While several members of the media were interviewing Herb Jones, CJ McCollum was making his way towards the exit doors of the locker room. The New Orleans Pelicans starting point guard took the time to thank staffers and media alike for the season, shaking hands with all those present. Upon personally taking his hand, there was an immediate revelation on my part about the amount of pain and discomfort that he must have dealt with for months.
McCollum didn’t envelop my smaller hand and seek out a firm handshake. Not even remotely. I recall feeling little, if any, thumb grip pressure from him. It wholly reminded of how one shakes the hand of a small child, being mindful so as to not squeeze with notable force.
And yet that injured right thumb was asked to endure over 1,000 NBA minutes, with exceptional athletes consistently hitting and slapping at it through the course of normal play. The simple chores of catching, passing or dribbling a basketball must have been made more difficult too.
The thumb injury is believed to have occurred in a Jan. 28 loss to the Wizards. McCollum went on to miss the Pelicans’ next contest against the Bucks in Milwaukee, but he promptly returned to the lineup afterwards.
Still, the timing couldn’t have been worse. After overcoming several illnesses early in the season, including COVID-19, McCollum had been in the midst of playing some of the best basketball of his career.
From Dec. 9 to that fateful game in Washington, he averaged 24.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 3.6 threes. Only Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard and Paul George were able to match those statistics during this period. Furthermore, McCollum’s shooting, which began to fluctuate once donning a splint, was on target, as evidenced by a 45.6 field goal percentage, a 42.3 three-point percentage and a 77.2 free throw percentage.
Real arguments were had for McCollum to earn his first All-Star nomination. He was a reliable force in a starting lineup that saw the Pelicans first lose Brandon Ingram in late Nov. and then Zion Williamson at the start of January.
“It (my thumb) affected my play a lot,” McCollum said after the Pelicans’ play-in loss to the Thunder. “I probably will need surgery next week. I needed the surgery three months ago. I delayed it to try and help our team get to the playoffs and we came up short. I hurt my shoulder, that’s why I was playing with the long sleeve on. I will get that looked at as well on Monday. I was doing what I could to try and help out the team.”
According to The Athletic’s Will Guillory on Thursday, McCollum sustained a torn labrum in his shoulder against the Warriors, a matchup that saw the Pelicans relinquish a 20-point lead and eventually lose a pivotal game which had a meaningful effect on the Western Conference standings.
Examining that Golden State game more closely, McCollum made 5-of-10 shot attempts and 3-of-4 3-point attempts in the first half. He made only 1-of-7 shots after halftime, missing all three shots from distance.
McCollum, though, did not go on to miss any time due to the shoulder injury, appearing in every game until season’s end.
“Throughout my career, I have always been a player to do whatever it takes to help the team,” McCollum said. “I could have taken the easy way out and got surgery and sat and watched. I’m not that type of person. I’m not that type of player. Even though it affected my performance, I just went and competed the best I can. I’m always trying to lead by example.”
McCollum appeared in 75 games for the Pelicans, leading the team in minutes played in his age-31 season, despite facing a lot of adversity. Jonas Valanciunas, 30, also deserves praise for suiting up in 79 games. Their willingness to play through a variety of aliments should be considered exemplary models for a roster that missed 271 games during the 2022-23 regular season, with only the Heat and Magic suffering more games lost to injury and illness.
The Kings and Knicks, two teams that enjoyed the fewest amount of games lost to injury and illness, far exceeded expectations in large part due to their rotations maintaining better continuity than the rest of the league.
The biggest priority for the Pelicans is to figure out how to keep their core players healthy. That onus falls on not only the organization but also individuals. Williamson missed 53 games, and Ingram, 37. Even Jose Alvarado (21 games), Herb Jones (15 games) and Dyson Daniels (15 games) were sidelined for significant periods.
“Obviously, availability is important,” McCollum said. “We’ve got to be available. We’ve got to do what we’ve need to do off the court in terms of preparation, in terms of getting treatment, in terms of getting the right sleep, the right type of hydration, having the right diet. Everything has to matter to us, for everybody, one through 15.”
Ingram echoed these same sentiments minutes after McCollum.
“It’s hard to say what we need to do other than injury because we only played ten games together,” Ingram said. “I would say availability is important. We have to be available and do what we need to do off the court in terms of preparation, sleep, and hydration, everything has to matter to us.”
