A balance of power is starting to shape up in the Western Conference. Ok, that’s a bold proclamation considering Golden State’s continued dominance but the Portland Trail Blazers look stronger than expected thus far, led by their explosive young backcourt, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
As expected, year 1 of “Dame Time” has gone swimmingly in terms of Lillard’s ability to maximize his talent and uplift his teammates. So far, the All-Star guard is averaging 27.4 points & 7 assists and is completely overwhelming opposing defenses by attacking on EVERY play…aka the “Russell Westbrook Approach.”
With an inexperienced roster, it’s no wonder why a few pundits (including us) predicted Dame would finish top 3 in scoring. Lillard is truly doing his best Gilbert Arenas impression, albeit without all of the antics and questionable decision-making. What Gilbert never had in Washington, however, was the luxury of another, similar talent sharing the same backcourt.
Enter: CJ McCollum. McCollum, whose play style is similar to a prime, more disciplined Ben Gordon, mirrors Lillard in a lot of ways. Everyone knows how potent the 6’4 guard is scoring the ball, with his unlimited range from deep and devastating in-between attack (44% of shots in 2015-16 come via pull-ups) but his playmaking and confidence rivals Portland’s star.
This means Dame does not always need to handle the rock or make clutch plays during minute number 40 of a tight contest. Fatigue was a factor down the stretch last season but now, he can stay fresh and close games without the pressure of having to do too much.
Not only can CJ create own looks for himself, as evident in last night’s tilt v. Utah, he can dish it out to Dame or a young swingman like Allen Crabbe after breaking down the D. Though CJ is only averaging 3.2 assists (offset by his 22.6 ppg), he’s learning how and where to find guys in the flow of the offense. Lillard has almost mastered that technique, making him deadly across the board.
Dame & CJ came into the NBA with polished games, after spending four years in college and honing their skills. The two workout buddies easily associate with one another due to their similar background. An overlooked aspect of their relationship is the fact that Dame and CJ feed off each other by displaying a “them against the world” mentality.
Not many products of Weber State & Lehigh turn into star athletes. For that reason, a less than 110% effort is never an option.
Portland’s up and coming duo has them tied for 4th, in the West, during what was supposed to be a “lost” season. Though it’s impossible to tell if they can stay in contention all year, Dame & CJ are two game-changers are in the midst of building something special in Rip City.