By Yaron Weitzman, SBNation
It was safe to assume that C.J. McCollum would increase his production this season. With four Blazers starters departing, McCollum was moving into the starting lineup and becoming the second option. He was going to average more than seven points in just under 16 minutes a game.
But even his biggest proponents couldn’t have expected a season like this. The 24-year-old McCollum isn’t just scoring more, he’s scoring better. He’s playing 35 minutes a game and averaging more than 20 points per game on 44 percent shooting. He’s become more efficient even while taking up more pages in the opponent’s scouting report.
Now in his third year in the NBA, McCollum has emerged as one of the league’s top scoring guards. He can shoot from deep and get to the rim. This year, he’s also shown an ability to create for teammates as well, doubling his assist rate (the percentage of teammates’ field goals a player assists while he’s on the floor) from last season.
McCollum’s had a few standout performances this season, but none has been as impressive as his showing Sunday night against the Kings.
With backcourt mate Damian Lillard out with plantar fasciitis, the Blazers put the ball in McCollum’s hands even more frequently. The third-year guard responded with a 35-point, 11-rebound, nine-assist, four-steal effort, leading Portland to a 98-94 upset road win that could be crucial in the race for the postseason.
As he’s done all season, McCollum put up numbers without being reckless or sloppy. Lots of NBA guards can drop 25 in a game if they play 41 minutes (which McCollum did) and always have the ball in their hands. Fewer can do so while shooting 50 percent from the floor and only coughing the ball up twice.
McCollum has shown the ability to score in many ways, whether it’s pull-ups and spot-ups from deep, floaters in the paint, drives to the rim or even those mid-range jumpers that so many scorn. McCollum connects on the latter nearly 46 percent of the time, per NBA.com.
The whole arsenal was on display Sunday. McCollum opened the game with a vicious inside-out dribble and driving righty floater off the glass.
The pull-up jumper is McCollum’s bread and butter. Last season, he shot 44 percent on pull-ups and 35 percent on step backs, per NBA.com. Those aren’t bad numbers, but they aren’t elite. This year, he’s upped those marks to 59 percent and 57 percent, respectively. That’s so proficient that you wonder if McCollum can keep it up, yet he has so far.
The Blazers are still rebuilding, but with McCollum now flashing the skills that made him the 10th pick in the 2013 draft, they have one of the best backcourts in the NBA and a strong foundation to anchor their rise.