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McCollum Talks Home vs. Road Play, Billups’ Coaching Style on Pull Up Pod

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum took to the Pull Up pod, offering some thoughts on everything surrounding the 2021-22 campaign.

Indiana Pacers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Earlier this week, CJ McCollum released his third in-season episode of the Pull Up Pod, where he provided some early thoughts on the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2021-22 season.

At the time of its release, the Blazers were riding a three-game winning streak that ballooned to four, and has since been ended by the Sacramento Kings. Nonetheless, it gives an intimate look at McCollum’s thoughts on this year’s team, his growing rapport with Chauncey Billups, and what he imagines going forward.

From a future-focused standpoint, McCollum’s eyeing of an improved team going forward was noteworthy. Here’s something to mull over: per Tankathon, the Blazers are tied for the easiest strength of schedule over their first 62. This was McCollum’s assessment over the quarter mark of the season.

“I think the cool part about where we’re at is that there are a lot of teams who are competing, there are a lot of teams who feel like they have a chance to not only make the Playoffs, but have success in the Playoffs. I think this is good for the sport and the game of basketball.

I still think it takes more than 20 games to get a gauge of what’s to be expected of certain teams. It’s important that you wait until at least 20, 25 games because then you’ve gotten more road trips out the way, you’ve been able to see teams play home, you’ve been able to see teams go to the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference and play games, and get a real sense of exactly how they’re doing and whether or not their schedule is just indicative of their record.”

McCollum is accurate in how the Blazers’ schedule was the most difficult in the month of November with the back-to-backs, five-in-sevens, and excessive travel, something NBA.com’s John Schuhmann hit on following the schedule release.

In the meantime, he also elaborated on some of the improvements he’s seen the team make in comparison to last season.

“I know a lot of guys on our team were able to get specific workouts and skill work and also skill development while implementing some of our plays on offense or defense and going over schemes and slides. Where’s the help coming from? What type of pick-and-roll coverage should we be running? What are we doing with ball screens on the side? What are we doing with the pistol action, which is when they kind of pass ahead and cut through and set a screen. How should we be rotating? Those are the things that we were able to work on, which has allowed us to be a little more sharp, a little bit more efficient and get off to better starts.”

McCollum talks about some of the reasons why the Blazers are better at home, some of which are self-explanatory: being able to sleep in their own beds, have home-cooked meals, etc. Considering McCollum’s full body of work, particularly over the last seven seasons, his 2021-22 road struggles could just be a matter of variance, though they are pronounced on the stat sheet.

Home: 10 games | 22.3 PPG | 4.1 RPG | 3.9 APG | 47-44-69% | +15.3 +/- | 9-1 record
Road: 10 games | 18.4 PPG | 4.6 RPG | 4.8 APG | 38-35-70% | -16.1 +/- | 1-9 record

That in itself offers a lot to unpack. The +15.3 and -16.1 plus-minus marks are especially intriguing. It would seem he’s sacrificing efficiency in favor of intangibles on the road, though for a perennial 20-point scorer, there’s likely more than meets the eye. As he mentions, Portland hasn’t had much time to practice, has been “bogged down” from transitioning from Terry Stotts’ longtime system and substitution patterns, etc.

On the topic of Billups, McCollum had this to say, regarding their budding relationship:

“I spent a lot of time with him asking him questions, talking about the game, figuring out ways we can improve, telling him what types of plays we should be running, what we like, what we don’t like. He’s a guy who will admit when he’s wrong and he’ll admit when he’s right. He’s not afraid of accountability, not only to hold you accountable, but to take accountability when things aren’t going well, and it’s something he can improve upon. I think that’s what you respect and like about him as a man. He’s a man of his word, and he said certain things in the preseason and the start of this season, and you’ve been able to hold him accountable to those things, and he’s been able to hold us accountable to the things he wants us to accomplish.

I think one of the things about him is, he’ll do whatever it takes to win. In terms of substitution patterns, in terms of play calling, he doesn’t care. He just wants to win. He wants to get the best out of us, and I think from a respect standpoint, you respect that about him.

Based on McCollum’s thinking, Billups has proven to be a player-friendly coach. As he noted, Billups gives the players a schedule a month in advance, so players can gauge off-time weeks in advance.

This podcast took place earlier in the week, so it hits on the LeBron James, Isaiah Stewart situation and Luke Walton’s firing among other Blazer-related topics. The link can be found here.