McCollum not shying away from pressure that will inevitably come his way

McCollum not shying away from pressure that will inevitably come his way
July 8, 2013, 7:00 pm
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CJ McCollum Introductory Press Conference

CJ McCullom, the Portland Trail Blazers No. 10 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, hasn't played one professional game, but his expectations appear to be already set in stone.

With the addition of McCollum, Thomas Robinson, Earl Watson, Allen Crabbe and Dorell Wright, there has been talk that the Trail Blazers have dramatically improved its bench.

That could be true, but there are too many unknowns when it comes to Robinson, Crabbe and McCollum. The two rookies have yet to experience what the NBA is truly about, while the other has yet to figure it out.

Personally, I believe it's too much pressure to expect unproven players to come in a make an immediate impact. That's why I choose to take the wait-and-see approach before stating if the bench is “dramatically” better. There's definitely more household names on it, however.

Monday morning after McCollum's introductory press conference, I asked him how he feels about the new-found confidence from media members and Blazer nation in regards to the upgraded bench.

I quickly found out that he's not running away from those expectations. He's relishing it.

Your job is to play basketball and perform at a high level,” McCollum told “Them taking me with the 10th pick makes the stakes a little bit higher. I'm expected to do more and I should do more. I'm comfortable with my abilities. I know I have a lot to improve on and I have to get ready for the transition. But, I'm ready right now. I think that's what they recognized and realized [about me]. After a few games, you'll see.”

The rookie definitely isn't short on confidence. But why should he be? He has defied all the odds by playing four years in a small conference at Lehigh University. Then in return, he flipped that success into being an NBA lottery pick.

It's been discussed ad nauseam, his path is similar to the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard: four years spent at a small college while completely dismantling the competition.

But would McCollum be viewed as someone who is expected to transition nicely into being a serviceable role player, or more, if Lillard hadn't had so much success his rookie season?

I look forward to it (the pressure),” he said. “I'm supposed to be under pressure. You're supposed to hold me to a high standard. Especially coming from a small school and being compared to Dame. I embrace it.”

First test: Summer League, where a wise NBA executive once told me, “Summer League doesn't reveal who can play, it reveals who can't play.”

The small details of his game is what McCollum says he's going to focus on in Las Vegas, such as coming off screens crisp and tightening up his pick-and-roll game.

Coming away with an award would be nice, he says, but it's all about getting better.

I just want to be consistent and sharpen the tools up a little bit,” McCollum said. “Work on some things off the screens, off-ball screens and just test everything out to see where I'm at...You can get MVP of the Summer League and go have a terrible rookie year, so I just want to make sure that I'm ready when the season starts.”

If the season were to start now, I'm not sure he would be ready because he looked physically exhausted Monday.

He said he woke up at 5:30 am and then proceeded to get a workout in 30 minutes later. The rest of his day consisted of photo shoots and interviews. A team meeting is later today and he'll get some shots up later tonight at the team's practice facility.

This is my job now, I'm suppose to embrace it,” he said. “I rather do this than sit at a table any day.”

McCollum has only spoken to a handful of his new teammates since being drafted. He'll get acquainted with them as the team gets set for practice tomorrow morning in preparation for Summer League.

Around seven of the players participating is expected to be on the Trail Blazers official roster come October. Next season will feature a young team with a couple of important veterans that have the ability to play more than 82 games next season, according to McCollum.

Absolutely I feel that way,” he said. “I would think the whole team believes that. We have a lot of pieces in place, good depth. We got an interior presence coming, an All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge, you got a great point guard, we got Wes [Matthews], Nic [Batum]. I think this is a great team.”