When you think of the Portland Trail Blazers you think of Damian Lillard, but the player that some have still yet to recognize is the NBA 2015-16 Most Improved Player, CJ McCollum. McCollum is having an even stronger start this year then last year, and he’s starting to show his All-Star caliber play. Averaging 23.2 points a game, and taking over the team with an injured Damian Lillard. For CJ, being the underdog in the league is nothing new to him. A Canton, Ohio native, he was what you call a “late bloomer” and only stood at 5’2 as a freshman in High School. CJ was barely recruited, but he was able to find a home at a Mid-Major School, Leigh University in Pennsylvania.
It wasn’t until March 16, 2012 till CJ finally got the national attention he deserved. It was the opening round of the NCAA tournament, and the 15 seeded Leigh Hawks took on Mike Krzyzewski’s 2nd seeded Duke Blue Devils. The Hawks took down the Blue Devils 75 to 70, behind McCollum’s stellar 30-point performance. He put NBA scouts on notice. His senior season did not pan out the way CJ wanted it to. The 6’3 187 pound senior had his season cut short with a foot injury. However, despite the heart-breaking injury, it did not affect his draft stock. McCollum was the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, although his first 2 seasons did not go to his liking. His rookie season was cut short with another foot injury, and he had to compete with Wesley Matthews, Arron Affalo, and Will Barton for playing time the following season. But, last year with a new looking Trail Blazers without Affalo, Matthews, and Aldridge, CJ was out to prove that he belonged in the league. He did not disappoint. McCollum averaged 20.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, help lead his team to the playoffs, and won The Most Improved Player Award.
Through all of this, and his even better season this year, he still has yet to get the recognition he deserves. His name has not even been mentioned as an NBA All-star, and fans still think that his game is just a fluke. But with no Lillard, CJ is proving that he in fact can lead a team, dropping 43 points against the Timberwolves, and scoring 35 points against the Warriors. For McCollum being the under dog is nothing new, but look out this young player is still on the rise.
Written by: David Spontarelli @dave_spont