Are the Bucks a precursor for CJ’s breakout?

Are the Bucks a precursor for CJ’s breakout?

People in Portland have been patient, but there does seem to be a question making the rounds as folks slosh through the first heavy rains of the Oregon fall. It’s simple, and it’s curious given how important he’s been to the team over the past three years: 

What's wrong with CJ McCollum?

The stud guard has seen his year-over-year statistics drop, and prior to Tuesday night's 40-point breakout against the Milwaukee Bucks, McCollum doesn't appear to be making the same impact on games he has in seasons prior. Even considering the Bucks game, McCollum has had two real stinkers early: one against the New Orleans Pelicans and another in OT loss to the Washington Wizards. 

So is this the moment McCollum turns it around, or is there more to be worried about?

At its core, McCollum's struggles appear to be due to the altered rotation by coach Terry Stotts, who decided to pair him with Damian Lillard more often. 

In prior years, Stotts staggered the two guards to try to keep one on the floor at all times. But this offseason the coaching staff announced they would pair their star backcourt together, instead letting Evan Turner take the ballhandling role with the second unit.

Indeed, Stotts did not bluff on his rotation change. Of the top five lineups Portland has played by minutes this season, McCollum hasn’t appeared in any that consist of a majority of bench players. In contrast, three of the Trail Blazers’ most-played lineups in 2017-18 were “bench units” with McCollum smack dab in the middle.

This has led to McCollum going through some growing pains as he readjusts to a new role. An estimate from Basketball-Reference.com shows McCollum playing the most “small forward” of his career at 42 percent. McCollum playing SF isn’t strictly true, of course. Portland is sending out non-traditional wing lineups consisting of Turner, McCollum, Lillard, and Nik Stauskas where it’s hard to pin down who is playing what position. Nonetheless, it’s indicative of the change in lineups over last year. 

Put simply, McCollum has been asked to carry a different role in different rotations. When the coaching staff implemented this change, it was always possible someone was going to struggle with it. It turns out McCollum has taken the brunt of things during the first month of the season.

Then again, Stotts’ new offensive plan — one of extra passes and additional 3-point shooting — plays to McCollum’s strengths. That’s why I’m not worried about inconsistent play by McCollum to start the year.

It was obvious the Blazers needed to do something about how much dribbling McCollum, Lillard, and Shabazz Napier did last season. In a league trending toward team basketball, the Blazers started to skew toward turn-based offense. Getting the ball out of McCollum’s hands and instead giving it to him more judiciously was a wise move by Stotts.

It's also not as though McCollum’s statistical hiccups have affected Portland in a way that jeopardizes the theory behind these new rotations.

On the surface, McCollum has seen slight dips in his shooting percentage, assists, and points. But a closer examination of McCollum’s stats reveals he’s not too far off most of his advanced numbers, and he’s even increased some — particularly his free-throw rate — that have kept him effective. It’s not like he’s been bad. He just hasn’t been CJ McCollum. 

McCollum is no longer handling the ball and penetrating with the same type of voracity, although he’s retained similar usage statistics. What that tells me is he’s still touching the ball on offense, but not as a distributor. This explains his assists trending downward.

More encouraging are his shots at the rim, where McCollum has increased his attempts. The same goes for his 3-point rate, which has seen a boost. While he has struggled with percentages at these locations during the adjustment, it’s more evidence that Stotts’ plan to put McCollum where he’s most effective has worked. 

Now he needs to hit the shots.

That seems imminent for McCollum, whose performance against Milwaukee is more on par with what we should expect in games to come. McCollum is no slouch in the work ethic department and any regression to the mean for him would be a trend upward. He’s 17 percentage points off his career average from 0-3 feet, and six percent off his 3-point mark. I don’t expect either of those to hold for the year, both of which would be career lows. 

What I do expect is McCollum continuing to get these types of shots because they are exactly where Stotts has designed the offense for him to be. The NBA is a league that tries to get layups or 3-pointers, and Stotts has put McCollum in a position to get more of each this year.

The Blazers have played the same way for quite some time and no doubt Stotts felt like that was part of the problem. This Flow system has put McCollum in roughly the same spots during his entire career, and moving him into a more traditional wing role was a risk Stotts felt he had to take. The results aren’t there yet, but there’s the underpinnings of even greater reward once McCollum finds his shot and starts raining down from above. 