However, for Ingram — and many of his teammates — to truly stand in solidarity with McCollum, they must also learn to walk in his footsteps.
For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.
26 thoughts on “CJ McCollum Exhibits Great Leadership Through Actions”
Nicely written. He did play through a lot of pain and never made excuses. Hope surgery is a success.
I will say, I was always hard on him because I have seen him at his best and it is definitely a top number 3 if not low number 2. For all my banter about how bad he is at defense, he gave much greater effort and started anticipating better on defense. He will never be a great defender because of foot speed and length, but being good with great effort will be great for us. Both him and Jonas fought and did what they could, will used neither properly. And the team got into their sets so slow that it forced iso 1 on 1 for bi and cj. I am hoping Jonas does not get traded and they fix the coaching because he has a great amount of value.
Their biggest needs beside health and doing better preparing their minds and bodies, is bringing in assistants that will actually help with an offense, and adding bench players that can hit a 3. We could find that in the gleague even. Naji gives great effort but he should never play the forward and never shoot a 3
This sounds like the typical fluff piece from the inside access local media about CJ. There has been an excuse all season from Game 1 excusing the lack of effort, attention to detail, and team-oriented basketball from CJ. CJ doesn’t need a strong healthy thumb to choose box out. CJ doesn’t need that thumb to choose to pass to open teammates. CJ doesn’t need the thumb to attempt to play any kind of defense in transition. CJ doesn’t need the thumb to shoot the Hail Mary shots at the end quarters a split second after the buzzer goes off instead of before. CJ doesn’t need the thumb to realize playing team defense means helping your teammates when they are beat. CJ doesn’t need the thumb for an endless list of choices he’s made all year that have hurt this team more than helped. He should have sat out if he was going to make excuses.
I don’t expect much, as a fan, from the players. I’m a simple guy. If the player plays with effort and does the little things that always decide the winner and loser, then I’m happy no matter the outcome. CJ has completely pissed on the head of the importance of fundamental basketball. Sometimes I think he puts more effort into acting like he’s trying than actually trying.
A good example of the above is his Hail Mary attempts when inbounding with less than 3.5 seconds and the subsequent shots he takes at the end of quarters that always come a split second after the buzzer. Some players hate to shoot this shot because their poor stats will take an insignificant hit. CJ is clearly one of those but acts like he did his best to attempt the shot. How do I know this? Because if one were to simply look at the film they would see the ridiculous amount times this happens compared to simply shooting the shot before the buzzer. It’s something I’ve monitored all year and I’d venture to say he has taken close to 80 shots and shot them a split second after the buzzer 85-90% of the time. I will actually sit down and confirm the exact numbers one day because it would be a simple, quick film study.
The half court or longer shots at the end of quarters matter. Games are decided all the time by a score of less than three points. Do they go in often? No. They almost never go in. Teams that consistently are willing to take them though, make a few every year and most pull out an extra win or two because of it. Attention to details. Doing the small things. They matter and doing a bunch of them add up to significant difference in wins and losses at the end of the year. One extra win this year and the Pelicans would still be alive for the playoffs. The small things matter, but not to CJ.
CJ is an intelligent guy. When he talks one can easily tell that much. I think he knows exactly what he is doing when he disregards the details, and that’s the scariest thing of all. Given the power he has wielded in this organization since traded for, any disregard for the things that lead to winning will lead to organizational disaster sooner rather than later. The Pelicans leadership respects the man too much to discipline the player. The local media respects the man too much to criticize the player. Heck even if they wanted to, given CJ’s sway in the organization, they would be putting their inside access on the line if they did.
Willie Green shoulders a substantial amount of the blame in this mess. He absolutely refuses to do what needs to be done to make CJ play more disciplined and with more effort. It took Willie until Game 70 to make a significant change with who brings the ball up the court. CJ had been given those reps at close to a 75% rate before the adjustment l. After the adjustment Brandon Ingram became the primary ball handler for the majority of time he shared the ball on the court with CJ. Even Herb was given some reps that he wasn’t getting. CJ rate dropped from 75% to somewhere between 30-40%. It should have been lower considering CJ doesn’t play with the slightest intentions of being a point guard, and the higher the rate the worse the outcome was. There is a reason the Pelicans looked significantly better those last 12 games. That one switch led to more ball movement and more team-oriented basketball on a team stacked with depth and willing passers.
