New Orleans Pelicans: How CJ McCollum fits with the Pelicans

NBA Trade Deadline, CJ McCollum (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
NBA Trade Deadline, CJ McCollum (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

How CJ McCollum fits on the New Orleans Pelicans. 

The New Orleans Pelicans (22-33) are currently just a half-game ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers for the final play-in spot in the Western Conference. So, it’s interesting, to say the least, to see a team that’s eleven games below .500 trade for a 30-year-old CJ McCollum who’s owed $33.3 million in 2022-23 and $35.8 million in 2023-24.

But, at the same time, it’s encouraging to see a franchise pouncing on an opportunity to improve their team even if they aren’t a championship contender.

How will McCollum fit into this Pelicans team? And how does this move affect the future of New Orleans basketball?  Let’s break it all down.

It’s undeniable that McCollum immediately becomes the best guard on New Orleans’ roster and will help the Pels be more competitive whether Zion Williamson returns to the court this season.

The addition of McCollum will alleviate some of the offensive pressure off Brandon Ingram’s shoulder. According to Statmuse, Ingram is currently 16th in NBA in usage rate, averaging 22.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. But Ingram’s incredible individual season hasn’t translated to much winning as evident by their record. At the same time, Ingram’s not getting much help.

Per Cleaning the Glass data, Pelican lineups without Ingram rank in the 11th percentile in offensive rating. Staggering McCollum and Ingram’s minutes should improve the overall offense for New Orleans on a night in and night out basis.

Now, how exactly will McCollum improve this Pelicans offense? Well, having another 20+ point scorer on the roster is always a good thing. Averaging 20.5 points, 4.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds per game this season, and a career 39.6 percent 3-point shooter, McCollum will fit right into what head coach Willie Green wants.

The Ringer’s Dan Devine puts it best when he writes:

"“He (McCollum) can both reduce the sheet volume of Ingram’s playmaking responsibilities and provide another floor-spacing shooting threat to make his life on the ball easier.”"

McCollum isn’t just a scorer too, even though that’s what he does best. He’s a solid pick-and-roll playmaker — averaging 1.02 points per possession finished as the ball handler in the two-man game, tied for the sixth-best mark out of 100 players to log at least 100 such plays this season, according to Synergy —and will work wonders with Jonas Valanciunas and Zion whenever he comes back.

He’s an underrated distributor and one of the best caretakers in the league. In fact, according to The Ringer, only LaMarcus Aldridge and Kristaps Porzingis have a lower turnover rate over the past five years than CJ, and neither of them does anywhere near the amount of ball-handling he does.

McCollum also has plenty of experience playing off the ball alongside a high-volume, high-octane shooter, and will give New Orleans a dangerous spot-up shooter while Ingram initiates the offense. According to Second Spectrum tracking, McCollum has knocked down just under 43 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3’s since 2013.

McCollum is the backcourt upgrade New Orleans has needed since they decided to depart with Lonzo Ball last summer. But, even with all those positives, McCollum doesn’t come cheap.

Under contract for $69.1 million until the end of the 2024 season, McCollum’s contract will push the Pelicans close to the luxury tax which will limit their roster flexibility. Being near the luxury tax is a lot to ask of a team that could very well miss the playoffs.

Plus, as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton points out:

"“adding McCollum doesn’t exactly square with New Orleans building around young stars Williamson (21) and Brandon Ingram (24).”"

The offensive fit is there with Ingram and a healthy Zion, but defensively, they will struggle mightily. McCollum has never been someone who’s been known as a defensive stopper at any point in his career. Zion has struggled defensively when he’s been on the court and New Orleans just shipped off their best defensive wing — Josh Hart — in acquiring McCollum.

Maybe New Orleans’ thinking is to stagger McCollum and Devonte’ Graham’s minutes at the one and have Herb Jones, an impressive rookie whose shown defensive promise, play the two. Whatever their defensive plan is, it’s surely going to need some work.

It’s undeniable that McCollum will help New Orleans in the short-term and make a playoff push this season, but as for the long-term? They might have hindered their ability to improve the roster in the off-season. If Zion doesn’t sign the rookie extension and ends up leaving New Orleans, we could look back at this move as a big reason why. We’ll just have to wait and find out.

dark. Next. NBA: 8 big takeaways from the 2022 trade deadline

For now, though, New Orleans becomes a more interesting team that’s capable of making the playoffs.