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Blazers Top 100: The Complete Offensive Package

A look at the 100 players and personnel who have influenced the Trail Blazers’ 50-year history.

Portland Trail Blazers v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.

No. 26 | CJ McCollum

Games Played with Blazers: 473 Regular Season, 46 Postseason

PTS: 18.4 | AST: 3.1 | REB: 3.3 | STL: 0.9 | 3PT%: 39.7%

Joined Club: June 2013, selected 10th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft

Departed Club: Currently active

Place in History: The first thing you learn about CJ McCollum is that there are no periods in his name.

The second thing you learn about CJ McCollum is that there are no periods in his offense either. It just doesn’t stop.

McCollum was a known scorer coming out of Lehigh University. He averaged 21.3 points during his four-year college career. As he graduated, multiple pundidiots wondered whether the small-school guy could put up big-time numbers in the actual NBA.

Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey sloughed off those concerns, selecting McCollum 10th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. Olshey hadn’t blinked the year prior, selecting Damian Lillard from Weber State with an even higher pick. Lillard had earned Rookie of the Year honors. Why not McCollum?

Injuries and a crowded roster headed for the playoffs would prevent McCollum from vying with Lillard for league-wide plaques. He broke his foot during training camp and played only 38 games that season. Even if he had been available, Wesley Matthews and Allen Crabbe were in line before him.

McCollum would appear 62 times in his sophomore season, earning 16 minutes and 6 shots a night. His three-point shooting was fantastic. His scoring metered out well per minute and he was handling possessions well on the court. Still, his place was hardly assured.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the gradual growth curve. Matthews ruptured his left Achilles tendon in March of 2015. He would not suit up for the Blazers the rest of the year. McCollum would finish the season strong, scoring 27 against the Lakers and 26 against the Jazz, both in April. During Portland’s five-game, first-round tilt with the Memphis Grizzlies, McCollum would bust out with 26 in Game 3, followed by 33 in Game 5. The Blazers lost the series, but they found their next shooting guard.

Portland did not retain Matthews in free agency that summer. Nor did they keep his veteran replacement, Arron Afflalo, a player for whom they had paid future Sixth Man of the Year candidate Will Barton and a first-round pick. Heading into 2015-16, the candidates for starting shooting guard were Crabbe, 28-year-old veteran Gerald Henderson, and McCollum. Crabbe had experience with the club. Henderson had started 292 games over six seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. McCollum got the nod.

That season, CJ started 80 games. Five years and 373 appearances later, he’s still at it, even when all the other players named in the above paragraph are long gone. Had you guessed back in 2013 that, out of a possible buffet of Matthews, Afflalo, Henderson, Barton, and Crabbe to choose from, McCollum would have become the Trail Blazers stalwart (and the choice is not even close?) Well...that’s not too shabby.

Since he took over the starting shooting guard position, McCollum has averaged 21.7 points per game on 45.7% shooting from the field, 39.8% from the arc. He’s become known as the master of the mid-range game in an era where 18-foot jumpers are sneered at, proving the maxim that any shot that goes in is a good one.

McCollum succeeds with quickness and misdirection. Unlike Lillard and many contemporary ball-handlers, he’s not the type to use screens. When he has the ball, defenders have to guess where he’s going. He can pull up from anywhere. If there’s no hand in his face, his jumper might as well be a layup.

If the opponent guesses CJ will penetrate, he’ll jab, step back, and sink a three. When defenders are wearing his jersey with him, he’ll drive, wait until they’re sure he’s going deep in the lane, then rise for the shot before they figure out different.

They say the hardest thing to adjust to in the NBA is how small the court feels because of the athleticism of opposing defenders closing in on your every move. McCollum makes that court seem big. He’s a one-man version of the throwback Trail Blazers offense of the 1970’s, when every shot seemed open because the ball moved around the floor so beautifully. What the vintage Blazers did with passing, McCollum does with his dribble and a marvelous jumper.

The pull-up isn’t McCollum’s only weapon, though. He has a tricky arsenal in the lane. You don’t see classic layups as much as little hooks, flips, and fade-aways. He can pass, averaging 3.7 assists per game as a starter. Unlike many of his predecessors at shooting guard, CJ is perfectly fine with the catch-and-shoot. If he needs to dribble in order to score, he’s always two steps from paydirt. If the dribbles aren’t necessary, he doesn’t take them. Above all, he’s smart and composed enough to know the difference.

Put it all together and you have one of the most complete, productive offensive suites in Blazers history, embodied in a player who isn’t so infatuated with his own abilities that they become ostentatious. McCollum is, above all, a team player and professional. He just happens to be a professional who’s put up a better five-year scoring average than any Portland shooting guard since Clyde Drexler, with production exceeded historically only by Drexler and franchise legend Geoff Petrie.

McCollum’s history-making numbers get a couple asterisks. He plays in an era that favors guards and their stats. He makes more use of the three-point arc than historical players could, or would. He also suits up alongside Lillard, though. Dame soaks up plenty of shots and attention. More than one Trail Blazers scorer has wilted in that scenario. CJ shines.

On the balance, it’s pretty safe to assume that McCollum is who he is. Right now, that’s the franchise’s 12th-leading scorer by total points, 9th by scoring average, and that’s with his first two seasons comparatively non-productive and plenty of career yet to go.

If you still need perspective, consider this: at his current rate, it’ll take McCollum 2.5 more seasons to become the third-leading scorer in franchise history, trailing only Lillard and Drexler. That’s as a supplementary scorer. Imagine what might have been had CJ ruled over his own era in the backcourt.

Throughout his time in Portland, people have argued whether McCollum is the right fit with Lillard. History and team record will make the final determination on that. For now, there’s no doubt that McCollum is one of the most gifted scorers and talented players the Blazers have ever drafted. For that, and in anticipation of even more to come, he earns the 26th spot on our Top 100 list of Trail Blazers players and influencers.

If your kids care about what happens to defenders, shield their eyes.

Share your thoughts about CJ McCollum below and stick with us as we count down to #1!