CJ McCollum is finally the star that Blazers fans have wanted him to be

CJ McCollum is finally the star that Blazers fans have wanted him to be

The 2018-19 NBA season started out rocky for CJ McCollum. Terry Stotts wanted him to be handcuffed with Damian Lillard in the starting unit to start the year, and that led to some growing pains for McCollum. Where before he had free reign, the inclusion of Lillard in more of his minutes required McCollum to be more ingenious and efficient.

Things didn't start out that great for McCollum. He struggled to shoot the ball, particularly in November and into December. It was clear that he was trying to play within the confines of someone else's game, and McCollum didn't angle to his own strengths.

That changed, particularly after the All-Star break, when McCollum's offensive rating shot up to 120. He was more useful in the passing game, and by the time the playoffs rolled around, it was clear the Blazers could rely on McCollum yet again.

He was huge in the first round, particularly in Game 2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. McCollum scored 33 points while shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. He was a +25 in Game 4 of that series, and in Game 3 against the Nuggets in the next round, he scored 41 points en route to a 2-1 Blazers series lead.

McCollum’s penultimate performance came in Game 7 when he hit a clutch jumper in with  2 seconds to go against the Denver Nuggets. His shot sealed the win vs. Denver, and pushed Portland to the Western Conference Finals.

So how should we feel about McCollum? Adaptation and fearlessness are the two things that defined McCollum’s season. He could have very well folded under the pressure of a new role earlier in the season. The same could be said about how he could have given up in tougher games in the playoffs when Lillard was struggling and he had to take over. But instead, McCollum rose to the challenge and became something more. In doing so, he earned the praise we lumped onto him after he signed his massive new contract in 2016.

National talking heads like to put on a show about the Blazers. They watch some highlights, check out some stats, and make a big show about sending some respect out west to the Blazers for both Lillard and McCollum. But the amount of minutes that folks on the East coast actually watch this team is minimal. Believe me, I lived there, and if you talked about staying up late to watch West Coast basketball people would look at you as if you were crazy. 

Yes, both of Portland stars deserve this praise. But the lack of understanding about what kind of players they are, and the kind of lip service that's been paid to them has created a gap between perception and reality.

In particular, because he's the second banana, it seems sparse what many on the other side of the Rockies could tell you about McCollum — other than the fact that he's a scorer. And to be honest, up until this season, it wasn't clear that there was another level to McCollum game other than that fact. The national understanding of McCollum game was accurate, whether it was obtained honestly or not.

But this season has changed how we should think about CJ McCollum. His adaptability — to operate differently after five seasons within the geometric dance of an NBA offense — is admirable. It was a test of character that McCollum passed, and it may have also been the thing that gave McCollum the chutzpah to handle adversity in the playoffs the way he did this season. 

Before 2018-19, CJ McCollum was “smooth” “crafty” and “shifty”; a second-tier scorer on a second-tier team, standing in the shadows cast by a light shining brighter than himself in Damian Lillard. Now? McCollum is finally the star that so many Portland Trail Blazers fans have ascribed him to be. 

How Damian Lillard stacks up to other superstars in NBA2k20

How Damian Lillard stacks up to other superstars in NBA2k20

The NBA2k20 Player Ratings have started coming out for the newest edition of the hit video game. 

Damian Lillard checks in at a 92 overall rating ranking him #10 so far out of the superstar player ratings that have been confirmed. 

Confirmed player ratings who rated higher than Lillard's 92 include:

Paul George, Joel Embid, 93

Anthony Davis, 94

Steph Curry, 95

Kevin Durant, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, 96

Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James 97

The top duos in the game do not include the Trail Blazer backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. They include:

Lebron and Davis, Kawhi and PG, KD and Kyrie, and Harden and Westbrook.

More to come as additional ratings are made available for other Trail Blazer players. 

Trent Jr. looking to crack rotation, coach Moran looking for Trent to improve on defense

Trent Jr. looking to crack rotation, coach Moran looking for Trent to improve on defense

A group text message quickly became a place to bond for the summer Trail Blazers.

This year, all eyes were on second-year player Anfeernee Simons, who was just named to NBA Summer League second-team. But when Simons suffered a sprained ankle in the final seconds of the Blazers’ third game and missed the rest of the tournament, the focus shifted to second-year player Gary Trent Jr.

