At this time last year, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was finishing up a 12-day stretch of predraft workouts that had him traversing the United States in an attempt to prove he deserved to be selected with one of the top picks of the 2013 NBA Draft. The workouts were especially important for McCollum, seeing as how he had played at little known Lehigh University and was coming off a broken left foot that abruptly ended his collegiate career. Though it was exhausting, all of the work he put in eventually paid off when he was selected by the Trail Blazers with the tenth overall pick.
McCollum isn’t zigzagging the country this summer, but he’s working just as hard as he did in the run up to the draft, if not harder, on improving during offseason workouts at the Trail Blazers’ practice facility in Tualatin. McCollum, along with Will Barton, Joel Freeland, Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe, has been participating in near daily runs at the practice facility under the tutelage of the coaching staff in an effort to develop his skills after playing sparingly during his rookie season.
“I learned a lot from the year overall and continue to work underneath our coaching staff and continue to learn as they critique things,” said McCollum after a recent workout in Tualatin. “It’s very helpful. I see how guys continue to progress over the summer, continue to get better because you get to put a lot of time in with your staff, in the weight room, running through the defensive and offensive schemes is very helpful.”
After missing the first months of his rookie season, not to mention a good chunk of his first training camp, due to another break of the fifth metatarsal in his left foot, McCollum is making up for lost time by getting some intensive, hands on coaching in an atmosphere where his and his fellow first and second year players’ improvement is the sole focus.
“It’s always important to make the most of your time when you’re working out in front of your staff,” said McCollum. “Coming off of injury, it’s good to get a full year under my belt and continue to learn through the summer and into training camp and the preseason. You’ve got to take advantage of your time and use your time wisely. Obviously it’s very important to me that I continue to get better, continue to grow and find ways to help the team.”
With no pick in the 2015 Draft, the Trail Blazers will be relying on the players currently participating in these workouts, including McCollum, to provide the improvement the team will need to match their 54-win season, let along surpass it. Sure, the Trail Blazers have the midlevel and biannual exemptions, which they can use to sign one or more free agents this summer, and there’s always the possibility of trades netting players and draft picks, but player development rather than acquisition seems like Portland’s best chance of making the gains they’ll need to take the next step in an ultra-competitive Western Conference. With Mo Williams potentially opting out of his contract to test free agency and Earl Watson likely moving on to the coaching ranks, the Trail Blazers will have minutes available at the backup guard positions in 2014-15, making McCollum’s maturation all the more significant.
“Defensively, you want to continue to get better and improve and make sure you’re in the right spots to guard on and off the ball,” said McCollum regarding the areas he’s working to improve during workouts. “Offensively, it’s always good to continue to learn the scheme, learn the system and just try to get better each day. Defensive has been the main focus, not just for myself but everybody individually and the coaching staff. Just continue to try to try to critique different ways to cover ball screens and continue to get better.”
Though it’s only been a little more than a month since the Trail Blazers were eliminated by the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs and roughly two weeks since players returned from their respective vacation destinations to begin offseason workouts, there are indications that progress is already being made.
“I think (McCollum) is seeing the court better, he’s trying to make reads,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who has been watching the workouts. “I think one of the most difficult things for perimeter players and combo guards is knowing when to be aggressive as a scorer and when to pass. The decision-making is the most difficult thing because you’ve moved up where players are better defensively, they’re quicker, stronger, faster, so your decision-making has to improve. I’ve seen that where he’s not necessarily locked in on doing one thing or the other. It seems like he’s making better reads.”
“Obviously it’s a transition going from college to the NBA and then going from your first to second year,” said McCollum. “You always want to improve and kind of look at ways you can get better. Obviously decision-making, having a better assist-to-turnover ratio, all those things are crucial. Not just for point guards, but guards in general. You want to make sure you’re taking care of the ball and making good plays. I think the transition is going well. Just got to continue to get reps, continue to improve and continue to get a lot of playing and workouts in.”
The group assembled at the practice facility will continue structured workouts at the practice facility for the next few days, after which they’ll have about a week of respite before returning to the gym to begin preparations for the 2014 Samsung Summer League in Las Vegas. But while getting ready for the yearly sojourn to Sin City provides is a good excuse to get some work in, McCollum has his sights set on later dates.
“You want to have good showings and look well and play well, but at the same time, it’s more about getting better for October, November, December,” said McCollum. “So you’re going to have ups and downs, you’re going to have good days, bad days. You want to try to be as consistent as possible. But as far as confidence goes, I still have my confidence. I’m not lacking that. Just trying to mix it up and continue to gain the staffs’ trust, the players’ trust. You want to be a fun guy to play with, that’s the biggest thing. You want guys to trust you and I think that, as I continue to play and continue to get more acquainted with my teammates, they’ll continue to gain more trust in me and that will make things better.”
(Photos by Jim Taylor)
Neither Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard nor Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love were selected to participate in the 2016 NBA All-Star Game taking place Sunday night in Toronto. But instead of spending their time sulking, the point guard who plays in Portland and the power forward who grew up just down the road in Lake Oswego, aka The Brothers Hooper, hit the studio to collaborate on the new “Droppin’ Dimes” track for State Farm…
It’s not nearly as serious as Lillard’s “Bigger Than Us” video, but every discography needs some good party tracks.
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!
Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.
And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.
“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”
Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.
Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.
“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”
Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.
“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”