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CJ McCollum Focused On Defensive Improvement

Pleased to make Portland his long-term home, McCollum knows where his game needs to go from here.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

In a Q&A session with Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders, CJ McCollum revealed that his primary offseason goal is to improve on the defensive end. He and teammate Damian Lillard faced frequent criticism last season because of their combined defensive shortcomings in the backcourt, with some fans speculating that the Trail Blazers could not successfully build around the duo as a result. By strengthening his biggest weakness after receiving a 4-year extension, McCollum can help cement the future of the team.

Insiders: What’s your biggest goal as a player next season? Collectively, what are the team goals?

McCollum: "I want to get better on defense. I’m really trying work on my lateral movement and tracking down the ball on defense. I know getting better on defense will help this team, so I’m just trying to get better at all-around defense. The past couple weeks, I’ve been working with our assistant coach David Vanterpool, continuing to focus on the other side of the ball. As far as the team, this team’s goal is making the playoffs at the highest seed possible. I’m confident we’ll do that. We just take it one day at a time."

(Coach David Vanterpool: "C.J. is an incredibly quick learner who’s able to adjust well. He is always comfortable being uncomfortable, so when we try something new, he takes to it like a fish to water. This is no different. He’s been great just trying to add little pieces to his game, and defense is an area I don’t think enough people put emphasis on when they’re working individually to improve. It’s easier to work on a jump shot or offensive move because it’s more glamorous. But honestly, defense can be improved upon without even having a ball! We spend close to 30 minutes of an hour-and-a-half workout solely focused on defense, and it’s also incorporated into the other offensive work we do. He’s great at using angles and his hands, and he seems to enjoy the effect [his defensive strides] have had on his game. I love how hard he works at everything we add. Without question, he’s truly wrapped up in the process of getting better.")

In McCollum’s contract extension press conference on Friday morning, he jokingly—but truthfully—mentioned that his father would give him a hard time about his game, saying things like "Stop getting back-doored," and "You’re a liability on defense." Can McCollum turn critique to praise?