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Should The Portland Trail Blazers Trade CJ McCollum?

Monday, February 01, 2016

 

CJ McCollum

Starting with tonight’s game against Charlotte, Portland has seven games remaining before the NBA Trade Deadline on February 18th. And if some fans and pundits get their way, Portland’s first game after the deadline could look very different. And that starts with the question of  whether GM Neil Olshey should seriously consider moving CJ McCollum, even if Cleveland forward and Oregon native Kevin Love is the potential return.

My first reaction to this possible move was, “Why would Portland trade one of their youngest and most talented players?” So I took a look at some key NBA statistics to form an educated opinion. As I got deeper into the pool, I kept looking for something that would clue me in. Surely these people were seeing something I was not, something critical that made McCollum expendable in just his first year as a starter.

After looking at his stats, I was impressed, more than the tape of his play had already impressed me. And as I compared his stats with similar players at his playing position, as well as some past Blazers at his position, my final reaction to the question of whether Portland should trade him was best summed up by this Michael Scott GIF.

It’s clear that McCollum should stay here, and stay here for a long time. Not only is he an immensely talented and productive young player, he also fits perfectly into Olshey’s apparent plan to make the organic approach work. It’s worked here before, and it can work here again.

So why give up on what appears to be a special player to get a player three years older, who is also potentially an injury concern?

Personally, I don’t see the deal as a win for Portland. Forced to venture a guess, I would say that people are letting the talent Love has shown in 7.5 years in the league outweigh what they are seeing from McCollum in year one. I get the draw, Love has shown superstar potential and it’s no secret that this team needs an established post player on both ends. And while they aren’t getting that level of production from their collection of young bigs thus far; Love has proven himself to be many things, but he has never been mistaken for a consistent contributor on both ends of the court.

Please do not let my views sway you, take a look at the facts and judge the situation for yourself.

Let’s start with a look at the present. For the sake of argument, let’s say that James Harden, Klay Thompson, and Jimmy Butler are the top three shooting guards in the NBA today. While you can argue that none of them made the all-star team, let’s just assume that all-star voting is not necessarily a fair representation of who the best players are.

How does CJ stacks up against the top-3 players at his position?

While it’s true that McCollum doesn’t lead any of his rivals in the 10 statistical categories, he is darn close in every last one and is in the top-10 of all shooting guards in five of them.  What is often overlooked in a player like McCollum is that you have a guy who is 24 years old with low miles, in just his first year as a starter and already putting up stellar numbers when compared to his positional peers regardless of experience.

45 games in is not where I would look to trade what looks like a franchise building block, especially when the numbers indicate that Portland has an budding star on their hands. While some may call him undersized for a shooting guard, I would point out that Dwyane Wade is the same height as McCollum and has had a stellar career in Miami against all levels of competition. Wade has 20lbs on McCollum, but with the right conditioning McCollum can overcome some of that.  

One point to score to the keep McCollum camp is that many fans were irate when Blazers GM Neil Olshey opted to let Wesley Matthews seek a deal elsewhere this past summer. And yet McCollum has come right in and been the day 1 starter the team was looking for. The Blazers may not be elite yet, but they aren’t missing much on the offensive end so far.

Looking at those numbers, you’d have to assume that Matthews being left to play the market was the right decision for the team’s future. According to ESPN’s John Hollinger’s Analytics, there’s actually a way to prove that CJ has a similar value. Wesley Matthews played in 60 games and accounted for 5.7 wins in 2014-15, wins that wouldn’t have been there if a player such as say Arron Afflalo started in his spot. We know from how last season finished that Hollinger was right, and so far this season, CJ has played in 45 games and has accounted for 5.9 wins. Winning is what matters most, and on just contributing wins, CJ has established himself as the 5th most valuable shooting guard in that category this season.

The future looks bright, and there’s reason to believe that McCollum will be as good as Matthews one day, if not better. But the statistical comparisons do not end there, take a step back a bit deeper into the Portland past and look at how McCollum stacks up against Brandon Roy in his first year as a starter, and while we’re at it how he fares against Clyde Drexler’s first season as a starter.

