Quick, name the best backcourt in the NBA.
Who did you name? Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, right?
Well, you could be wrong. Mabye.
While Curry and Thompson are among the best players in the league, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard form quite the 1-2 punch. That duo is averaging a combined 46.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 7.1 assists, and 2.8 steals per game.
McCollum, who leads the team in scoring with 25.7 points per game, credits his development to Lillard.
McCollum, a Lehigh product, was the tenth overall pick in 2013, while Lillard, a Weber State product, was the sixth overall pick in 2012. In other words, they had a lot in common.
“I reached out to him early on just asking about the work ethic, the process, and what it’s like to go from a mid major school to the NBA,” McCollum said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Because it’s different being the man at your school, not having a lot of eyes on you, and there’s a lot of question marks you face as a small-school player.”
Can you play this level? Can you consistently compete against the best players in the world?
“So just asking him little questions and seeing his work ethic and how he approaches his day-to-day was very helpful in my development,” McCollum said. “Just having him on the court at the same time obviously takes a lot of attention off me and we’re able to take advantage of defenses.”
While McCollum and Lillard are elite players, it remains to be seen whether Portland (3-1) has enough to compete for a title in a stacked Western Conference. In fact, it seems that free agency is the only way to compete in today’s NBA, no?
“It’s one of the ways to compete,” McCollum said, “but as a player, all you control is your work ethic and your day-to-day approach to the game. I think we have great internal development with our staff, and players have gotten better.”
People point to Golden State as a super team, McCollum said, but remember: the Warriors drafted Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green.
“They drafted a lot of players that are playing at an elite level now and developed them,” McCollum said. “Obviously picking up Kevin Durant changed the team, but they had won a ring based on some of the players they drafted. Picking up guys like (Andre) Iguodala and some of the free agents they got later on, those were key pieces, but internal development is huge in the NBA. You have to have internal development. Players have to be able to get better. It’s your job. Your job is to get better and worry about that. The organization will handle the rest.”
And, while star players are important, role players are just as important.
“You have to have role players,” McCollum said. “You have to have functional role players who are able to produce. That’s the difference between the top of the league and the bottom.”
The Trail Blazers are in the midst of a four-game home series. They beat New Orleans, 103-93, on Tuesday and host the Clippers (Oct. 26), Suns (oct. 28) and Raptors (Oct. 30) in the coming days.
McCollum actually missed Portland’s season-opener in Phoenix on Oct. 18, as he was suspended for one game for leaving the bench during an altercation in a preseason game against the Suns. Portland did just fine without McCollum, beating Phoenix 124-76 on opening night.
“It won’t happen again,” McCollum said of the suspension. “It’s unfortunate I had to miss a game, but luckily, we were able to win by 40-plus in our season-opener, so it didn’t hurt that bad.”