It shouldn’t have taken Willie 70 games to figure out the CJ experiment was a failure. That he had a multitude of guys who he could have let bring the ball up and it would have been more successful. Brandon Ingram was the clear, obvious choice and should have been given that role from Game 1 with how he played at the end of last season. Herb, Jose, and even Naji would have served as better point guards. The importance of passing to your teammates cannot be understated.
So why did it take a Willie a mind boggling 70 games to make an adjustment? Here is an exert below from an article on The Athletic that I read that may provide some insight. This was after the Lakers game.
“That exercise spurred Green to have another one of those tough conversations with his team’s most accomplished veteran.”
Further below it states this.
“Green and his coaching staff decided the best way to get more ball movement within the offense and improve spacing was by playing McCollum off the ball more often. It was not an easy sell, as McCollum is used to having more control over his own shots and more freedom to attack certain mismatches. But Green convinced him putting more of the offense in Ingram’s hands would be the best thing for the team.”
The whole article is a good read that should be read by Pelicans fans. It’s titled “How Willie Green’s tweaks saved the Pelicans season.” There are a lot of quotes from Willie about looking himself in the mirror.
The two exerts above could provide hints of CJ’s sway over even the coaching staff. I asked above why wait until Game 70 for Willie to make the change. Well I think simply that Willie respects the man too much to coach the player. It hinted at the pressure Willie felt making the switch when the article states it wasn’t an easy sell. That part stands out to me. If CJ was a team player capable of recognizing his own weaknesses it should have been the easiest sell Willie ever had to make. A smart veteran who played team basketball would have walked in Willie’s office sometime before mid season and said, “Coach we need to switch things up”. To me it sounds CJ didn’t want to relinquish the position despite his “hurt thumb”(excuse), and the obvious recognition that he was hurting the team as a point guard.
Just a few more things I want to touch on and then I’ll shut up. It be nice if the local media, including The Bird Calls, all got together and said screw the Inside Access. The fact that you in the local media refuse to criticize the people with power in the organization only exasperates the disfunction in it. It’s your job to hold those with power accountable, not to write powder puff pieces sticking up for them.
As much as I loathe the Lakers, their fanbase, even their state, I respect how brave their team media is. They don’t give a damn what the leaders of the Lakers organization think about them. When a leader isn’t upholding their end of the bargain they are called out immediately. Guess what happens because of that. They cause change. The Lakers never sit and twiddle their thumbs on changes that need to be made, because their team media will raise a firestorm if they do. If our local media had even half the courage we wouldn’t have to sit stagnant in mediocrity for so long.
It’s funny the only time I truly seen you guys come together and criticize those bigger than you was when the mainstream media was stating the Pelicans should move. It was like someone had put a firecracker up your rears. You were all in sync taking on the mainstream as if you had met the night before with a strategy. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that if the Pelicans did move your jobs and inside access would be on the line. The worst part of the failure of you guys to criticize the powerful is that you have helped create more disfunction in the organization. Guess what that will lead to soon. It will lead right back to where it all started with shouts by the mainstream media that Zion should leave and The team should move. You guys really have dug your own graves.
For my final paragraph, I hope the Pelicans will trade CJ. The shift Willie Green made at Game 70 looks as if it was temporary. About 4 games before the season ended Willie began shifting CJ slowly back to the primary ball handler. In the play-in tournament, CJ was getting close to the same amount of reps as he was before the change. Willie failed to stick to his guns for whatever reason and it cost them the playoffs. It’s a failed marriage between CJ and his teammates that will lead to a complete organizational firing if a divorce doesn’t come soon. I only touched on the bare minimum of ways CJ hurt this team this year, and look how long this went. I wish I could lay out more.
So, I am gonna say this, I have been critical of this team and the media when they don’t push for hard questions, but some of what you say is just not true. Like I said above, CJ for being short with slow foot speed and not long arms, probably played some of his hardest defense this year, doing better at anticipating and stripping players. He will never be a great defender because of the things I said above, but if he can give good effort and communicate enough so that herb can recover that is what we can ask. Rebounding, he was a better rebounder than any of our forwards. He attacked the defensive glass the second half of the season getting 10+ rebounds multiple times.
