Portland Trailblazer’s guard C.J. McCollum has improved his scoring and facilitation skills this season to become the front-runner for this season’s most improved player. When McCollum was drafted in 2013 he was averaging 12 minutes a game, 5.3 points per game and 0.7 assists a game. He was outshined by Portland’s dynamic starting 5 at the time, and in 2014, he was sent to the D-league for a short period to improve his skills. CJ reemerged and improved his stats in 2014/2015 averaging 15.7 minutes per game, 6.8 points per game and 1.0 assists per game.
After Portland’s starting 5 dismantled, and only left their starting point guard Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum got his big break being promoted to the starting 5. In an interview with Bleacher Report, McCollum told the press “I know what it’s like to be a role player, I know what it’s like to not play, and I don’t want to experience that again. So I work that much harder because I know what that felt like.”
CJ now averages 35.5 minutes per game, 20.9 points per game and 4.4 assists per game. McCollum calls his promotion to the starting 5 “a privilege” and is certainly playing as a leader for this young team. “I don’t feel like I need to change as a person because I’ve already been the leader of a college team, going four years, And I’ve been a follower on a college team before that. I’ve been a follower on an NBA team, and now I’m trying to help Dame lead these guys in the right direction—first and foremost by example.” McCollum said.
Portland statistically has noticed how well Lillard and McCollum compliment each other and have found a game-winning nucleus in this backcourt, being labelled the second best backcourt in the NBA. “We can relate to each other a lot, and we’d been friends before the NBA. So we built a relationship early on, and it just so happens that we got drafted by the same team. It was a smooth transition. I respect him off the court as a person, and I understand where he comes from.” McCollum said.
The Blazers are now in between a rebuilding and playoff bound, and with the right pieces around them, Lillard and McCollum might be making more noise in the coming years.