The 20-year-old quickly picked up the slack with Simons out and he made sure the team camaraderie was strong.  

Portland finished Las Vegas Summer League play by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 99-84 on Friday night. Trent Jr. led the way with 28 points and eight rebounds, as the Blazers wrapped up Summer League with a 2-3 record.

The overall record may not have shown how close-knit the Blazers summer squad became in such a short period of time.

“It was a great Summer League team. The way they put the team together. It was great. In the Summer League group chat we have, everybody was joking… You could tell we gelled together quick, just it couldn’t translate on the court, but it was still fun, it was great to meet those guys,” Trent Jr. said.

The Blazers shooting guard not only took charge off the court, but he also averaged 28.4 points on 41% shooting from the field to go along with 6.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Portland’s Summer League head coach, Jim Moran spent a majority of Trent Jr.’s rookie season working with him day in and day out.

Coach Moran is eager for Trent Jr. to make a leap on the defensive end.  

“I work with Gary every day, so he had 28 tonight, but I look at the defensive stuff. So, for me when I watch the film I’m going to be focused more on the defensive mistakes,” Moran said.

“I know he’s a scorer, I know he can shoot, he’s a talented player, but I think as a coach you’ve just gotta keep working on their weakness and I think right now just getting him to buy in more on the defensive end... But, I’m happy for him. He had some good games out here,” Moran added.  

Coach Moran knows Ternt Jr.’s defensive mindset is a working progress. Right now it’s all about repetition for the young Blazer. 

“Every time I go to talk to him about defense, he’s shaking his head going, ‘I know, I know,’ so we’re on the same page about it, it’s just a matter of committing to it every day,” Moran said with a smile.

“The opportunity to lead and just play,” Trent Jr. said was the biggest positive takeaway for him personally. “All last year, I didn’t really play that much, so just getting the opportunity to get on the floor, get up and down, being able to get a foul, being able to knock down a jump shot, it’s a great feeling."

It was evident by watching all five games played in Las Vegas that the game has slowed down for the Blazers shooting guard.

“Just being patient, I know where to get on the spot where I can get my shot off within the offense. I know the plays pretty well now, so just… be patient, let the game come to me,” Trent Jr. said.

As the son of former Trail Blazer Gary Trent Sr. now sets his sights on cracking the rotation for the 2019-20 season with the Blazers, he knows he must have an impressive training camp in the fall and make sure to “control” what he can on and of the floor.

“Really just control, what I can control. Just continue to work, if the opportunity comes I’ll be ready,” Trent Jr. said.

Simons named to NBA Summer League second-team

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NBCSNW

Simons named to NBA Summer League second-team

The Blazers were unable to repeat as Summer League champions last week in Las Vegas, but that doesn't mean they didn't have a successful summer. 

Portland's Anfernee Simons averaged 22 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game in Las Vegas. To make it more impressive, he did so in just three games. Unfortunately, Simons injured his ankle and did not play in the team's final two games. Despite the injury, the performance of the Blazers' second-year guard still turned heads.

On Monday it was announced that Simons earned a spot on the NBA Summer League Second-Team.

Simons was the only Blazers player to make one of the All-Summer League teams, but he wasn't the only player with Northwest ties to make the cut. 

Former Oregon Ducks star Chris Boucher of the Toronto Raptors joined Simons on the second-team, as did former Gonzaga star, Washington Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura.

Hachimura wasn't the only Gonzaga player to put on a show. Fellow rookie and former Bulldog,  Brandon Clarke of the Memphis Grizzlies was named to the Summer League First-Team and was also named Summer League MVP. 

Spalding launches Dame Time Challenge

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USA Today

Spalding launches Dame Time Challenge

If you don't already know, today is Damian Lillard's 29th birthday. In honor of the occasion, Spalding launched the Dame Time Challenge. The challenge simply asks that fans do their best Lillard impersonation by making shots from as deep as possible and posting the results on social media. 

The shots have come flooding in. So don't miss your chance to let Dame, Spalding, and the world see your best long-distance shot. While you warm up and get the camera ready, here are some of the best #dametimechallege videos out there right now. 

The best of Trail Blazers social: The whole world loves Moe Harkless

The best of Trail Blazers social: The whole world loves Moe Harkless

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, it may also be in the algorithm of artificial intelligence. As our friends over at Pinwheel Empire pointed out, the facial beauty network at South China University used its special software to rate the attractiveness of starters in the NBA.

