The midseason acquisition of CJ McCollum last year was a twofold benefit for the New Orleans Pelicans. On the court, they were getting a proven veteran scorer who averaged at least 20 points for the last 7 years of his career. Off the court, they were getting a well-respected player in the league who is currently the President of the Player’s Association. It was a small investment that has already paid out big playoff returns.
McCollum led the Pelicans to their first playoff berth in four years and put a healthy first-round scare in the top-seeded Phoenix Suns. CJ was instrumental in the two must-win NBA Play-In Tournament games, averaging 25 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds in wins over the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. After the Pelicans’ season was over, McCollum immediately showcased his veteran leadership in contacting, or calling out, his new teammates and collaborating with the front office.
Much of the media made much ado about nothing regarding the statement McCollum made in February when he said he hadn’t spoken to Zion since his trade to New Orleans. That changed quickly and by early April, Zion was already singing McCollum’s praises, “CJ is a great dude. In the short amount of time I have been around him, I’ve learned so much from him. Great teammate. I’m excited to get on the court with him.”
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Much of the same presence on and off the court will be expected of McCollum this upcoming season. At just 31 years old, CJ is the elder statesman on this team being second-oldest on this roster only behind Garrett Temple. The former Trail Blazer is the only rotation player who has been past the first round of the playoffs. With expectations for this team sky high, McCollum will have to be the steadying force this team needs. His consistent play will surely go a long way in that regard and things should get even easier for him.
McCollum was top 25 in the league in the percentage of three-point shots taken with a defender 0-2 feet away on defense in the 2021-22 campaign. When it came to wide-open shots with a defender more than six feet away, CJ ranked 421St. With the return of Zion Williamson and the offensive prowess of Brandon Ingram on the court together, look for CJ to have more opportunities for wide-open shots. In those scenarios last season, McCollum shot 47.5% from 3 on wide-open attempts.
McCollum averaged a career-high 5.8 assists per game last year. Expect that number to possibly rise as he will be the third option on offense and focus primarily on setting things up for Zion and BI With a full offseason with the team, McCollum has been able to hone his leadership on the younger group, often calling them on FaceTime and exposing those who don’t pick up on social media. It’s all in good fun, but leadership like that goes a long way to gelling a team for the grueling regular season to come.
CJ McCollum wears many hats in his professional life. He is the President of NBPA, he hosts a podcast called Pull Up with CJ McCollum, and he recently signed a multi-platform deal with ESPN. The most important one for this Pelicans team is as the stoic, wise leader. CJ has shown himself to wear that very well.
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