I had said, and multiple members of the media had said that the stars on this team have sway in this locker room because Willie likes the players giving input and let’s face it, CJ came her being told he would get to be the PG he always wanted. He did a terrible job at moving the ball at times, he did awful at throwing entry passes to Jonas, and he was bad at initiating the offense early. He is a SG that was trying to be a PG. everyone knew it and saw it, but when Z went down Willie trusted his vets like he always did. BI has a bad handle and should not initiate the offense either which was why both did better when Jose or herb initiated the offense. Now maybe that is a bit on CJ and BI but that is even more on Willie for not seeing that.
At the end of the day, CJ played through a torn labrum and probably torn ligaments in his thumb. He took some bad shots and was awful at times, and he took some great shots and was All star level at times. We have to hope he heals well, Z heals well, BI heals well and they can create the player movement and ball movement that we saw at times with less of the iso action.
We have some of the best talent 1-7 compared to any other 1-7 in the league. We need to make adjustments around the edges with 3 pt shooting, another initiator Willie will trust and Jonas to get Willie’s trust.
The media at times threw softballs to the coaches and players at the end of the games because let’s face it, we knew the answers they would say. Why no closing with Jonas? Because he was struggling on defense in the scheme I want to play.
Willie is stubborn and only in year two of coaching after only being an assistant for Monty. He has not too much to look back on and it’s why he needs some veteran assistant coaches which is probably the biggest need this off-season along with a bench 3 pt shooter
Sorry for responding so late. First let me say I did not want to pick at CJ’s flaws, I instead wanted to summarize them but you backed me into a corner by turning his flaws into strengths.
I don’t agree that CJ has played his best defense this year. Defense encompasses a wide variety of aspects that a player must do well to be considered a strong defender. CJ put real effort into playing man to man defense and he has always been an excellent anticipator. I can’t take any of that away from CJ and I have no criticism of either of those areas. Those two traits solely do not make one a good defender, which brings me to CJ’s flaws. CJ did not fight through screens consistently which often gave the opposition an easy drive to the lane or open three point shot. Many times this would put the onus on Jonas to cover two men which resulted in him taking the blame when the game ended. CJ’s help defense was maddening. Again there are a multitude of aspects of help defense and I refuse to go into every aspect. To make it short CJ did not cover for his teammates so often that one could rewatch a single game at random to see it confirmed often. His transition defense was worse than his help defense and he would often avoid it at all cost. This section is getting long which is why I didn’t want to pick at CJ’s flaws so I’ll cut this part of the response short. CJ’s effort in many other areas on the defensive end fell way short. There have been players in the past who had more athletic limitations than CJ and who were also much better defenders because they put forth more effort. A good defender is willing to do the small things. Taking Charges, Boxing out, etc. CJ did none of the little things on this end of the floor.
I also don’t agree with you about CJ’s rebounding. The fact that he had 10 rebounds tells very little. It’s a box score number that doesn’t tell the whole of the story on how well a player performed at any individual aspect. He certainly wasn’t a better rebounder than Herb. If you only look at the box score, one may think that. CJ was a much better anticipator which allowed him to grab rebounds that Herb wouldn’t have on occasion. CJ never boxed out. His version of boxing out was holding his arms out and staring at the rim. He never would look behind him to see where his man was located, who often was running around his arms for an easy offensive rebound and layup. He never would actually back into the opposition like Herb would and deny him the opportunity to even move. Herb on the other hand always boxed out so someone else could get the rebound. CJ was a better rebounder than Trey, I’ll give him that. He was not a better rebounder than Ingram. Ingram at least would put some effort into boxing out on occasion.
As far as him being promised the point guard position, I hope that wasn’t one of his demands. Once it was obvious he wasn’t performing like a point guard he should have been man enough to admit it and encouraged a change for the sake of the team. Willie certainly shouldn’t have waited until Game 70 to make the switch.
Ingram absolutely has potential to be a point guard. He has the passing chops and the unselfishness. You’re right his handle isn’t quite there, but a lot of the turnovers were just simple decision making and can be overcame as he gains experience at the position. Zion improved from Day 1 to now as point Zion and he too doesn’t have a handle. If I was coach both Ingram and Zion would eventually, when Zion is healthy, be splitting point guard duties until one of them beats the other out for the position.
