Rookie Rankings, Week 10: McCollum Could Give Bad Blazers Bench a Boost

NeilOlsheyLast season, the Portland Trail Blazers had one of the worst benches in the NBA.

Portland’s reserves were last in minutes (13.3), points (18.5), rebounds (10.5), offensive efficiency (21.1) and defenseive efficiency (minus 17.7). It was a big reason they had three players in the top nine in minutes per game, including rookie Damian Lillard, who led the entire NBA in minutes played. It also was a big reason why those players burned out and Portland lost its last 11 games to finish 33-49.

So in the offseason, GM Neil Olshey went out and did something about it. He traded for Robin Lopez to allow LaMarcus Aldridge to remain at power forward and second-year center Meyers Leonard to continue to come off the bench. They signed Dorell Wright as a backup to small forward Nicolas Batum. They acquired Thomas Robinson to give Aldridge a blow at the 4 spot.

They also signed Mo Williams, who has been one of the better bench players this season backing up both guard spots, including Lillard at the point.

So who has the worst bench in the NBA this season?

Yep, Portland.

Well, not the worst. The Blazers’ reserves are 29th in points (23.7), 26th in rebounds (12.6), 24th in offensive efficiency (28.3) and tied for 25th in defensive efficiency (minus 7.0). But they again are last in minutes (13.6), which means they are the NBA’s least trustworthy bench.

Despite the lack of production from the bench as a whole, the Blazers have zoomed into the elite of the NBA with a 27-9 record.

And this week, their bench got a lift with the debut of guard C.J. McCollum from Lehigh, the 10th pick in the draft.

McCollum missed the first 34 games of the season with a broken foot suffered in training camp. After playing two games in the D-League over the weekend, he was in uniform for Portland but did not play in Tuesday’s 123-119 road loss to Sacramento.

However, he made his NBA debut Wednesday night at the Moda Center, scoring four points in 14 minutes while playing primarily alongside Williams in a 110-94 victory over Orlando. He made 2-of-5 shots and had two rebounds, a steal and a turnover.

“He was good. He tried to play the right way,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I didn’t think he tried to do too much. He executed things well. He made some mistakes, but I thought for a first outing it was good to get him out on the court.”

CJ McCollum BRH_Card1_0001McCollum helped limit Lillard’s minutes to 34 and Wesley Matthews’ minutes to 30. For some perspective, Lillard had played at least 41 minutes in five of the last 12 games and Matthews had played at least 35 in nine of the last 11.

There are two major concerns with McCollum, whom fans of the college game will remember as the player who engineered Lehigh’s NCAA Tournament upset of Duke. One is that McCollum has broken his foot in each of the last two seasons; he missed a huge chunk of his senior season at Lehigh due to the same injury.

The other is that it is unclear whether McCollum is a point guard or a shooting guard. Right now, he is a bit of both, and he gives the Blazers two combo guards off the bench. The 6-4 rookie likely will spend most of his time at shooting guard, because Williams has the better and more experienced handle.

But while many other lottery picks in much better situations have struggled to make consistent contributions, McCollum appears to already have a niche with the Trail Blazers.

And if you know what the Blazers’ bench has been like the last two seasons, they certainly could use it.

Onto the rankings…

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