Portland continues to defy the odds as C.J. McCollum hones in on the Most Improved Player in the League award.
After four of the five starters from a season ago all defected in free agency, or were traded away, the team expected to begin a massive rebuilding effort by elevating the roles of its young talent.
The most vital piece was promoting McCollum to the starting shooting guard role.
The 6-foot-4 guard started just three times during his first two seasons in the league, but has thrived under the elevated expectations with his increased role.
McCollum has more than tripled his scoring average from a year ago, jumping from 6.8 points per game to 20.8 per game this year as he has become one of the most proficient long range shooters in the league.
The former Lehigh star ranks ninth in the league with 173 made shots from 3-point range and his 40.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc is the NBA’s 14th best.
Along with his exceptional long range shooting, McCollum is adept at navigating to the rim.
Of his 578 converted shots this season, 111 have been layups.
The proficiency isn’t limited to just the offensive end. McCollum leads the team with 85 steals with eight coming in the past two games.
Saturday against Philadelphia, McCollum matched a season-high with five steals, to go along with 25 points, five assists and two rebounds.
The victory put the Trail Blazers two games above .500, the sixth best in the Western Conference.
Portland is poised for a third straight playoff appearance, surpassing any pre-season expectations, as McCollum has emerged as a vital piece to the franchise.
Biggest Surprise: Kobe Bryant– Los Angeles Lakers
Only 10 games stand between Bryant and retirement and as a dismal season comes to a close, as the Lakers need five wins to avoid matching the worst season in franchise history, the 37-year-old guard keeps racking up the points. Friday against Denver, Bryant logged 28 points on 10-of-22 shooting from the field, marking his 10th contest with at least 25 points this year. For his career, Bryant has poured in 33,440 points, third most in league history behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928).
Biggest Disappointment: Thaddeus Young– Brooklyn Nets
In his ninth season in the league, Young has emerged as one of the steadiest performers, averaging 15 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game, but failed to come close to those numbers during the past week. The 6-foot-9 forward managed just 26 points, 17 rebounds and five assists in the last three games. Even though Young has taken a step back, attempting just 17 shots in the past two games, the Nets managed to capture victories over Cleveland and Indiana.
Pick ’em Up: John Henson– Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee has dropped five straight games and the only consolation has been with the contest out of hand, the team has been abel to provide Henson with more minutes. Any time he is on the floor, he is capable of piling up massive rebound and block numbers. In 26 minutes against Atlanta, the former North Carolina star totaled 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, only to follow it up with a 19 point, eight rebound, three block effort the next night against the Hornets. Henson has logged 20 or more minutes in four of his last five games, averaging 11.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks.
Put ’em Down: Deron Williams– Dallas Mavericks
The hope for Dallas to qualify for the post season keeps dwindling, as the team has dropped 9 of 11 games, fallen two games below .500 and just lost forward Chandler Parsons for the remainder of the year to a knee injury. The bad news continues to mount, as Williams is expected to miss at least the next two games with an abdominal strain. With the status of Williams uncertain heading into the championship week, anyone with Williams on the roster should consider swapping him for J.J. Barea.
Injury Watch: Blake Griffin– Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have managed to maintain the fourth best record in the Western Conference even with Griffin sidelined since Christmas Day. During a 94-84 victory over the Lakers in a nationally televised game, Griffin injured quadricep muscle, then fractured his right hand — his shooting hand — after punching a team equipment manager during an off the court altercation in Toronto. Team doctors have cleared Griffin to practice with the team, but a four game suspension still looms for the five-time All-Star forward stemming from the punching incident. Griffin has missed the past 41 games, but if he is activated by the team Sunday, he can play in the final seven regular season games to prepare for the playoffs.
Stat of the Week: Andre Drummond– Detroit Pistons
Through 74 games, Drummond has posted a double-double an astonishing 82.4 percent of the time he has stepped onto the floor. The 6-foot-10 center leads the NBA with 61 double-doubles this season — 13 more than any other player in the league — after tallying 19 points and 17 rebounds Saturday night against Atlanta. The performance marked the 30th time this season Drummond has posted at least 15 points and 15 rebounds in a single game, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan ranks second this year with 12 such performances.