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Will the Real CJ McCollum Please Stand Up?

The Portland Trail Blazers guard is way better than you think.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re talking about the outlook for the Portland Trail Blazers heading into the 2018-19 NBA season you start with the All-Star production of Damian Lillard. After that discussion, the fate of the Blazers typically falls to CJ McCollum…well sort of. There’s a caveat to McCollum’s contribution and it goes something along the lines of “well…if CJ can return to his form of 2016-17, ya know, the real CJ McCollum then things will definitely be better for Portland next season.”

Is that 2016-17 version of McCollum the real one or was that an aberration? McCollum’s production that season—23 points on 48 percent from the field, 42 percent from distance and 91 percent from the line—is a staggering production line for any player the NBA has ever seen. Six players in league history have put up a stat line like that; Dale Ellis (twice), Kevin Durant (twice), Reggie Miller, Steph Curry (thrice), Michael Jordan and CJ McCollum. That’s it.

The greatest shooter of all time. Arguably the greatest player of all time. Dale Ellis (seriously, this one surprised me), probably the best scorer of this generation, one of the four or five best shooters in league history and CJ freaking McCollum. That’s the kind of ridiculous company McCollum’s 2016-17 campaign stands up to.

The “down year” that McCollum had last year, 21 points on 44/39/83 splits is only good enough to limit the list to 62 times in the modern era. Slacker.

While McCollum has short comings offensively, as hard as that is to believe (shout out to free throw rate), quite often that I’ve overheard “but yeah, McCollum had a down season, that has to factor into Portland’s performance last year.” Again, we’re talking about one of the best shooting-to-efficiency-to-production ratios to ever be attained in the modern era of basketball. At one point does it sound the slightest bit greedy to hope for a return to those numbers? I almost feel guilty hoping that McCollum can reach those heights again.

This isn’t one of those wonky 50/40/90 seasons where if you just massage the filters ever so much that you can fit him in there. This is a top tiered, shooting machine of a season where he operated as option 1B with defenses designed to stop him night in and night out. That’s absurd.

If you total up McCollum’s production from his career as a starter, minus the 2016-17 season his averages look like this; 21 points per games on 44/40/83 splits. That’s the kind of season that puts a player into “one of the all-time best shooters” category and that’s what McCollum is AVERAGING as a starter.

What I’m getting at here is this, instead of hoping that McCollum returns to demigod level shooting performances sandwiched somewhere between Heracles and Perseus, perhaps it is best to look elsewhere for an uptick in production and efficiency.

Perhaps it’s time to appreciate McCollum for what he is, a stone cold shooter who, one day, could go down as one of the best pure all-levels shooters this league has ever seen. While it’s certainly nice to hope that McCollum returns to the levels he attained in 2016-17, to assume that is the norm seems a bit overstated at best and foolish at worst.

It would probably be better served to hope that the growth that Blazers fans are so desperately seeking comes from the likes of Maurice Harkless, Zach Collins, or either of the 2018 draft picks; Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons. In no way am I saying not to hope for such production from CJ, instead I would say that maybe the real McCollum is a pretty damn good player who’s production shouldn’t be taken for granted.

*Writer’s note: I am and still remain adamantly in the “break up the backcourt” camp. However, this does not preclude me from believing that McCollum is and has been one of the best shooters in the league in his time as a starter nor does it devalue what I think he can bring to a team as an offensive player.