Despite being compared to two of the most beloved Blazers shooting guards, CJ is very close to their numbers, if not a shade better in some regard. We know that Roy and Drexler became all-star players, and eventually helped shape their teams into contenders. Roy had five years to make it work, and had his career cut short by knee injuries. Drexler entered the league in 1983 and had the Blazers in the Finals by 1990. Will McCollum be given the same timeframe to build a legacy?

There certainly is something to the argument that McCollum needs to ramp up his efforts on defense, and he absolutely needs to, as Portland allows the 14th best field goal percentage, compared to last year when they allowed the 7th best. With Matthews and Nicolas Batum defending the perimeter, Portland allowed the 6th lowest shooting percentage from beyond the arc in 2015, this season they are allowing the 23rd lowest. Portland is averaging 102 points per game this season, and allows 102.7 points to their opponents. That equates to just two buckets per game, but in the NBA, that’s the difference between winning and losing.

Portland is extremely unlikely to replace McCollum’s 21 points per game with a player capable of exerting so much energy on offense, who can also create two or three additional stops per game than the Blazers are getting now. Can you think of a player that can contribute those numbers? The truth is, it most likely isn’t Kevin Love, and that makes a  potential deal such as this one a big no no in my eyes. .

Say the Bulls aren’t interested in dealing Butler, there really isn’t a high scoring talented defender out there at shooting guard, and even with Butler’s defense you lose the outside shooting threat McCollum provides. Shooting guards typically do not get a lot of blocks, so those stops need to come from impacting shots and outright steals. Butler averages nearly a steal more per game than McCollum, but that still leaves additional stops to make Portland a winner. Butler also benefits from post play by star center Pau Gasol, something he wouldn’t find in Portland just yet.

One thought might be to move McCollum, bring in Love, and move Allen Crabbe to the starting lineup. That is a drastic lineup change with potential, although it doesn’t do much to fix the team’s problem on defense..

The flip side of that is that there is no way to know if Crabbe is a true starter. In his 8 starts this season, Crabbe has not inflated his numbers compared to his numbers off the bench to the point of inspiring Terry Stotts to consider starting him full time.

Not bad, but not great either. Crabbe is clearly a talented shooter but he arguably brings even less to the defensive table than McCollum does, and while he is the “traditional” size for a shooting guard, Portland would have to know that he was capable of consistently producing McCollum’s numbers, which is not an easy feat right now.

If Crabbe could be the next great shooting guard in Portland, Love would need to find his spot in the offense alongside Damian Lillard and Crabbe. There’s also the question of which version of Love a trade partner would be getting, which is directly impacted by whether or not Love is the primary scoring option.

In 2014, running a one man show on a struggling team, Love undeniably put up superstar level numbers. But as soon as he started playing with talented shooters around him in Cleveland, rather than placing the emphasis of his offensive game in the post, he started forcing outside shots and his numbers went down. If Love is sent here and starts forcing bad shots, it won’t get this team any closer to being an elite competitor than they already are.  

Some may call Portland a bottom feeder this season, and while they have a long way to go to get from inspiring to elite,,their win over Sacramento on Tuesday they moved into the 8th seed in the West, making them a playoff bubble team with 35 games remaining. They have a lot of work to do to get where they need to go, and while winning only three of 11 games against the top 5 teams in the West this season (Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, LA Clippers, and Memphis) might seem like useless information, when compared to the 2013 Golden State Warriors, things do not look as bleak given where the 2013 Warriors ended up in 2015.    

It’s a small step in the right direction, and keeping McCollum would be another small but important step, too. If Portland makes the playoffs this season, it will be a surprise, but if they don’t they’ll have yet another lottery pick to mesh with their young and talented core. .

Kevin Love to Portland has a been dream of Blazers fans since his time at Lake Oswego High School, the local kid taking the local team to a long overdue second championship. It’s a great story, but probably one better suited for Hollywood, not weird Portland. Here, the right thing is the flashy thing, not the other way around. We like good guys with moral fiber who can shoot the lights out. Lillard and McCollum seem to really like each other, and that’s the kind of team bond you don’t disrupt on a whim, and that’s exactly what this potential trade reeks of.

The Trail Blazers shouldn’t give up on McCollum just yet. He’s in the middle of an all-star level season, and the team could be just one really good forward and a new assistant coach with a defensive background away from being much better all around.

But this isn’t up to me. What do you think, are you willing to trade the future to potentially get better right now?

Should Portland deal McCollum?

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.

 

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