C.J.McCollum's return, or arrival, is good news all around. For starters, he should help give this lousy 2013 draft class a healthy kick in the rear. Before breaking his foot prior to the season, McCollum was considered one of the more NBA-ready prospects at 22 years old.
Now, just over two months into his rookie year, McCollum finally looks ready to go.
This kid was a dynamite college player—one of the best in recent memory. Do you remember where you were when McCollum dropped 30 to knock off No. 2 seed Duke in the 2012 NCAA tournament? I do. McCollum was memorable for his ability to effortlessly take over games in style.
He averaged at least 19 points in four consecutive seasons at Lehigh, where he operated on and off the ball as a facilitator and go-to scorer.
If you ask me, McCollum landed in the perfect situation in Portland, where he'll be able to play to his strengths amongst seasoned veterans.
Those strengths aren't a secret, either. McCollum was drafted No. 10 overall to provide some backcourt firepower and playmaking. He offers Portland a dimension of offense the Blazers don't currently get from Wesley Matthews, Mo Williams or Will Barton.
McCollum is coming off a two-game stint in the D-League where he recently went for 24 points in his final tuneup. “I was confident before I came here, but it helped me get back into a rhythm, get into game shape and simulate coming off the bench while running some of the same sets,” McCollum told Bruce Ely of The Oregonian.
McCollum has officially been activated for the first time all year, and though his role might be minimal to start, don't expect Portland to keep him under wraps too long.
Shot Creation, Playmaking
You can break down McCollum's game a million different ways, but it all boils down to his ability to create shots, whether they're for himself or a teammate.
As a scorer, he's a fantastic one-on-one player. McCollum can dance with the ball and separate for a jumper while his man is still picking his pants up off the ground.
He's quick, shifty and coordinated, with the ability to change directions on the dime and leave defenders in the dust.
McCollum can create quality scoring chances out of nothing, thanks to some unteachable offensive instincts, deceptive athleticism and extensive shot-making range.
He's a guy you can give the ball to watch go to work. Pull-ups, step-backs, floaters, fadeaways—McCollum always has a move to go to and one to counter with from every spot on the floor.
McCollum ultimately has to rely on making some low-percentage shots, but separating for clean ones is something he does with regularity.
And though more of a scorer than facilitator, he's played the role of lead guard for some time now. His ability to shake and bake off the dribble, along with his high basketball IQ, allow him to bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense.
He's also a solid candidate to flourish in the pick-and-roll game.
McCollum reminds me a lot of Jason Terry—a scoring ball-handler who can play on and off the ball. The Blazers should be able to throw McCollum alongside Damian Lillard at the wing, or if the situation calls for it, as a backup at the point.
McCollum is fairly complete—the biggest concerns out of college were the mid-major competition he faced and his label as a combo guard.
At 6'3'', you have to question how well his scoring game will translate, and considering his career high at Lehigh was 3.5 assists, he might not have much room for error. If it turns out he struggles to score efficiently or consistency in the pros, his projection might fall closer to Randy Foye territory than Stephen Curry.
Defensively, it's just inevitable—he'll likely have trouble anticipating and fighting through screens until he gets comfortable defending NBA-caliber backcourts.
Role in Portland
McCollum's game and body were built for the sixth-man role. It's unlikely to be his role in 2013 -14, however, as that's the position he'll be ultimately gunning for once he's a fixture in the lineup.
McCollum doesn't have the size to comfortably defend starting 2-guards, nor does he have the mindset to handle point-guard duties in a full-time role (not that he needs to with Damian Lillard).
Off the bench, he'll be able to enter games with one focus—creating offense and making shots.
He can put points on the board in bunches. A broken foot held him to just 11 games as a senior in college, but he was absolutely dominant when healthy, going for at least 30 points in four of those games, including a 36-point effort against Pierre Jackson and Baylor.
McCollum was also shooting a scorching 51.6 percent from downtown before the injury, and though his percentages freshman-through-junior year have fluctuated, there's no doubting his outside stroke. With established talent around him, McCollum should end up getting plenty of good looks on the perimeter, where he'll remain a threat to convert as a spot-up threat from day one.
It's a little unrealistic to expect McCollum to jump right into the mix, as I'm sure the first-place Blazers will take their time with his development. But there's no question he's got something to offer.
A highly intelligent kid with the most refined offensive game in the 2013 draft class, I'd bet on McCollum emerging as a breakout stud for Portland down the road. Consider him an instant-offense type of guard, only with a conscience, something not all pure scorers have.