The Portland Trail Blazers look nothing like they did last year. LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Nicolas Batum are gone, with Damian Lillard the only starter remaining from last season’s formidable starting five. No one quite knows what the Blazers will be this season, though common sense says they will be some variety of a lottery team — especially playing in the West.
If the Blazers are going to have any hope of even competing for a playoff spot, they’ll need their young players to step up in a big way – key among them, C.J. McCollum. The third-year guard has shown brief flashes of what made him such a tantalizing prospect, but injuries and inconsistent playing time have prevented him from sustaining any sort of high-level play. The presence of Wesley Matthews at the off-guard position certainly didn’t help. But after West went down last season, C.J. broke out a bit last year in the playoffs, scoring 26, 18 and 33 points in the Blazers’ last three games against the Memphis Grizzlies.
While today’s more advanced analytics NBA doesn’t place much priority of simply scoring, a high effective field goal percentage of player efficiency rating doesn’t mean much if you’re only scoring 5 points per game. McCollum can light it up.
Those sorts of scoring bursts – some dimes and rebounding out of the backcourt (something Wes did well), would be nice, too – are exactly what McCollum has to give the Blazers this season. This 30-point performance — with more than a few pretty passes — against the Kings on Friday night is a very good start. It’s preseason, obviously, but at the very least it will do wonders for his confidence, and the Blazers’ confidence in him. That’s important when the games start to matter.