CJ McCollum has had a topsy-turvy season for the Portland Trail Blazers. His averahe scoring is as high as ever but efficiency and game-to-game results have been up and down. Trail Blazers fans are starting to latch onto the idea of trading him over the summer, wondering what the possibilities are. A couple of preliminary questions on the subject highlight today’s version of the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
We’ve been talking about trading CJ for years but what I want to know is how much value he really has? I think he hasn’t been playing really well lately but he can still score and that’s always valuable. You often say it takes two ends to make a trade work. How many people out there are really interested in CJ if we do decide to trade him and how much will they give up?
Well, we’ll see, won’t we? This stretch without Damian Lillard will put pressure on McCollum to perform as a ball handler and main scorer. His ability to do so will help determine his value on the market.
The book on CJ has been, “Near star with upward potential for growth if he gets out of Lillard’s shadow.” He’s always looked good in Portland’s system as a strong secondary scorer, hitting from all ranges while defenses pay attention to Lillard and three-point shooters. His handles are adequate, his mid-range game impeccable. He’s well-suited for that role.
Results have been mixed on the occasions McCollum has taken the offense in hand this year, His isolation game works to a point. He’s near-prescient in his ability to generate open jump shots inside the arc, likely because defenders don’t know when or where he’s going to pull up. They’re more concerned about the three or the layup either way. When defenders can track him into the lane, knowing when the shot is coming, McCollum is not able to finish as well.
This is more than satisfactory as long as McCollum remains alongside Lillard in Portland. This will not the case for most teams that would trade for him. Unless we’re talking about the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, or Los Angeles Lakers, Portland’s trade partners would not be acquiring him as a second option, but as a primary backcourt scorer, perhaps even initiating the offense.
If “20-points per game” encapsulates the entirety of McCollum’s value, his $30-35 million contract starts looking steep. It’s not out of line with upper-tier players in the NBA, but it’s not chump change either.
If McCollum does have ceiling remaining and can help run an offense instead of just finishing it—taking care of the ball, setting up teammates, drawing fouls, finishing in the lane and deep—he becomes a prospective #1 (or #1a) option, which makes his drawing power on the market higher.
We’re going to see pressure on McCollum over the next week or two as Lillard heals from a groin injury. He can’t play his way into a favorable trade position over that span, but he can probably play himself (and, by extension, the team) out of it. Let’s hope he excels.
Anfernee Simons doesn’t look as good as he did at the beginning of the year. Do you think he’s an adequate substitute for CJ McCollum or are you losing confidence in him?
I have as much confidence in Simons as ever. He’s going through the stages that every young player goes through, both on the court and in his assessment by fans.
Development often (not always, but often) goes like this.
- A young player gets drafted but isn’t ready. He plays poorly, but fans latch onto his potential and a few highlight plays, overrating his utility.
- The player develops and hits the court. He excels early, playing second-unit shifts against defenders who didn’t game plan for him. Fan reaction skyrockets, as their earlier assessment appears correct.
- The player hits a physical slump typical of one’s first extended tour of duty in the NBA. At the same time, opposing defenses begin to clock him, taking away his strongest options. The player slumps and people pile on, criticizing him in equal measure to the praise he once got.
- The player recovers physically, trusts the fundamentals and the game plan, and begins to make regular, solid contributions. Only at this stage does reality come to the fore. Some players plateau at decent. Others rise, some to stardom. At this point all the previous talk becomes moot; the player shows it (or doesn’t) on the court.
Simons is in Stage 3 right now. His dazzling performances earlier in the season weren’t mirages. They just weren’t sustainable yet. His gifts—quick step, instant shot, and confidence—remain undimmed. They’re going to show forth again when he hits Stage 4. That might happen towards the end of this year. It might not happen until next season. No matter when the transition comes, I’m not worried about him a bit.
Simons alone won’t be able to fill in for CJ McCollum anytime soon. That’s not the question facing the Trail Blazers. They need to ask whether Simons plus whomever they could get for McCollum in trade will be more effective/productive than McCollum and Simons alone.
What do you think? Do you have enough confidence in Simons (and/or Gary Trent Jr.) to make a McCollum trade more palatable? Weigh in below. Don’t forget to send your Mailbag questions to firstname.lastname@example.org!