LAS VEGAS — Last year CJ McCollum was in the spotlight after being picked in the lottery, with the 10th pick of the 2013 draft.
He came in touted as a scorer and shooter after four years dominating the perimeter at Lehigh University.
But due to injuries as well as the Blazers’ rapid rise to the top of the Western Conference, McCollum rarely saw the floor in his first season.
“I’m not too worried about offense or playing point guard and all that stuff. I’m focused on the defensive end and keeping guys in front of me and playing spots,” McCollum said during the first day of the Blazers’ summer league play.
And in talking to coaches and players, it’s evident that effort is the biggest component to defensive success.
“A lot of guys in the NBA aren’t the fastest and quickest like Shane Battier and those guys,” McCollum said. “So, I’m trying to lock in and take it personal.”
However, McCollum isn’t just counting on improved focus to get the results he wants.
He wants to get on the court and since exit interviews last season, McCollum assessed that he needed to improve his core and lower body strength to improve his defense.
And in Portland’s summer league debut Saturday, McCollum got to see some of the results of his work on the defensive end, finishing with four steals in a 71-69 loss to the New York Knicks.
But more importantly, he felt the improvement.
“I feel like it’s helping a lot,” McCollum said about his body work. “Laterally I feel like I’m moving quicker. I think my hands are quicker, trying to make it difficult for guys to handle the ball in front of me. It’s a process. I know I’m not going to be a great defender overnight.”
McCollum says he’s been “listening” to Wesley Matthews in trying to improve as a defender.
McCollum is still looking to improve on offense, too. He’s evaluated himself heavily and he’s studied the decision making of the Clippers’ Chris Paul and the off-the-ball movement of Warriors guard Klay Thompson.
McCollum also finds a great deal of value in having worked under last year’s sixth man Mo Williams.
McCollum started out 0 for 6 on Saturday and he finished the game going 4 for 5 in the second half and 16 points as the offense came to him.
After leading the Las Vegas Summer League in scoring in 2013, an older and more-seasoned McCollum isn’t worrying about such things anymore.
“We have a lot of guys that are offensively talented that don’t get on the court,” he said. “You’re going to have to find your niche and do some of the little things things.”