; canning his first pull-up jumper. He could do no wrong.
McCollum soon proved himself human, however, as he missed his first 3-point attempt, but there was a lot to be excited about. He found Pierre Jackson in transition two other times in the first quarter, one on a perfectly placed outlet pass after a rebound. He closed the first quarter with an isolation play where he scored on a step-through after getting his defender off his feet with a pump fake.
Two other plays stood out throughout the game. McCollum opened his second quarter action with a behind-the-back dribble that allowed him to get in the lane and score while getting fouled for an and-1. Later, in the third quarter, McCollum got the ball in a “flow” set which allowed him to drive and set a teammate up with a drop-off pass when he ran into the interior defense.
In the end, McCollum finished with 13 points on 6 of 13 shooting, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, and 3 turnovers.
McCollum is obviously still a very talented offensive player. He may not be an overwhelming athlete, but he’s able to use his handle and hesitation moves to attack the rim. He looked particularly good using the motion of the “flow” offense to get towards the bucket. McCollum struggled from 3-point range (he was 0-4), but the stroke will come. He may not be a Lillard-level shooter, but he did hit 51.6 percent from deep in college last year before an injury ended his senior season.
McCollum also showed a good willingness and ability to distribute. While he will likely be playing off the ball next to Mo Williams, he certainly seems comfortable and capable of having the ball in his hands as a playmaker for bench units.
Defensively, there’s still a lot to learn about him. He gave good effort in getting through screens and kept his hands active. It will be interesting to see if there are any lasting effects of his broken foot as he adjusts to NBA-level game tempo and competition.
Overall, I think any excitement in Portland over McCollum potentially getting called up is warranted. The Blazers’ bench, while better than last year’s bunch, does not have a player who averages more than 10 minutes per game with a PER over league average (Thomas Robinson is close at 14.9, and he doesn’t really play anymore). So hopefully McCollum will be heading to Portland soon to provide some depth. As long as he’s done breaking my heart, I look forward to watching.