The recent emergence of Portland Trail Blazers scoring guard C.J. McCollum has many fans thinking that Rip City may have found themselves a quick fix to the departure of lockdown defender and three point ace Wesley Matthews. McCollum’s scoring ability is undeniable and his understanding of the game off the ball is somewhat of a rarity, but is he a true starting-caliber player? Yes and no, and here’s why.
Whether it’s at the shooting guard position or the point guard position, McCollum will not find his best success as a starter, at least at this point in his career. His defense is below average and his shot selection has been known to orchestrate collective groans among Trail Blazer fans. His skill set and size is that of a scoring point guard while his passing ability and style of play suggests that he’s a shooting guard. We’ve all heard of a tweener at the small forward/power forward positions, but McCollum is tweener at the guard positions who lacks the skill set of a true combo guard. Despite this all, am I to say that he won’t be one of Terry Stotts’ most impactful players this year, and maybe for years to come? Certainly not. He has the potential to become a starter-caliber player, I just don’t know if I would start him quite yet.
Even with an unrefined arsenal of skills, I still consider McCollum a top-five player on the Trail Blazers, but not a starter. How can I say this, yet put him behind Gerald Henderson on the depth chart? Henderson has the skills of a more all-around shooting guard. McCollum’s scoring prowess may not immediately grant him a starter spot, but it will make him a potential nominee for Sixth Man of the Year.
I find it a misconception that many people consider the sixth man role to fall to the player who is simply the sixth best player on the team. Go down the list of previous Sixth Man of the Year winners and you’ll find the names of scorers who prove that theory wrong: Jamal Crawford, Manu Ginobili, James Harden, J.R. Smith, Jason Terry, the list goes on. To say that these players were not starter-caliber would simply be incorrect. These players, Harden aside, have found a majority of their success as off-the-bench specialists who’ll bury the opposing team while your starting guard takes a breather.
McCollum, who I have compared to Jason Terry time and time again, has a knack for finding the bottom of the net with shifty lay-ups and three point bombs. He doesn’t have the athletic gifts or defensive abilities to warrant a starting shooting guard role and his passing abilities, or lack thereof, will keep him from playing point guard, but if it’s an off-the-bench serge of scoring that the Trail Blazers need, then they have it in McCollum.
In the words of TrueHoop founder and Portland-native Henry Abbott, minutes given to young players in the NBA are like “royal jelly.” This young Trail Blazers roster will require a spread of the ‘royal jelly’ with McCollum looking to the bulk of the minutes. Will this uptick in playtime result in McCollum refining those rough spots of his game and finding life in the NBA as a starter? Only time will tell. But if there is one thing for certain it’s that McCollum will be an invaluable member of the Portland Trail Blazers, whether it’s in the form of an every night starter or an electric off-the-bench scorer.
Every NBA team needs a lethal scoring threat, whether their starting or coming off the bench. With C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard suiting up in the red, black, white and silver, the Portland Trail Blazers have two of them.