Mario Hezonja helps Trail Blazers turn loss into a positive experience

Mario Hezonja helps Trail Blazers turn loss into a positive experience

DENVER – The Trail Blazers wrapped up their exhibition season Thursday night in a positive manner.

No, they didn’t win the game. But they played well – given they played without Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside – and didn’t suffer any further injuries. The Denver Nuggets won the contest 110-104 but that’s not important.

What matters is that the Trail Blazers continued to showcase solid play from contributors who will likely come off the bench when the season starts next week in the Moda Center against these same Nuggets.

Mario Hezonja had his second straight solid game. In three seconds short of 28 minutes, he made 6 of his 11 shots from the floor, including 3-4 from the three-point line, scored 18 points, had five rebounds and six assists.

“Getting used to everyone around me, getting used to the system, getting used to the stuff that we run, getting used to the defense,” he said, “It’s up and down – not just for me but for all the new guys. It’s normal. But we have great chemistry. We have a great team. It’s like a brotherhood. We’ve accomplished a lot of great things in a short amount of time.

“Now everything starts to go for real.”

Hezonja is going to be playing at several positions, as the team tries to take advantage of his versatility and athleticism.

“I’ve learned sets for like four spots on the court,” he said. “It was tough in the beginning but now I know where I’m going to be and I know what Coach Terry is asking of me, so now it’s going very good.”

Stotts said he’s been pleased with what he's seen from his team on this two-game road trip.

“The last two games have been good tuneups for us," he said. “Now we’ve got three or four practices to get ready for Denver again.

“Mario played well both nights. Tonight, in the first quarter we had a big lineup out there and he was the point guard. We put in some sets where he could drive the ball and make some plays.”

Skal Labissiere made all of his four shots from the floor and had five rebounds to go with 12 points.

Stotts turned the fourth quarter over to his non-roster players and they stayed close to the Nuggets for a while but couldn’t hang on. The big thing was Portland being able to handle the Denver starters in the first half without using three of their own starters.

But, of course, it didn’t count for anything. And that stuff is in the past. Beginning next week in Moda Center, everything is for real.

REPORT: Blazers convert Exhibit 10 contract of rookie Moses Brown to a two-way deal

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USA Today Images

REPORT: Blazers convert Exhibit 10 contract of rookie Moses Brown to a two-way deal

Following the Blazers loss to the Nuggets in Portland’s final preseason game of the year, news broke about the Blazers adding one more player to a two-way contract.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that Portland is converting rookie center Moses Brown’s 10-day contract to a two-way deal.  

Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard had high praise for the young man during training camp:

“He just turned 20, being undrafted, and just so much upside, since September he’s been -- offensive rebound, after offensive rebound, after offensive rebound. He runs the floor well. He’s receptive of information. He takes criticism… Whatever you need him to do, he’ll do it. Whatever you say to him, he’ll listen.”

Players on two-way contracts may spend up to 45 days on an NBA roster and the remaining time on an NBA G League roster.

Brown was a one and done player out of UCLA. He finished his freshmen season averaging 9.7 points and a team-leading 8.3 rebounds.

At just 20-years-old, Brown has shown growth and ability to learn on the fly, which has really impressed Lillard.

“I’ve never seen anybody get better from the first day that I came back to now. It’s like a completely different player and I definitely think he’ll make it. He’ll be an NBA player. He’ll have an NBA career. I don’t have any doubt about that,” Lillard said after Tuesday’s practice.  

And now, Brown’s NBA career is officially starting in Portland.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts discussed this week how Brown has been able to make an impact on both ends of the floor during training camp.

“He’s a raw talent. He’s got great length. He’s a good learner… He plays hard. Anything that an agile big man brings to the game -- I mean, he impacts the paint defensively, he actually finishes very well around the basket on the offensive end,” Stotts said.

The NBA allows teams to have two players signed to two-way deals. The Blazers now have both spots filled with Brown and fellow rookie Jaylen Hoard, who signed his two-way contract in early July.

NBA GMs Survey: Where Damian Lillard ranks among point guards

NBA GMs Survey: Where Damian Lillard ranks among point guards

We are just days away from the NBA regular season tipping off, and general managers around the league have voiced their opinions on the upcoming season.