I agree on many of your other points about coaches, etc., but you’re not going to ever convince me CJ is better than my own eyes see. Effort, attention to detail, and the small things matter enough that no player who ever skimps on these three can ever be considered a good player.
You sound like a CJ and Pels hater. All you do is touch on negative things. Yes CJ’s defense is weak, as is BI’s and TBW’s Oleh has called him out on that if you bother to read posts for rest of season. But then again I don’t ever remember seeing you comment before. And it’s ironic you don’t call out BI for his horrific defense and many turnovers, just pounce on CJ.
And every Pel player will tell you what a great leader CJ is. For him to play through an injury like that and put off surgery shows a lot about his character. Yea we know CJ isn’t a PG, but that’s position coaches put him in. Pels desperately need PG and maybe that will turn out to be Dyson.
But apparently you know what is best and that you should be running this organization. I encourage you to set a meeting with Ms. Benson and Griffin. Let us know how that goes.
And to criticize the writers at TBW is pathetic on your part. Yea a lot of NOLA media are cupcakes and soft but not TVW. They are passionate for Pels but will always bring due criticism when warranted. Perhaps you should get you your own weasel website and see how many followers you’ll get. Good luck with that.
Keep up the good work Oleh and David. You guys need not worry. We got your back.
Too many abbreviations sir! Who is TBW’s and TVW’s? You make quite a few references to them two. I can’t very well offer a rebuttal if I don’t know who you’re talking about.
Wow. Just, wow.
I think the article was mainly to show that CJ didn’t make excuses and played through the injuries he had when many other NBA players would have sat it out. The real question may be should they have taken on such a large contract, given an extension, etc. or just kept Josh Hart and had salary cap flexibility.
As far as the mainstream media and Zion leaving that talk stared resurfacing subtly a couple of weeks ago and the morning after the play-in loss began ramping up. Just look at the Alan Hahn guy from espn. For years he beat the drum non-stop about how Zion had to get out of NO and only stopped when Zion signed his new contract but now he is full pound the drum mode from the perspective that the Pels should sell cheap because the Knicks would be doing them a favor by taking such a risk. This Hahn guy has made Zion getting the Knicks his life’s work because he doesn’t seem to have anything else to offer. Find him on the Greeney show a few days ago and the guest host even mentioned how he was trying to will it to happen. After a four year re-build this team has it’s work cut out for it especially if the injuries keep coming up. And unfortunately their 1st rounder is in the mid-round 14th pick it looks like so it may have been better to miss Adam’s play-in tourney.
@ Where is King Cake Baby?
I get the point they made in the article. It’s nicely written too. My problem with it is that the point that CJ played with injuries has been brought up throughout the season many times by all of local media. Why solely focus on that on the night that we are eliminated? It was our last game and during that game and the one prior CJ played two of his worst games all year. It just typical in my eyes because CJ has avoided fair criticism all year from the local media. If there was any time he was going to get fairly criticized it would have been after that game.
I’ll check out some videos you’re talking about. Its nice to laugh at the manipulators every once in awhile.
what? cj reps at point DECREASED proportionately with bi picking up his distribution game…
CJ is has issues but he is not “the issue”. The issue for the team is a coaching staff that never seems to adapt an offensive system that best suits its players. CJ is an off-guard. Jonas plays bully ball underneath to grat advantage Herb can slash and finish. TM3 has a lot of offensive skills. Rarely did. I see them mesh consistently throughout the game. And Willie horribly coached Dice this year.
We need size up front with mobility, and we need a back up point guard for Zion. We get those ttwo things, and stay healthier, we can win 50 fames next year.
Totally agree CJ has issues but not issue. The issue is coaching staff. They rely too much on analytics. And another problem with Willie is that he is like his mentor Monty….doesn’t play rookies. I agree Dice was given a raw deal. I think when he missed those 2 FT in first Faker’s game, Willie decided to punish him. I think he has the talent to be our PG. And Jose also has the talent and has shown as well that he can be a PG. Dice and Jose both have a high basketball IQ. Would love to see Dice imitate Jose and slash to the basket more but I feel he is timid due to what he thinks Willie will do to him. And Willie needs to swallow his pride and do what is best for this team. I wonder when Zion is healthy next year if TMIII or NOH moves to the sixth man. With Trey coming off the bench gives us a consistent 3 point shooter. I’m also hoping EJ is fully recovered because IMO he will add a lot more depth to this team especially with boxing out defense.
