STARTING FIVE: CJ McCollum’s rise to prominence

Carter Landis, Sports Editor

The focus of the Portland Trail Blazers’ backcourt has been on point guard Damian Lillard for the last five years, and for good reason. Lillard was drafted 6th overall out of Weber State by the Trail Blazers in the 2012 draft, and since then, has solidified himself as one of the best point guards in the NBA.

Since entering the league in 2012, Lillard has averaged 22 points per game and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 44% from the field and 37% from three point range. Lillard won the Rookie of the Year award after the 2012-13 season, also earning All Rookie First Team honors. Lillard has been selected as an all-star twice. It’s easy to see that Lillard is one of the best young players in basketball.

But in the last two years, Lillard’s backcourt teammate, shooting guard CJ McCollum, has emerged as a young star for Portland. After previous starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews left in free agency to sign with the Dallas Mavericks, McCollum stepped right up into the starting position and was absolutely spectacular.

Since joining the starting lineup, McCollum has averaged 20.8 points per game on 48% from the field and 41% from three. Many people have started to take notice of McCollum’s stellar play, some making a claim that he is better than Lillard already.

Drafted 10th overall by Portland out of Lehigh in 2013, The 25 year old is putting the league on notice. This season, McCollum has averaged 23.4 points per game on 48% from the field, also playing good defense. His +/- numbers are down, but that just comes with a higher usage rate. However, the Blazers are better with him on the court, as he averages 25 PPG on 51% shooting when the Blazers win, also posting a plus minus of +9.3.

McCollum’s uptick in production stems from his ability to create space for himself, opening up an easy shot. In a game against Dallas last season, he faked a baseline drive, pulled the ball between his legs, pulled up and drilled a corner 3, making the great Dirk Nowitzki spin all the way around. McCollum is able to move quickly around the court, and his small frame helps him do this.

Damian Lillard has been a key piece to the Blazers’ playoff runs in the last few seasons, but CJ McCollum has been just as important. When one has a bad night, the other picks up the slack. McCollum’s development is essential to the Blazers if they want to make another playoff run.