- Portland Trail Blazers star CJ McCollum has been ruled out indefinitely with a left foot fracture
- The Blazers’ Northwest Division odds have slipped to +440
- Are they worth betting following McCollum’s injury?
The Portland Trail Blazers have been dealt a cruel blow with news of CJ McCollum’s injury. McCollum is out indefinitely with a left foot fracture. Portland’s Northwest Division odds have unsurprisingly fallen – they are now +440 with FanDuel.
McCollum joins Jusuf Nurkic on the sidelines as the Blazers face consecutive seasons riddled with injury absences. Damian Lillard’s workload is about to become gargantuan.
Their depth will be tested without McCollum and Nurkic – how will they fare over the coming weeks?
2021 NBA Northwest Division Odds
|Portland Trail Blazers||+440|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||+22000|
Odds taken on Jan 19 from FanDuel
Dame Under Pressure
Damian Lillard is accustomed to being among the league leaders in minutes. He had a lot of heavy lifting to do last season with several notable injuries, but he was accompanied by CJ McCollum. Lillard’s job becomes much harder without his backcourt mate. There is a desperate lack of playmaking on the roster as it stands –1 Robert Covington has the second-most assists of active players with just 1.7 per game.
Defenses always warrant Lillard extra attention. That will increase significantly without McCollum, and Lillard will be forced to handle the ball with much greater frequency. McCollum’s 28.3% usage on the season was the highest of his career. Outside of Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic, no Portland player is higher than 13.6% in assist rate.
There’s a lot more shots be shared around. McCollum’s 20 attempts per game was more than Lillard so far this season, and no other Blazer was in double figures.
Bradley Beal currently leads the league in shot attempts with 24.5. Beal topped that category last season, too. Lillard is going to around that level over this period without Nurkic and McCollum. His usage, which was 14th in the NBA last season and 19th the year before, is going to soar into the mid-thirties.
In his first full game without McCollum and Nurkic, Lillard scored 35 on 23 shots in a loss to the Spurs. That game could be a sign of things to come.
Where’s the Help?
The worry for Terry Stotts is that even with that effort from his superstar point guard, the Blazers lost by 21 to a San Antonio team which few expect to make the playoffs. Portland got 35 points out of Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony in that game, but Enes Kanter struggled with just nine. Derrick Jones is a limited offensive player – the former Heat forward is shooting just over 25% from three.
Anthony and Hood have a big role to play on the offensive end. The two veterans need to shoot the ball well – the Blazers will hope Hood’s MLK Day performance was a sign of him finding some rhythm after a slow start to the season on his return from injury.
Gary Trent Jr. has continued his bubble three-point shooting, hitting 42% from deep. Trent’s minutes should increase sharply in McCollum’s absence.
Gary Trent Jr. knows that Damian Lillard is the best leader for the Blazers 🙌 pic.twitter.com/2BrO1ZsYE6
— Blazers Nation (@BlazersNationCP) January 17, 2021
The wildcard here could be Anfernee Simons. The third-year guard is only playing 10 minutes per night thus far, and shooting 30% from the field, but he’s got a role to play off the bench. He’s going to have the ball in his hands in the handful of minutes per game that Lillard rests. Simons providing some scoring and a bit of playmaking would be a real boost.
Anything Is Possible
The Jazz have started well. The Nuggets are considerably more talented than the Blazers. Portland is rightly settled as third favorites to win the division, but it’s easy to talk yourself into them at that price.
Teams are going to drop games we don’t expect this season through condensed schedules and COVID-19 protocols. Lillard has shown in the past that he can put the team on his back offensively.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) January 19, 2021
The concern is really about the defense. Portland was never going to be a great defensive team, but giving Anthony and Kanter more minutes will leave them as one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. With no McCollum, they probably don’t have the offensive firepower to compensate for their frailties on the defensive end.
This could rely on how proactive the front office is. They already gave up picks for Covington – could they make another move or two to bolster the roster while McCollum and Nurkic are out?
Portland is clearly aware it’s win-now time with Lillard in his prime. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they made a trade or two, which could make +440 look a good price.
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