CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic joined Robert Covington as Trail Blazers inside Sports Illustrated’s rankings of the top 100 players for the 2020-21 season. SI’s second installment focused on the players between No. 50 and No. 31.
Nurkic landed at No. 44 on the list. SI’s Jeremy Woo pointed to Nurkic’s burgeoning pick-and-roll game when examining the Bosnian Beast’s place in the rankings.
With his playmaking and sheer size, Nurkić has fashioned himself into one of the NBA’s best screen-and roll threats, able to command an extra shred of attention while teammates create off him, punish switches, and elevate to the rim when given space. Opponents can ill afford to counter him with smaller bigs, and while he’ll never defend much on an island, he’s harder to play off the floor defensively due to his toughness and commitment. Nurkić was inching closer to his fully realized self even before reshaping his body. He may have unlocked something extra in the process.
McCollum earned the No. 35 spot in the rankings. The former Lehigh standout garnered praise from Michael Shapiro for his multi-faceted scoring arsenal.
While Damian Lillard provides most of the fireworks in the Blazers’ offense, McCollum remains an indispensable metronome. McCollum’s steady scoring punch is somewhat jarring from a statistical perspective: he’s averaged between 20 and 23 points per game in each of the last five seasons, shooting between 44% and 48% from the field. The statistical profile makes sense, as McCollum’s game isn’t dependent on his athleticism or lift on a given night. He sports a deep array of tricks off the dribble, leaning on shot fakes, spin moves and crossovers to create the necessary separation between himself and a defender. McCollum doesn’t sport the scoring punch of a true leading man, and his 6’ 3” frame still creates defensive issues next to Lillard. But Portland’s second banana remains a quality one, having helped drive the Blazers to the playoffs in each of his seven seasons.
Last season, McCollum averaged 22.2 points and 4.4 assists per game in the regular season. The 29-year-old guard is under contract with the Blazers through the 2023-24 season.
You can check out SI’s second installment of player rankings by clicking here.