I know everyone has submitted their two cents but I feel these players will be with the Pels next year. Here’s mine. Feel free to disect it.
HASTA LA VISTA
Seabron if performs well in Summer League
Now I haven’t checked to see what that will leave us in cap space but should be a solid core if they can remain healthy.
I’m excited to see what EJ will bring to the court, who he plays with. I’m excited to watch Zion play again – that man is a force on the floor like no other. Unlike many, I see potential with the team and I understand what happens when your engine is removed from your car. The team was built for Zion. He’s the superstar. Brandon will be an All Star, and if CJ is healthy and goes back to that level he displayed before his injuries, he’ll help the Pels work better as a team and go far. I’m sorry to see him miss the first playoffs of his career and it unfortunately happened with our Pels. That happened to JJ Redick, too. So sad.
But onward and upward! I’m an old gal, and I’m with Griff on this: taking your time ensures long-lasting success as opposed to super-teaming and flaming out like a sun gone nova.
Waiting and anticipating Summer League and the 2023-2024 season. Already got my tickets reserved.
Hopefully, by next season Trigga will have CJ’s spot in the starting lineup. CJ will still be important to the team, as a player and a leader, but he would be best coming of of the bench, playing off-ball, while Dyson runs point.
CJ is making $35,802,469 next season. I can’t see the Pels paying him that kind of money to come off the bench or if he would even accept it. I also thought he had only two years left on his deal but he has 3. They have some interesting decisions to make for next year.
It’s hard to justify a player making as much money as CJ does and de facto position as a team leader — all the while if still playing at a high level — on a move to the bench. Feel like Trey would have to SIGNIFICANTLY outplay him for that type of move to even be considered.
Agree. To me Trey coming off bench gives a lot more offense with 2nd unit then it has now. Their production down stretch was just horrible. We have 6 months to wait and see but if healthy I surmise starting 5 to start 2023-24 will be
I will say, when z is back it should make it easier to have at least two of bi z cj trey Jonas in at all times. That was some of the worst decisions this season, when they would only have one of them on the court, or when they had cj and Jonas without herb and not playing more through jonas
With Z playing, cj is the better sg with him, as long as the coaching staff is back to the point z lineup that performed so well. A starting lineup is just that. It is not the lineup. Trey will get some of herbs minutes some of bi some of cj some of zions and some of Jonas. The end lineup will be the interesting lineup as I could see a herb bi cj trey and z lineup with z or herb bodying the big. I’m not a fan of this lineup as I think Jonas rebounding is needed but Jonas and z will have to figure out their spacing as they struggled on offense together. But Jonas and herb were the only ones that could through an alley oop to z
What does the future hold for Zion Williamson? Is he ever going to have a real career in the NBA? 28 games per season is not a real career. Like everyone, I wish Zion all the best. Tremendous respect for the guy. He’s kind and humble. Great kid. But at some point the Pelicans are going to have to move on. If he can’t stay on the court, and if we can’t find a suitable trade for him, were might be better off just letting him walk.
There’s a $193 million reasons why they won’t let him walk.
I was definitely wrong about CJ. Didn’t know he was playing injured
Whis hether it’s CJ, BI, or Zion, the Pelicans take too long to get into their offensive sets, without a true point guard bringing the ball upcourt, It doesn’t matter so much when its Point Zion because he’s usually able to barrel his way to the rim. But they each create turnover problems when blitzed, or dribbling into traffic.
If Trey improves his mid-range and rebounding during the offseason, he will be the third best offensive player on this team
I agree with everything said. Good points. I do think part of it is on Willy. He seems to have abandoned the point five offense in favor of force feeding Brandon Ingram and CJ. Often one of the them is running off 2 separate screens just get the ball so they make the decision. You combine that with slowly dribbling past half court and there is almost always 10 seconds or less left on the shot clock. It kills the ball movement.
Curry is the reason GSW has had such a long extended run. Not Klay, not Green…Curry