Despite the loss, the tournament gave newer players an opportunity to showcase their talent and make a bid for playing time during the regular season.
C.J. McCollum shows promise
Among these new players was first-round 2013 NBA draft choice C.J. McCollum. Portland snagged the guard from Lehigh University, where he just wrapped up his senior year.
The young guard played pretty well overall throughout the tournament. He averaged 21.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game in Las Vegas. Not bad for a rookie who’s used to playing strictly college ball.
Moreover, during the final game against the Suns, he totaled an impressive 22 points, 11 of which he scored during the fourth quarter in a failed effort to help his team prevail. He also had five assists, four rebounds and two steals.
The Blazers’ summer league coach, David Vanterpool, said of McCollum’s play: “It’s obvious that he’s a very good player.”
Coach Terry Stotts elaborated on where the guard’s strength lies: "I think he’s shown that he can bring the ball up, get us into offense, get us into sets. He’s smart. He knows where things are supposed to go.”
…Yet, he’s got some work to do
However, regardless of McCollum’s effort, the Trail Blazers still lost to the Suns and cut themselves off from the quarterfinals.
Yes, McCollum did a great job considering he’s entirely new to the NBA, but he also averaged 3.6 turnovers per game and had a disappointing field-goal percentage of .366. He obviously has some things to work on as he approaches the regular season. Coach Vanterpool explained:
It’s also obvious he has a lot of things to learn. Especially playing the point guard position on this level. Again, everything’s a work in progress. You want to uplift your teammates and get them to a point where they trust you and trust the things you do and the decisions you make. CJ’s just going to have to learn how to pick up things quicker on the fly. CJ’s used to scoring points and being that type of point guard is really difficult.
Coach Stotts echoed this sentiment by saying, “Obviously he has some room to grow as far as running the team and getting people involved.” Clearly, the consensus from the coaches is that McCollum needs to become more of a leader at the point guard position.
Undoubtedly, this is difficult for a rookie. He needs to prove himself in the eyes of his older teammates before they can count on him to make plays and run the offense. McCollum will surely learn a lot from star point guard Damian Lillard on this front.
McCollum said of the loss to the Suns and the team’s overall play in Las Vegas, “We’ve been doing a lot of losing out here…It’s frustrating. Just trying to maintain good composure.”
The guard might be disappointed by the loss, but the important thing is that he understands that he has elements of his game to polish. He reflected on his own summer league play, saying, “I felt it went OK—I’m never satisfied.” McCollum continued:
I thought I did some things well, I did some things poorly. The biggest thing is to kind of learn from it and not make the same mistakes twice. Just kind of get adjusted to the new teammates and just get adjusted to playing in the NBA. I think it’s a great experience. Regardless of how you fare and how you win or lose, you want to learn.
To sum up, McCollum is prepared to adjust to his teammates and work towards improvement. That said, time will tell if these changes actually happen.
He will need to commit to gaining trust and becoming a different kind of point guard for the NBA. Hopefully he has the drive and mentality to achieve this.
Will Barton, Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson look good
Though McCollum’s play was heavily in the spotlight of the summer league as the rookie made his debut, the skills of other players were not lost in his shadow. Among them was shooting guard Will Barton, who tallied 21 points and eight rebounds in the final game against the Suns.
It will be interesting to see where McCollum fits into the Blazers' regular-season roster. He played point guard during this tournament, but perhaps he will spend some time at the shooting guard position next to Lillard. This, of course, means he will be competing for minutes with 22-year-old Barton.
Meyers Leonard also had a solid final game, totaling 15 points and 13 rebounds. The 7-foot center was drafted by Portland during the first round of the 2012 NBA draft, so he’s only got a year under his belt. Hopefully that year is what stands between rookie play and experienced play.
Leonard is big. Once his rebounding and defending skills are polished, he will be great for Portland on the low post.
Finally, there’s power forward Thomas Robinson, who Portland recently acquired from the Houston Rockets via a trade. Robinson had 14 points and 11 rebounds during the team’s last game against the Suns.
The 22-year-old only played about 15 minutes per game for the Rockets last season. Once he gets to Portland, though, he will hopefully learn from seasoned big players like LaMarcus Aldridge.
The summer league tournament presents a great opportunity for these younger players to stand out and prove themselves.
However, the real test of their talent will arrive when they begin playing as a part of the whole Portland Trail Blazers squad. These young guys should be prepared to bring their A-game and learn as they approach the regular season.