In the 18th annual NBA.com GM Survey, the GMs responded to 50 different questions in regards to the best teams, players, coaches, fans, offseason moves, and more.

In the annual survey handed out by NBA.com, general managers are not allowed to vote for their own team or personnel.

The final results of percentages are based on the pool of votes to that particular question, rather than on all 30 GMs. Meaning, not all 30 GMs may have casted a vote on a particular question. 

The Trail Blazers as team and individually received major props in a few of the categories, and in other categories they can use this survey as some bulletin board material.

VOTES ARE IN FOR BEST POINT GUARDS:

Damian Lillard was voted second best point guard in the league for the 2019-20 season.

Last season Lillard didn’t make the list.

The GMs voted Steph Curry with 57 percent of the vote last year, followed by Russell Westbrook with 17 percent, while Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul each had 10 percent of the votes.  

Lillard is entering his eighth season with career averages of 23.5 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game.  The 29-year-old said at Trail Blazers Media Day, the focus is to win a Championship.

Lillard has led the Blazers to the playoffs in six consecutive seasons. The next step for Lillard -- taking his team to the NBA Finals.

Check back here later for more GM analysis on the Blazers.

Instant Analysis from the Trail Blazers preseason finale with the ‘irregulars’

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USA Today Images

Instant Analysis from the Trail Blazers preseason finale with the ‘irregulars’

DENVER – That’s a wrap on the 2019-20 preseason for the Trail Blazers.

With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum both out for load management on Thursday night, along with Hassan Whiteside out due to a left ankle injury, the young Blazers stepped up vs. the Nuggets.

Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons shouldered a lot of the offensive load for the Blazers.

Here are three takeaways from Dwight Jaynes who was on the scene in Denver:

1 -- Trail Blazers' role players played most of the game.... and did not back down at all. Kent Bazemore, Anfernee Simons, Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja all had their moments.

2. Skal Labissiere did a solid job in a backup center role behind Zach Collins, who was solid.

3. Denver seemed to want this game a lot more than the Trail Blazers. Those playoff losses hurt for a while. The Nuggets finished the preseason 4-0.

Check back here throughout the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, reactions and videos from the locker room!

Trail Blazers in action vs. Nuggets, follow us on social for live updates

Trail Blazers in action vs. Nuggets, follow us on social for live updates

Portland will wrap-up its exhibition season on Thursday night with a stop in Denver.

The Blazers have decided to hold Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum out of Thursday’s game for load management.

As Portland (2-2) gets set to face Denver (3-0) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. PT, we will have you covered! Our Trail Blazers Insider Dwight Jaynes is in Denver, and since the game is not on TV, you'll want to make sure you follow along on social.

This will be the second meeting between these two in the preseason.

In their first meeting back on October 8th at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Portland went deep into its bench with 17 players on the active roster seeing the floor. The Blazers got out to a slow start with Denver leading 27-22 after one quarter. Both Lillard and McCollum only saw action in the first half and then were shut down for the rest of the game.

The Nuggets took that game, 105-94.

How to Listen to the Game:

Catch all the action on Rip City Radio 620 with Travis Demers and Michael Holton

Quote of The Week

Damian Lillard on Wednesday night in Utah discussed how nice it is to have the twin towers Hassan Whiteside and Zach Collins:

“Just having them back there for support, and knowing how well they do what they do, it’s a great feeling as a perimeter guy.”

Quick Links

It’s a load management kind of night for Blazers in Denver

With new faces and better shooting, can the Trail Blazers rely less on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum?

An update from Hassan Whiteside on his injured ankle

VIDEO: Locker Room Report -- The Trail Blazers' twin towers

VIDEO: Hassan Whiteside injures left ankle

Be sure to check back throughout the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players!

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Expect to see a lot of the young guys tonight

Trail Blazers Pregame Notebook: Expect to see a lot of the young guys tonight

Dwight Jaynes is on site in Denver as the Blazers prepare for their preseason finale. 

We caught up with Head Coach Terry Stotts during pregame and he gave a brief description on what his rotation will look like tonight with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum out for load management, and Hassan Whiteside out due to a left ankle sprain.

Stotts wouldn’t go into detail, but did say, he “will probably” go light on the other rotation players as well.

