The Portland Trail Blazers, sitting atop the Western Conference standings with a 15-3 record, are off to a torrid start to the season and they've done it all without the help of last year's 11th overall pick (Meyers Leonard) and this year's 10th overall pick (CJ McCollum).
In regards to Leonard, who was battling for the backup center spot with fellow big man Joel Freeland, his minutes have been diminished all the way down to zero in light of Freeland's impressive progression from a season ago.
CJ McCollum, on the other hand, suffered an unfortunate injury leading up to the season, breaking his left foot and forcing the Blazers to have to wait even longer for his anticipated season debut. However, thanks to the additions of Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, and Robin Lopez, as well as the strong play from the core of the Blazers (LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews), Portland has cruised through its first 18 games as a well oiled machine.
So where does McCollum fit in once he's healthy?
The one time favorite for Rookie of the Year, McCollum is going to have a hard time finding his spot in the rotation upon his eventual return. After making a decent sized splash in Las Vegas during summer league play, Portland will almost certainly want to see what this kid has in store for them at some point, but at the expense of breaking up the already solid chemistry, they may be forced to wait.
McCollum's splash over the summer saw him, in five games, put up an average of 21 points, 4 rebounds, just over 3 assists, and one steal per game. The downside, however, was that McCollum shot just 36% from the field, averaging 7 field goals made for every 20 shots.
Now while it's obvious he won't be hoisting shots like that with Lillard, Matthews, Aldridge, and Batum taking the bulk of the field goal attempts in the regular season, CJ could provide a spark for Portland's second unit. However, Portland has been satisfactorily getting a spark from one of their key offseason additions, Mo Williams. Although Williams averages just 9 points off the bench, he's third on the team in assists, and is shooting a very comfortable 42% from the field after a slow start to the year.
With Williams coming off the bench as Portland's 6th man, and providing about 25 quality minutes now that he's found his groove a bit, the need for another small guard off the bench is next to none. Portland has shown they function quite well with the trio of Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews, and Mo Williams manning the backcourt for them over the majority of a 48 minute contest with occasional minutes being doled out to either Will Barton, Allen Crabbe, or Earl Watson.
Where McCollum will realistically see time, once he's healthy, is the occasional minutes handed out to Will Barton, Allen Crabbe, and Earl Watson in blowouts, or when Mo Williams needs a longer spell than usual. In the "negative thought" category, McCollum could also see a dramatic increase in minutes should either Matthews, or Williams, sit for an extended period of time due to injury.
While it's tough to see a player of McCollum's caliber sitting on the bench in his inaugural year in the league, it's a good problem to have for a Blazer team that hasn't experienced this kind of depth in years. With a little patience, and a healthy roster, Portland will most likely need to hold out until the 2014-15 season to see CJ McCollum log any sort of meaningful minutes; if the Blazers keep winning the way they are, I'm sure Rip City will be more than comfortable with the wait.