CJ McCollum

The CJ McCollum Conundrum

Hello there,

Today, I have decided to bring to you a little bit of a series I like to do called “let’s talk”, where I, to varying degrees of depth, deconstruct a player and discuss things that I both like and dislike about them, as well as talking about what possibly could help them to at the very least mitigate those negatives, or enhance their positives. After all, there’s no use talking about the problems in my opinion, if you’re not going to also at the very least attempt to provide some solutions. Before we begin however, I want to preface this by stating that I am a CJ fan. I like the guy and what he can offer, but this is a more objective look into the issues with him, or rather how he synergizes with the Blazers as a whole, because I feel there is a lot of merit in sitting down and talking about it. 

Anyway, let us begin.

Just who and what is CJ McCollum

Before we can diagnose what exactly are the issues with CJ, or more precisely, how he fits with Portland, we must define the sort of player that CJ is and what role he fits into when looking at a player. Both in terms of his position and his archetype, for lack of a more fitting term here. CJ McCollum is a Shooting Guard in the former sense, and a volume scorer who also serves as Portland’s secondary ball handler and playmaker, either for himself, or for others. Primarily himself although he does a competent enough job in the latter category as well. Often sharing the court with Damian Lillard, and we’ll get back to this later, he is a secondary, dynamic option that can score from virtually anywhere on the floor. Both inside and beyond the arc as well as a solid ball handler who can be relied on should his number be called in that regard. 

He is also solid when it comes to the Pick and Roll game, oftentimes with Jusuf Nurkic, as his gravity and ability to shoot can open up opportunities for the pocket pass to the roll man for an easy basket near the hoop, or a midrange should they choose to go with the Pick and Pop instead. All in all, his offensive game is well-rounded enough and he can be a potent threat whilst stepping up when Dame has an off-game (and has done so in the past, see the 2019 playoff series against the Nuggets, game 7 in particular) for evidence of this.

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The Problems with CJ within the Blazers

Now that we know the sort of player CJ is, we can start to discuss some of the issues that he has with slotting into the Portland roster, and how these issues cap the Blazers ceiling at the level of a first or second round playoff team, residing in the 5-8 seeding bracket within the Western Conference hierarchy. The first issue that sticks out is his fit alongside Dame. Whilst both are very good, all star caliber players, they essentially fill the same role within the team as dynamic scorers who can also handle the rock and become playmakers/ball handlers, with neither of them being good defenders. 

Now that we know the sort of player CJ is, we can start to discuss some of the issues that he has with slotting into the Portland roster, and how these issues cap the Blazers ceiling at the level of a first or second round playoff team, residing in the 5-8 seeding bracket within the Western Conference hierarchy. The first issue that sticks out is his fit alongside Dame. Whilst both are very good, all star caliber players, they essentially fill the same role within the team as dynamic scorers who can also handle the rock and become playmakers/ball handlers, with neither of them being good defenders. 

It doesn’t help that they are both around the same height either, but that’s not the primary issue I wish to talk about here. Now, having two players that fit the same role on your roster isn’t inherently a bad thing, however, the issue comes when you have both on the floor at the same time to the extent that Portland has CJ and Dame on the court. That is because the two conflict with one another, and end up blending into the same mold without really providing variance or a skillset that can compliment the other. The lack of defense doesn’t help them either, especially when Portland as a whole aren’t a great defensive team.  That’s not to say that it can’t work, just that the holes are more glaring when it comes to the Blazers and prevent them from taking that next step; joining the upper echelon of the West. Especially come playoff time. Let’s look at Portland’s starting lineup shall we. Dame/CJ/Powell/Covington/Nurkic. 

Now, Powell and Covington are solid and capable defenders, but they are stretched thin on that end by not only having to pay mind to their own duties, but also that of Dame and, relevant to this discussion, CJ, meaning that more often than not, CJ is virtually a liability on that end and requires “hibing”, or being put on the opponent’s lesser offensive talent due to being a sieve. If it was just him, then it wouldn’t be as pressing an issue, as you can hide one player effectively, but it’s he and Dame that are, meaning the Blazers have to hide the pair of them, leading to an easier to exploit their match up dynamic for opposing teams. On one hand, you can say that their offense makes up for it, but the problem also bleeds onto that side of the ball as well. Whilst yes, CJ is a solid off-ball mover and able to create space for himself, he is more of an influence on that end with the ball in his hands, much like Dame. 

Seeing as there is only one basketball, this means that one of them has to play a role that is unnatural to them and somewhat akin to attempting to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, therefore stymying them and constricting them, and primarily CJ  from being the best player they can be in the context of the team. On one hand, yeah he still gets his opportunities and buckets (he is consistently a 20 PPG scorer) but it also leaves you wanting more. Wanting to see what CJ would be like if he had players alongside him that truly catered to his strengths. Who let him be, well, himself and not have to play a secondary role alongside a player who is for all intents and purposes, the spiderman meme personified, only superior in terms of overall offensive skill set, whilst also managing to be more successful in hiding his flaws defensively and enabling him to focus on carrying the load offensively.

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So, what is the solution to this issue?

We know the problems, so the question now becomes – how do we fix them? How do we enable CJ to truly be unlocked whilst mitigating these issues? The first solution is, you can trade him, which is one that should be considered if you can find the right piece to attain in return. The obvious one here is of course, Ben Simmons who would fit into Portland’s roster and give them variation, though I don’t know if that’s the direction Portland will go. You can also go for a Ricky Rubio sort of player, who gives you a solid defender and playmaker as well as being able to chime in offensively, but do the Cavs do this? Especially with their own guard situation and the fact that CJ would have a lot of the same issues there as he does in Portland. 

Another option, and this comes with the caveat that it is unlikely to ever happen, is you do a Khris Middleton for CJ trade, which would benefit both teams. It’d allow CJ to play alongside a Point Guard like Jrue who is a great defender and offers a different look to keep defenses honest, plus the Bucks are an elite defense team who can successfully “hide” him on that side of the floor. For Portland, it gives them a wing defender who is more than capable of lighting up offensively and helping Dame manage the load. Again, it will never happen but it’d be a virtually perfect trade, at least in my opinion.

Yet there is a second, more feasible option you can go with and that is – moving CJ to the bench and deploying him as a 6th man. Have him be the man who comes on off the bench and be that primary ball-handler/scoring option. Also allowing the Blazers to have a more synergetic starting five of Dame/Powell/Covington/Nance Jr/Nurkic and staggering CJ on and off the floor, whilst maintaining his 25-30 minutes per game. Yes, you run into the issue of what to do with Anfernee Simons, but the issues with the “same style of player” is easier to manage from bench players, due to the natural staggering of line ups that occurs throughout a game and minute management. 

It’s easier to work with the sort of player CJ is off the bench and as Dame’s back up, rather than having the two starting together and playing the majority of their minutes as a duo. This is the option that Chauncey should explore more and see how it works, whilst enabling the Blazers to maintain rhythm and flow whilst Dame is on the bench. I’m aware Dame’s injury changes this, but once he returns (if he misses any time), then give it a shot for say 5 games and see how it pans out. 

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to talk about on this topic, so let me know what you think and how you would solve this conundrum. Should they bench CJ? Or would you take the route of seeing what you can get in return via a trade?

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I've been a basketball fan the vast majority of my life and played basketball in primary and high school before my knee and back injuries meant I had to step away. My twitter handle is @Silver_BulletSA

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