For the last couple of seasons and counting, two familiar faces have lit up the city of Portland in a way that has inspired, and has given identity to a sometimes looked-over Blazers team. The duo have pushed Portland through tough nights, through good runs and through a medley of performances, ranging from deadly to tame. This pair is Portland’s backcourt monster; none other than Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
Undoubtedly all-star calibre players, these two have been overlooked for that such honour in the past couple of years, due to less than dominant overall team performance. This season, however, the entire roster is playing with a refreshing sense of chemistry and vigour, which has led to their strong start. Lillard and McCollum still remain the focal points of the Portland Trail Blazers, but while many see their roles as overlapping and their qualities as similar, there is much that differs between the point guard and shooting guard in Rip City.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum: Two Sides of a Backcourt Monster
This side of the floor is what the pair are most known for. Last season, they averaged 50 points a night – the most by any backcourt – pouring in buckets with devastating will. While this figure is down to 47.2 points a night this year, they’ve still retained their scoring dominance. However, the manner in which these points are scored differs.
As the floor general, Lillard finds himself more involved play-by-play, in terms of number of touches on the ball. He has more field goal attempts and free throw attempts than any other player on the team, so it is no surprise he is the teams biggest scorer. Additionally, as the point guard, he’s able to dish out more assists. McCollum currently averages 4.2 less points per contest.
This comes at the cost of shooting efficiency – Lillard’s 3 point FG clip currently sits at a mediocre 0.331, while his regular FG clip is only marginally better at 0.419. He is prone to being a somewhat streaky shooter – with the ability to either take over a game or completely disappear from it, scoring wise.
On the other hand, McCollum’s efficiency when shooting is next level. Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal ranked McCollum as the NBA’s best pure shooter of the 16/17 NBA season. His shooting clips, particularly from beyond the arc, are sublime. (0.457 FG, 0.487 3P FG, 0.877 FT) Part of the reason McCollum is so gifted offensively is because of his ability in all regions, from behind the 3 point line, to inside the paint, to the mid range.
Disregarding all stats, however, an eye test is simple enough to conclude the differences in each others style. Lillard’s play can best be summed up as ferocious. He’s aggressive, willing to take tough looks, but also willing to drive through anything to score. Some of his best nights have come through constantly beating better and bigger defenders to the rim. McCollum, on the other hand, is smooth, from his silky shooting touch to his old school bag of tricks that can make any defender look silly.
Together, they form a backcourt offence rivalled by almost no pair around the league.
Last season, many critics blamed the Blazers’ small starting backcourt as one of the key reasons their defense stuttered periodically. Lillard and McCollum even addressed this matter before the beginning of the 17/18 season, saying that they were tired of hearing everyone claim they were good at everything… but defence. McCollum himself recently said, “Now that I’m known as a poor defender, people are probably watching me, and paying more attention and going, ‘Oh, he’s not a terrible defender.”
The truth is, both are bringing a lot more to the table than they have in the past. They’re getting stops, playing the passing lanes and getting charges. They’re physical, brutal and unwilling to crumble to screens. As the teams franchise players, by playing with this level of physicality, the backcourt is setting the tone for all other players. Ed Davis said as much, claiming “the effect just rubs off on everyone.”
In fact, NBA Advanced Stats have Lillard as high at 5th at overall individual defence, and McCollum at 16th. The entire team has the 5th best defensive record in the league, with a outstanding defensive rating of 99.3.
This season, Rip City has come to play defence.
Damian Lillard is undoubtedly the face of the Portland Trail Blazers franchise; he has been for many years now, especially since LaMarcus Aldridge packed up his bags to San Antonio three summers ago. While he has shouldered this responsibility with gusto and resolve, for the Blazers to step up their performance even more, it would do McCollum well as a team veteran now to step into a role of added responsibility.
These two players, coupled with the exciting promise of the other members on the youthful Blazers roster, have the power to bring to Portland a lot of success in the future. They are deceptively similar, but each possess a variety of capabilities that can cause any opposition many problems, on any given night.
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