Dame And CJ Join The Likes Of Shaq and Kobe, Steph And KD In Early-Season Scoring
While Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum established themselves some time ago as one of the best backcourts in the NBA, it sometimes takes a little bit of time at the start of the season as individuals to find their rhythm, at least relative to their lofty standards of play.
But this season, while the Trail Blazers have had an uneven start to their 2020-21 campaign, and for very justifiable reasons, both Lillard and McCollum have hit the ground running.
Lillard is averaging 26.1 points on 44 percent shooting from the field, 37 percent shooting from three and 91 percent shooting from the line, 6.4 assists and 4.9 rebounds in 35.1 minutes per game despite making a concerted effort to empower his teammates to start the season. Case in point: Lillard, usually the Trail Blazers’ late-game closer, ceded that role to Carmelo Anthony and McCollum, who made the game-winning jumper in Monday’s win versus Toronto.
“Me and (McCollum) talk, I’m just constantly encouraging him to be aggressive, to go be him,” said Lillard. “I know when he’s playing that way and his mentality is like that we are going to be the best version of ourselves as a team and it’s also opening some things up for me. Teams are coming at me really aggressively right now with double teams and traps and our pick-and-roll actions when I got space so that’s the way he needs to play, and I think he knows that. It’s good to see him off to this type of start, it’s been a huge reason as to why we’ve been able to win the games that we’ve won.”
For his part, McCollum is playing arguably the best basketball of his career through the first 10 games of the season. Usually a bit of a slow starter, the 6-4 guard has put up All-Star numbers right from the start this season, averaging 28.1 points on 48 and 45 percent shooting from the field and three, respectively, 5.0 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 34.5 minutes per game.
“Two years ago, I started off really well, I shot the ball really well to start a couple of years ago, but besides that I have always gotten off to slow starts,” said McCollum. “I have been aware of that and wanted to make sure that even though we had a shortened season -- I broke my back and wasn’t able to workout right away -- I was doing what I needed to do to take care of my body. Taking care of things at the house and getting some equipment and getting some people in to make sure that I was doing what I was supposed to do, so that when I was able to transition to the court, I would feel good and move well. I really just focused on my balance, shooting the basketball, I wanted to make sure that I shot well to start the season and I think that I have done that.”
And in the process, McCollum and Lillard have accomplished something few teammates ever have through the first 10 games of the regular season.
According to ESPN, with Lillard scoring 23 points in Portland’s 112-111 victory versus the Raptors Monday night, he and McCollum became just the fourth pair of teammates in the last two decades to each score at least 250 points through the first 10 games of the regular season. The others? Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant for the Lakers in 2001-02, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant in their three season in Golden State and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Boston this season.
To be exact, Lillard has 261 points in 351 minutes this season while McCollum comes in at 281 points in 345 minutes. And after 10 games, the Trail Blazers sit at 6-4, good for fifth in the Western Conference.