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 from San Fransisco. After the Trail Blazers lost 118-106 to the Warriors in Game One of their Western Conference semifinal series, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, grabbed a couple mics to record the first second round edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which is now available for your afternoon listening…
On this edition, we discuss Sunday afternoon’s loss, Portland’s tough start and whether there’s anything positive to be taken from the last three quarters, dealing with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, the eventual return of Stephen Curry and if there any similarities between Sunday’s game and Game One versus the Clippers. We also answer a host of questions about Allen Crabbe, the enthusiasm at Oracle Arena, the quick turnaround from Game Six to the second Game One and give some tips on packing for regular business travel. And we also start the show off with some bad Mike Meyers impersonations. Sorry about that.
Even at full strength, the Trail Blazers were having a hard time keeping up with the Golden State Warriors in the first game of their second round, best-of-seven playoff series. But that task got significantly harder after reserve guard Gerald Henderson, who is averaging 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists in the 2016 postseason, was ejected after a series of altercations with Warriors center Anderson Varejao that occurred late in the third quarter of Portland’s 118-106 loss Sunday night at Oracle Arena.
The first incident took place at the 3:29 mark of the third. Henderson and Varejao collided during the run of play, sending Varejao tumbling to the floor. As he was falling, he seemed to extend his leg out in an effort to trip Henderson, which ultimately proved successful. Henderson immediately got off the floor and into Varejao’s face, prompting the officials to call assess technicals to both players.
“I bumped him — not on purpose — he tripped me on purpose,” said Henderson. “I fell hard, I didn’t like it, so came together, that’s what happens.”
But that wouldn’t be the end of the tete-a-tete between Henderson and Varejao. Though Varejao was on the bench, that didn’t stop him and Henderson from continuing their less than cordial discussion, which the officials apparently noticed, as both players were once again awarded technicals, resulting in double ejections.
“The ref threw me out from across the way. I guess he could hear what I was saying from across the court,” said Henderson. “We were talking since the first technicals happened, but there’s a lot of talking going on out there. For both of us to get kicked out of the game, it was surprising.”
Despite the tense moments, Henderson said postgame that there was no lingering animosity while noting that he was more mad at himself than at Varejao.
“I been put it behind me,” said Henderson, who finished with five points and three assists in just under 17 minutes. “We lost the game, that’s the only thing that matters. I was pissed I got thrown out, we still had a chance to win the game. I got ejected, I’ve got to be smarter, regardless of if I thought I should have got kicked out or not.”
OAKLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers had roughly 36 hours to prepare for Game One of their Western Conference Semifinals matchup versus the Golden State Warriors after eliminating the Clippers in Game Six at the Moda Center on Friday night. There was only so much film they could watch, only so many Warriors-specific plays they could learn before a 12:30 pm tipoff Sunday afternoon in Oakland.
That was a reality reflected in Portland’s performance to start the game, as they made just five field goals and trailed by as many as 20 in the first quarter before going on to lose 118-106 to the top-seeded Warriors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,596 at Oracle Arena.
“Certainly wasn’t the start we wanted,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “It was disappointing to get off to such a poor start. Our offense, we had trouble scoring. Their defense got into us. It was just — we struggled at both ends, and probably more so on the offensive end, which fed into their defense. They had second chance point, they had fast-break points. It was a little bit of everything.”
The Warriors now lead the series 1-0 with Game Two scheduled for Tuesday.
“To start the game, we played like a team playing it’s second game in 30 hours,” said CJ McCollum. “We can’t start like that, especially here.”
The good news is the Trail Blazers improved as the game went on. Portland shot 52 percent from the field an 67 percent from three in the second quarter, utilizing small lineups that featured Maurice Harkless at “center” to eventually outscore Golden State 34-28 in the quarter. The Trail Blazers managed to cut the Warriors’ lead to single digits on numerous occasions before the half but were never able to keep the deficit in check for more than a possession or two, allowing the home team to take a 14-point lead into the intermission.
The Warriors, playing without reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who is sidelined with a sprained right MCL, would reestablish their dominance in the third quarter, holding Portland to 9-of-27 shooting from the field and a particularly stingy 1-of-8 from three. Between their defense and shooting 50 percent from both the field and three in the quarter, Golden State took a 26-point lead, their largest of the night, before heading into the fourth up 93-73.
Portland was able to give the final score an air of respectability by outscoring Golden State 33-25 in the fourth, but never realistically threatened the defending champs before the final buzzer. And while there was little to like about their Game One performance, the Trail Blazers can take some comfort in knowing they were able to bounce back from a rough start in the first round to win their series versus the Clippers.
“We got beat pretty soundly in Game One against the Clippers and we made some adjustments, we played a little bit better and got better as the series went along, and we need to do the same thing,” said Stotts. “So we’ll watch the video, see what we can come up with for Game Two. But there’s no question that we have to play better and learn from Game One like we did with the Clippers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who finished with 30 points, five assists and four steals in 41 minutes. CJ McCollum added 12 points, three rebounds and three assists in 40 minutes. Portland’s starting backcourt combined to shoot 13-of-43 from the field, with many of those makes coming when the game was already out of reach.
“We’ve just got to be better,” said Lillard, who said he’s been battling a chest cold the last few days (and sounded like it when answer questions postgame). “I got some looks that I need to make, CJ did as well. We just got to be better offensively if we want to have a chance against this team.”
Al-Farouq Aminu shot 6-of-13 from the field and 3-of-8 from three for 15 points in 25 minutes. Harkless added 10 points and three rebounds, with Mason Plumlee grabbing a game-high 13 boards.
Allen Crabbe continued his strong play as of late, going 6-of-9 from the field for 15 points and five rebounds in 33 minutes. Ed Davis went 5-of-6 from the field to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds before fouling out in 18 minutes.
Gerald Henderson finished with five points and three rebounds in 16 minutes before being ejected after getting receiving two technicals for arguing with Warriors center Anderson Varejao, who was also ejected.
The Warriors were led by Klay Thompson, who shot 50 percent from both the field and three to finish with a game-high 37 points to go along with five rebounds in 37 minutes.
“We’ve got to do a better job, starting with me if I’m guarding (Thompson),” said McCollum. “Got to make sure I’m pacing better and making him curl. Hard hedges got to be there, especially if it’s Bogut or somebody setting setting that screen where he’s not really a good shooter. We’ve got to make sure we make them pay for that.”
Draymond Green put up a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in 37 minutes. Shaun Livingston added 12 points and with both Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut finishing with 10 points.
Next up, the Trail Blazers will try to regroup before heading back to Oracle for Game Two on Tuesday.
“I got some looks that I usually would have made that I didn’t knock down,” said Lillard. “So next game, I look forward to the challenge again. At this point in the season, all that matters is winning. You either win or you lose; you advance or you go home. At this point, we’re just trying to fix things and make sure that our season keeps going.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm.