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Portland Trail Blazers Mailbag: Can McCollum and Barton Play Together?

Can CJ McCollum and Will Barton play together? What holes might the Blazers look to fill this year? Would international rule changes benefit the NBA? The Blazer's Edge Mailbag lies just ahead!

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

I've been negligent in getting to Mailbag questions lately, so here's a potpourri basket full!


What's an offensive strategy for Will Barton and CJ McCollum when they're both on the court at the same time?


I'm not sure there is one yet. However pre-season minutes get distributed, odds are that Coach Stotts will continue to use bench players as seasoning, not protein and starch, once the games count again. Putting Barton and McCollum on the floor at the same time might be too big of a strain, and not just because their talent and roles overlap. Defense would be an issue. Ball movement too. Plus they're young.

If I had to guess based on the limited sample we've seen, I'd say CJ scans more like an on-ball point guard and Barton fits the off-ball wing role a little better. That's not hard and fast. "They're interchangeable" is the polite way to say it. "They both need the rock to feel comfortable and excel at this point" is more direct, no less true. You could put the ball in either player's hands and see your share of good plays. The trick is, getting that goodness to bleed into the rest of the lineup and especially into each other (assuming you play them together).

On most plays I'd have CJ handling the ball with Will on the weak side, somewhere in the extended elbow vicinity so he had room to dribble without hitting sideline or baseline. I'd want CJ to penetrate and either score or dish to Will. If Barton had an open shot off the pass he'd take it. Otherwise Barton would drive while CJ continued through to the other side, creating the same dilemma for the defense as CJ's drive did. If the defense doesn't send help against Barton he's open for the score. If they do send help he has CJ on the wing to make an open shot or the next pass. I'd keep threatening with both so the defense never got to rest.

Keeping players and the ball in motion is the key to success for both McCollum and Barton right now. If they're standing still they look ordinary. When they're probing, running, and shooting through a shuffling defense they're plenty good. If they ever do develop rhythm together the Blazers could be plenty dangerous.


Assuming the Blazers are winning next season, who should we look forward to acquiring at the trade deadline and why? Angles: What holes would we need to fill for a stretch and playoff run? What level of improvement would it take for NO and PA to move off their flexible cap positioning for 2015 to commit to a significant roster improvement at the trade deadline? Who would be available, who might be available, and how do they compare to what we have on roster now? Who are the best fits for the squad as its currently designed, and for Stotts system? What would motivate us to release or trade players to accomodate a trade, and who might we give up (on)?


I'm not sure it's possible to answer all facets of that question without naming half the players in the NBA in the process.

The Blazers appear to be set at center for now with Chris Kaman backing up Robin Lopez. They'll reevaluate when Kaman's option comes up but a mid-season move at the 5-spot seems unlikely.

The same holds true, perhaps in a slightly lesser sense, with Damian Lillard and Steve Blake at point. I don't think they'd turn down a longer-term reserve point guard but breaking up the flow in February to get one would be odd.

That leaves a running row of question marks along the middle positions: shooting guard, small forward, power forward. Starters are set in stone. Reserves are movable.

McCollum, Barton, Thomas Robinson, and Meyers Leonard might solidify their status over the next few months. If so, the Blazers won't find a bigger bargain than the youngsters under contract already. Failing that, Dorell Wright and Joel Freeland will put in yeoman's work. Either would serve but you wouldn't blink at trading to replace them.

The criteria for the Blazers to pull a mid-season move at one of these positions are pretty simple. If they can get a player they'd covet next summer by trading players they have less use for, they'd do that deal. As we saw this summer with Spencer Hawes, you're never guaranteed to get the player you want in free agency. Trading makes things more certain. If you really want a guy, why wait for him to hit the market? Why preserve cap room you'd just use on him anyway?

The NBA's new television deal may strengthen the point. The league might end up "smoothing in" the extra revenue to prevent a massive, single-year increase to the cap in 2016. This would give the Blazers more money to play with, but if they're going to keep the starting lineup intact they'll still spend most of it before considering free agents. Worse, everybody else will have money to spend too, making cap space a common commodity and available players a rarity. Giving up future cap space isn't as big of a deal under those circumstances. You'd rather have the player now than cap room later.

Who could the Blazers trade away? Theoretically everybody outside of Aldridge and Lillard but practically speaking they're limited to bench players. Every reserve carries enough uncertainty that you could see the Blazers parting with them. That same uncertainty may make them hard to package for a "difference maker", as you put it. Salary may also become a concern, as most of Portland's reserves are cheap. Trading them for a player making $6 million per year wouldn't be a problem. You'd have to package 2-3 to get a guy making $10 million plus. Those deals are harder to negotiate.

When you combine "difference maker" and "fits Terry Stotts' system" you end up with a veteran who defends reasonably, and can hit a three. If you give me "overwhelming offensive ability" I can wiggle on those three points. Otherwise I think the Blazers need all three else the "difference" won't be enough.

Nobody knows for sure who will be available around the league in February. The picture might become clearer at the turn of the year. By then we'll know who's succeeding and who underachieves. If you see a playoff-expectant team falling flat on its face, start looking for semi-expensive veterans who might be causing buyer's remorse. They'd be your first targets.

Dear Dave,

The NBA has recently discussed the concept of using the International rules for basket interference. After watching the FIBA tournament, I don't like this idea. Once a shot is in the air, I feel like it should have the chance go in before another player can affect it. Otherwise it turns into a battle of tall guys near the rim. Am I crazy? Would this rule change be good for the NBA?


I'm not enamored of rule changes. I suspect some folks find them exciting. My approach is more, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Now get off my lawn!"

I don't see the international goal tending standard destroying that version of the game currently so I doubt it would ruin the NBA. The current generation of players has been taught not to interfere so it'd probably take a decade to really see the results.

I'd be curious to see if strategies would change if players were allowed to tip the ball in the cylinder after it has touched the rim. Would you want to keep a big defender near the hoop at all times? How would other defenders need to react? A player who's tipping is no longer in position to defend or rebound. What if he missed the tip or the ball flew to the wrong person after getting tipped out? Would the benefit of a tip-away attempt outweigh the risk of giving up a bucket? What kind of players would end up being the best tippers? Would somebody get famous for it and develop his own version of the Dikembe Mutumbo blocked shot finger-wag? (Likely it'd be a cross between a tip-away motion and the international sign for making it rain.) And what about offensive tip-ins? Imagine thunder-dunk putbacks with no need to review whether the ball was in or out of the cylinder. Just soar and slam it!

On the other hand you'd replace one kind of goaltending review with another as freeze-frame cameras would determine whether the ball had touched the rim before being tipped or after. (If they let players tip it away before contact with the rim, Sim Bhullar is about to win Defensive Player of the Year.) I could see some ugly defenses evolving where the goal was as much to mess with the rim as to stop the opponent...kind of like the Knicks and Pistons did before handchecking rules put a stop to it, with the cup as the target instead of other people's kidneys. That'd be a pain to watch, the same frustrated feeling as trying to toss wadded-up paper in the trash while somebody's "defending".

After due consideration I return to my Luddite tendencies. Unless I see a clear reason for change, I don't like altering rules that have held us in good stead for decades. I'm not sure that international basket interference rules would add excitement. I suspect they'd eliminate one set of calls and mandate another, equaling out except for the pain of learning the new system.

I can think of plenty of ways to tweak defensive restrictions, but this isn't among my favorites.

As always, you're invited to send Mailbag questions to!

--Dave / @DaveDeckard @Blazersedge