Haynes & Jaynes: 1st impressions of McCollum
Some thoughts on the off-season work of the Trail Blazers so far, from the draft to free agency:
- Last season Portland had two glaring weaknesses: Interior defense and the bench. Have these been dealt with? Yes and no. Or rather, no and yes. The addition of Robin Lopez at center certainly is a defensive upgrade over JJ Hickson. But at the same time, Lopez will never be confused with Tyson Chandler or Omer Asik. His New Orleans team last season was worse on defense than the Trail Blazers. And after the addition of Lopez, there's not much defensive improvement in terms of personnel. Any improvement in that area must come from young players gaining experience and the coaching staff. The bench? Well, it's improved, but how could it not be? Last season's team was historically bad off the bench and this team is better. But it's very inexperienced. I like what Dave from Blazers Edge said about it:
Let's put it this way. If you had heard that any other team but the Blazers had picked up Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, and Earl Watson would that cause you to upgrade their status or would you just say, "Maybe it's interesting but plenty of other teams did better"? Chances are, if we're being truthful, most of us wouldn't even notice if the Bucks or Sixers had made the moves Portland has this summer.
- I am more convinced than ever that if the Trail Blazers are really going to make a big jump this season that improvement rests on the broad shoulders of Meyers Leonard. When you look at him, athletically, next to Lopez you see a much superior specimen. Leonard can run, jump, catch and shoot with range. He just has to learn how to play. If he does, he'll push Lopez to the bench and backup minutes in a big-time hurry. I believe this team's future, in fact, may be all about Leonard. The only way this franchise is going to come up with a big-time center is to draft one -- or develop one. Leonard has a chance to be that guy. But he's far enough from that level now that I'm not yet willing to say it's going to happen.
- Dorrell Wright? Good player. Not a super shooter but a willing one. Nobody in the league would be embarrassed to have him coming off the bench. I would expect that playing for a decent team here he'd bounce back from what was a sub-par season for him last year.
- I make this point often but people don't seem to get it. Players coming out of college as big-time shooters -- particularly guards and most often shooting guards -- frequently struggle in their first season or two. The adjustment from college to the NBA for them is difficult because they are defended by taller and quicker players, making their shots highly contested most of the time. There are not as many wide-open looks as there are in college. The result of that is rushed shots -- players get in a hurry and their mechanics break down. It's not usually a long-term problem but don't be surprised if C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe are affected by this malady at some point as rookies.
- And by the way, just so you know -- just because McCollum is a four-year college guy, like Damian Lillard, it doesn't mean he's going to come in and have a Lillard-like impact. That would be quite unfair to expect.
- Earl Watson will serve the franchise just fine as a No. 3 point guard. But you wouldn't want him to have to play too many minutes.
- I talked to people who were close to Thomas Robinson in both Sacramento and Houston and none of them had any idea how good he can be. I can tell you this, none of them were real high on him. We shall see.
- Count me among those not all that excited about major cap room two seasons from now. That's 164 regular-season games from now, folks. A long time.
- General Manager Neil Olshey added a lot of players without touching the team's core unit of Nic Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews. I'm curious what you think about that unit, with Lopez at center. How good is it? How far will it go? If this team can do it, would you be satisfied with making the playoffs and a first-round exit? What's your major concern about this group?