The early season has not been kind for Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum.
McCollum has clearly made it a point to get to the rim far more often than in any other season for the guard out of Lehigh. He is averaging 6.4 shots at the rim and 6.6 on drives and pullups, which accounts for well more than half of his total shots. To his credit, he is shooting 49.2 percent on those shots.
The major issue is that while McCollum is taking more shots than ever before (a career-high 20 per game), he is not hitting them at the same pace. His field goal percentage, two-point shot percentage, and true shooting percentages are all down. While his three-point percentage is better than his career-worst 37.5 last season, he is a far cry from the 41 percent he averaged between 2014 and 2018. His three-point percentage is tied for 59th in the NBA, and of the players who take at least five threes per game, McCollum ranks 26th, tied with Jaren Jackson of the Memphis Grizzlies. In fairness, Damian Lillard is 39th.
His offensive woes are compounded by the unavoidable truth that McCollum is a net-minus defender, and now his offensive skills are not making up for that deficiency. While McCollum’s blocks are up (including four against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday), his steals are down, and his overall defensive box plus-minus is sitting at an ugly -1.6. His 109.6 defensive rating is 141st in the NBA among starters.
Much of this can be attributed to the absence of Portland’s two best defenders in Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. But at some point, an adjustment needs to be made. Portland cannot afford to keep running out McCollum’s defense alongside Lillard’s, who has also regressed defensively. Rodney Hood’s injury means that means moving their best on-ball defender in Kent Bazemore into the starting lineup is plausible, running a small lineup of Lillard/McCollum/Bazemore/Carmelo Anthony/Hassan Whiteside, or stagger the minutes for Lillard and McCollum even harder. Unfortunately, Anfernee Simons has the second worst defensive metrics on the team, with a defensive rating of 111.2.
The central complaint about the Portland Trail Blazers has been the weakness of defense by their guards. Their offense has always masked this short coming, or at least made up for it to a certain extent. However, in their current situation, this may no longer be sustainable.