After Career-Best Shooting Season, CJ McCollum’s Value To Pels Is Clear

CJ McCollum’s second full season with the New Orleans Pelicans didn’t end well. He struggled mightily on the offensive end in the postseason, leading to scrutiny from fans. But that shouldn’t overshadow McCollum’s excellent season when he played his role. He couldn’t operate as an efficient primary amidst injuries to Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. That shouldn’t be a surprise.

McCollum thrived as an off-ball scorer for the Pelicans this season. He shot the ball from three better than ever, sniping a career-high 42.9% on elite volume. His spacing threat was paramount for a New Orleans team that didn’t put up many threes. Not only did McCollum thrive as an off-ball shooter but also as a pull-up threat with the ball in his hands.

His focus on secondary scoring led to McCollum’s most efficient season, posting a strong 59.3% true shooting on 20 points per game. When defenses sold out to stop his three-point shooting, McCollum weaved his way into the paint with his elite handle and creativity. He knifes into the paint attacking closeouts, getting to his spot for floaters and mid-range jumpers.

McCollum’s mid-range mastery continued as he nailed an elite 47.9% of his mid-range jumpers on his lowest volume since 2016. He shot more runners than almost anyone in the league, hitting 50% of those shots. Whether on or off the ball, McCollum mastered finding his spot for those floaters.

Defense was a weak point for McCollum this season as it has been for much of his career. While McCollum’s quick hands lead to some steals and blocks, his size is a major detriment on and off of the ball. Opposing offenses targeted McCollum and even when he positioned himself well in help, he lacked the size and pop to reliability alter shots.

McCollum faltered as a primary initiator in the postseason. At this stage of his career, he’s not quick or explosive enough to generate easy looks for himself and he’s not the playmaker necessary to run an offense. Going forward, McCollum may slot into a super-sub role to mitigate these weaknesses and his limited defense.

We shouldn’t dismiss McCollum’s value in New Orleans going forward. Though he may not slot in as a long-term starter as the Pelicans shoot for stronger playmaking and defense, McCollum’s reinventing of his scoring profile to fit alongside Zion matters. For the next few years of McCollum’s contract, he can hopefully continue to add offensive value in a complementary role. 

Analysis by Ben Pfeifer

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