There are many dynamic duos that have fans around the NBA buzzing for the upcoming season. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook lead the way, but LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and James Harden, Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala, even Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio have NBA fans clamoring to get this season under way.
There is one duo that few have been talking about, however. Of course, this may have something to do with the fact one of them is a rookie and the other one is headed into just his second season in the NBA.
The Portland Trail Blazers were fortunate enough last season to have Damian Lillard fall into their laps in the 2012 NBA Draft. Lillard was coming off a season where he led the NCAA is scoring with 24.5 points per game, but played for a lesser-known Weber State program. Despite where he played his college basketball, Lillard had many NBA teams hoping they would be able to grab him in what appeared to be a loaded draft class. Luckily for Portland, they used their sixth overall pick on the underrated playmaker.
Lillard not only proved to be a vital asset to the Trail Blazers, he became their go-to scorer in all aspects of the game. He finished his rookie campaign averaging 19 points and more than six assists per game.
Now, the Blazers hope that another mid-major standout scorer can help lead their team to even more success with the addition of C.J. McCollum out of Lehigh.
McCollum first erupted onto the scene during the 2012 NCAA Tournament, where he helped Lehigh knock off the No. 2 seeded Duke Blue Devils in the Round of 64. What most casual college basketball fans didn’t realize is that McCollum had been dominating opposing teams throughout his entire career, not just that one game.
Unfortunately, McCollum was unable to capitalize on the media attention and high expectations off that upset victory as he suffered a season-ending foot injury just 12 games into his senior season. Despite the limited play, McCollum still managed to average more than 23 points per game, including an incredible 36-point outburst against then-19th ranked Baylor in the season-opening contest.
Coming off of an injury, some teams were wary of selecting McCollum in the 2013 NBA Draft, leaving the Blazers ready and waiting to pick up the elite scoring threat. Now, McCollum is expected to be at full health for the start of training camp and will surely be ready to go for the start of the season.
Portland may have found a gold mine in the combination of Lillard and McCollum. Lillard is already an established scoring threat in the NBA and is sure to continue to grow as he becomes more comfortable in the pro basketball setting. McCollum is a highly underrated ball handler as well, allowing to him take some of the pressure off of Lillard off the bench. Not only that, but when Lillard and McCollum are on the floor together, the attention of the defense is sure to be centered around Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, leaving McCollum, who has a quick trigger and isn’t afraid to let it fly, open around the perimeter.
I’ve often compared McCollum to Stephen Curry, not just because they both came onto the scene during the NCAA Tournament with a mid-major, but because both are fearless in terms of shooting the ball and being leaders on the floor with underrated ball-handling skills. If that comparison holds up, Portland is in a great position for the future.
It may be a bit premature to say Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum could be the next great duo in the NBA, but the thought of those two electric guards on the floor together is awfully exciting, especially if you’re a fan of the Blazers. Give both of these two some time to grow together, we may have a second version of the Splash Brothers in the West Coast.