The Portland Trail Blazers are hanging with the best in the West so far, and CJ McCollum’s leap into the realm of the NBA’s truly elite is a big reason why.
The Portland Trail Blazers had a big offseason, adding Enes Kanter, Harry Giles, Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. to the mix, but in the NBA your chances to compete will always come down to the performances of your best players. For this team, their best players Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have put them in a good position indeed.
While Lillard has been his typical incendiary self after a slow start, McCollum has been the real story so far for the 7-5 Blazers.
In past years, Lillard has carried the load and McCollum provides a nice infusion of offense alongside him. There has been a clear hierarchy between them, but that’s all been thrown into chaos in the best way so far through a dozen games.
Lillard remains his ever-steady self, albeit with a slight dip in production, usage and efficiency, but McCollum has unmistakeably been one of the best handful of players in the NBA this season. In fact, he’s ranked third in our MVP Power Rankings, which you can read here.
He’s fifth in scoring behind just Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Zach LaVine at 27.6 points per game (up from last season’s 22.2 points) with career-high averages of 5.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.
McCollum’s shooting numbers are off the charts. He’s shooting 51.3 percent from 2-point range and his mid-range stroke is connecting at a blazing rate. Most players shouldn’t be taking 23.7 percent of their shots from the 10-foot to 3-point line range, but McCollum is truly spectacular from that range in his career, and especially the past few seasons. In fact, since the 2018-19 season, he’s shooting 50.7 percent from that range.
CJ McCollum is a man you want shooting from wherever he wants, both inside and outside the arc. Throw out the “but analytics says” arguments, because analytics give McCollum the greenest of green lights too. Scoring 101.4 points per possession (not even counting free throws gained from fouls in the act of shooting) any time you aren’t getting a 3-point or layup and dunk attempt is a spectacular rate.
Aside from his mid-range artistry, McCollum has been a flamethrower from 3-point range. He’s shooting 43.4 percent from behind the arc on absurd volume. He’s taking 11.6 3-pointers per game, 54.6 percent of his total field goal attempts.
McCollum doesn’t get to the free throw line much with a free throw rate of just 18.1 percent, but considering how much of his offense comes from jump shots, that’s neither surprising nor a problem. He’s taken 161 jumpers and scored 1.242 points per possession so far.
Even more impressive is his off-the-dribble game. He’s scoring an unbelievable 1.213 points per possession on jump shots off the dribble, and that’s while leading the league in attempts with 122. That kind of volume and precision is hard to replicate, but it’s been the story of the season for CJ McCollum.
It seems crazy to ponder this, but the Portland Trail Blazers will probably win at a higher clip this season if his production does continue, and if they do he may well find himself in MVP conversations. This is a big ask, but McCollum might just be up to the challenge.