So, now the question is:

With no Lillard, no McCollum, and no Whiteside tonight in Denver... Will Anfernee Simons and Zach Collins drop 40 points apiece? Or could any of the training camp players impress tonight? We'll see!  

And, since the game is not on TV, you'll want to make sure you follow along on social and catch all the action on 620 Rip City Radio with Travis Demers and Michael Holton.

Quick Links

It’s a load management kind of night for Blazers in Denver

With new faces and better shooting, can the Trail Blazers rely less on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum?

An update from Hassan Whiteside on his injured ankle

VIDEO: Locker Room Report -- The Trail Blazers' twin towers

VIDEO: Hassan Whiteside injures left ankle

Be sure to check back throughout the night and tomorrow morning for analysis, articles, and videos from the players!

The Bridge Podcast with Trail Blazers TV Analyst Lamar Hurd

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NBCS NW

The Bridge Podcast with Trail Blazers TV Analyst Lamar Hurd

On this edition of The Bridge Podcast, Justin Myers and Lamar Hurd, the TV Analyst of the Portland Trail Blazers, go into the contrast of growing up in Houston and going to college at Oregon State.

They also dive into Lamar's transition from being a college basketball player to the broadcast booth and his relationship with Kevin Calabro.

Get the behind the scenes of your favorite broadcasting team with this fun interview with Lamar Hurd.

Countdown to Tip-Off: The Lakers (and NBA) got their first dosage of rookie Damian Lillard in 2012

Countdown to Tip-Off: The Lakers (and NBA) got their first dosage of rookie Damian Lillard in 2012

We're counting down the days until the Portland Trail Blazers open up the 2019-20 NBA season by looking back at each of the victories in the 18-game home-opener win streak. Here is a look at what happened back in 2012 when the Portland Trail Blazers and rookie Damian Lillard faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the home opener.

Can’t remember what the NBA was like in 2012? Let’s paint the picture:

- LeBron James was the reigning MVP

- The Miami Heat, lead by their big four of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Ray Allen, would go on to win back-to-back NBA titles (2011-12, 2012-13).

- Kyrie Irving had just won Rookie of the Year

- Anthony Davis was the No.1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft (selected by the New Orleans Hornets)

- The Blazers had the No. 6 pick and drafted Damian Lillard (Weber State). They also drafted Meyers Leonard (Illinois) at No. 11 and Will Barton (Memphis) at No. 40.

- Carmelo Anthony was the league's leading scorer

As for the Blazers home opener...

NBA, meet Damian Lillard; Damian Lillard, meet the NBA. 

The Blazers opened up their home schedule and the 2012 season with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite a combined 63 points from Bryant and Dwight Howard, it wasn’t enough to overcome all five Blazers starters reaching double figures. Rookie Damian Lillard recorded a double-double in his regular season debut combined with Nicolas Batum’s sharp shooting prevailed the Blazers over the Lakers 116-106.

Notable stats: 

Los Angeles -

Dwight Howard – 33 points, 14 rebounds

Kobe Bryant – 30 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists

Portland –

Damian Lilllard – 23 points,11 assists

Nicolas Batum – 26 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals

Wesley Matthews  – 22 points, 4 steals

LaMarcus Aldridge – 19 points, 3 rebounds

J.J. Hickson - 13 points, 10 rebounds

The Blazers would finish the season 33-49, good for the eleventh-best record in the Western Conference and would miss the playoffs for back-to-back seasons.

It’s a load management kind of night for Blazers in Denver

It’s a load management kind of night for Blazers in Denver

After treating Wednesday’s game vs. the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City as a dress rehearsal, the Trail Blazers announced on Thursday that both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will not play in Denver.

The two stars are out for ‘load management.’

Portland will also be without Hassan Whiteside who had tweaked his left ankle in the Blazers win over the Jazz on Wednesday.

[RELATED]: Trail Blazer Coach Terry Stotts after Utah win: "We really played well"

You can expect a lot of Anfernee Simons and the rest of the young training camp roster to get plenty of run in Denver.

Thursday’s game is the final exhibition contest of Portland’s preseason schedule and since the Blazers will be hosting the Nuggets on opening night, it’s best to save your stars and your plays for the regular season.