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)
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”