In the current era of instant news and analysis, it is easy to judge a player too soon. If a draft pick does well, he is quickly anointed as the next big thing and on a sure track to the Hall of Fame. If a draft pick falters, he is labeled a bust.
C.J. McCollum's first season in the Rose City did not go the way management expected. Yet McCollum was hardly to blame. He missed the first 35 games last season with a foot injury. When he returned to action, the Blazers were a scalding hot 26-9, and the Blazers pressed their advantage as much as they could, leaving limited time for McCollum to develop.
On the second unit, Mo Williams was the point guard, the position McCollum played most of his games in college at Lehigh. He was forced to adapt to a shooting guard role on the fly. While lateral speed and quickness are essential to strong guard play, the most important facets can only be learned from experience. McCollum found himself stuck in a four guard pileup with Earl Watson, Will Barton and Allen Crabbe.
Yet look at what he did while he was on the court. For example, here are four players, with their statistics from last season extrapolated over 36 minutes, giving a rough estimation of what the player would do as a full-time starter.
PLAYER A: 16.0 ppg, 4.7 apg, 4.8 rpg, 2 stls
PLAYER B: 15.2 ppg, 2.4 apg, 3.6 rpg, 1.1 stls
PLAYER C: 11.9 ppg, 1.9 apg, 3.9 rpg, 0.7 stls
PLAYER D: 10.7 ppg, 1.3 apg, 3.5 rpg, 1.7 stls
Player A and Player B have fairly similar numbers, while Player C and Player D lag behind. Player B is C.J. McCollum. Player A is Rookie of the Year candidate Victor Oladipo. Player C is Ben McLemore and Player D is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the two shooting guards selected ahead of McCollum in the 2013 draft. The difference between all four players is that Oladipo, Caldwell-Pope, and McLemore played the entire season, while McCollum missed significant time.
Now comes this season, with Steve Blake as McCollum's back court mate. While Williams was a volume shooter, Blake is much more pass savvy. It is not a stretch to think that with the changes and a full season under his belt that McCollum can at least replicate Mo Williams's line from last season (9.7 ppg, 4.3 apg). Obviously for that to happen, he will need to shoot better than the 41.6% he shot from the field last season, but that should be fairly simple for someone who shot almost 50% from the field in college, including 51.6% from three-point range.
San Antonio showed last season that a deep bench can solve a lot of problems. Considering Portland had the fewest points off the bench for the second straight season last year, depth is an issue that must be addressed. This will be the season that C.J. McCollum breaks out as a solid bench player and spot starter. If he does, Portland's chances of making the Western Conference Finals go way up.