While he may not be a member of the Blazers anymore, SCU's math said Maurice Harkless was the most attractive starting small forward in the league last season. In fact, he was one of the most attractive starter in the entire NBA.

Harkless responded simply,  "the people have  spoken."

But enough of Moe and his beautiful smile. Let's talk about the current Blazers. As is custom in 2019, many of the Trail Blazers players posted on social media this week. From proud dads, happy rookies, and happy birthdays, the Blazers players took to their favorite apps to talk about it. Here are some of the best Trail Blazers social media posts of the week.

View this post on Instagram

Dame Jr

A post shared by Damian Lillard (@damianlillard) on

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Mood

A post shared by anthony tolliver (@atolliver44) on

 

 

Looking back: Anfernee Simons top plays from NBA Summer League

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USATI

Looking back: Anfernee Simons top plays from NBA Summer League

LAS VEGAS - Damian Lillard is the now of the Trail Blazers, but the future of the Trail Blazers might be in his protege, Anfernee Simons. 

We've seen plenty of potential from the young guard, who dropped 37 points on Sacramento in the regular season finale. 

He also had a great summer league until an ankle injury prematurely ended his time in Las Vegas. 

Simons led the Blazers in scoring with 35 points in 25 minutes in Portland's third game of summer league. He was in position to tie the game vs. the Jazz, but instead injured his right ankle on his way to the rim on an attempt to hit a game-tying dunk or layup. Simons would sit out the remainder of the summer league due to the injury.

Simons would end summer league averaging 22.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in three games played

Summer League Head Coach Jim Moran has this to say about Simons:

“It was fun to watch him run the team... I was happy to see the growth from him, the confidence, picking his spots, getting guys involved. I thought he did a great job. We put the ball in his hands for the last play of the game when he got hurt, that’s the level of trust we have with him. He’s grown a lot.”

For now, let's enjoy the NBA's video of Simons' best plays from summer league:

Why didn't the Portland Trail Blazers utilize the fastbreak more in 2018-19?

Why didn't the Portland Trail Blazers utilize the fastbreak more in 2018-19?

The Portland Trail Blazers were not a good fastbreak team last year. They ranked just 18th in pace, getting out in transition 11 percent of the time and scoring 1.08 points per possession. That low scoring number ranked them in the bottom half of the league.

Their offense in total was of course very good. The Blazers had the third-best offensive rating in the league last season, and the eighth-best points per possession.

Like most teams, Portland's critical statistics — shooting percentages, assist percentages — went up in transition compared to its regular offense. But most importantly, players like Moe Harkless and Jake Layman thrived appeared to thrive beyond their regular production when they were on the break.

That begged the question of whether the way to utilize all of Portland’s assets was to push the pace.

In this week's video, we take a look at how guys like Layman, Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Meyers Leonard were excellent transition players for the Blazers this year. We also compare how Evan Turner, Seth Curry — and even Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum — may have had an effect on Terry Stotts' decision not to push the pace.

Watch the full video breakdown on Portland's transition game by clicking the video above.

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard shuts down Shannon Sharpe’s contract criticism

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard shuts down Shannon Sharpe’s contract criticism

FS1’s Shannon Sharpe thinks Damian Lillard shouldn’t have stayed in Portland.

On the “Undisputed” this week, Sharpe was overly critical of the All-Star guard’s four-year, $196 million supermax contract, saying Lillard will be quickly forgotten if he doesn’t win a championship.

“When’s the last time Dame Lillard took less than the max?” Sharpe said. “So, what Dame Lillard is gonna be is a guy that’s probably gonna make $400 million with no titles.”

He continued: “He’s gonna be one of the richest players in NBA history with zero titles,” Sharpe said. “Nobody remembers the guy who made a bunch of money playing sports, only if you won titles Dame. And if you don’t believe me, ask Kevin Garnett. At the end of the day, if you play a sport, it’s all about titles.”

Lillard caught wind of Sharpe’s criticism of his contract and fired back with this response.

At 28, Lillard still has plenty of time to win a championship with the Trail Blazers, but he has been consistent in his message: he’d rather be a good teammate and person than a ring chaser.

This offseason, Portland added key pieces like Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore to aid Lillard and the Trail Blazers in their journey for an NBA championship.