CJ McCollum has given the Pelicans a consistent scoring presence since being acquired at last month’s trade deadline, but his value to the team goes far beyond that, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. With Zion Williamson unavailable all season and Brandon Ingram battling a strained hamstring, McCollum has taken over the offense since arriving in New Orleans, averaging 26.1 points and 6.7 assists in 16 games.
“He’s been fantastic,” coach Willie Green said. “His ability to score is at a high level. And I love the fact that he’s conscious about making sure he’s getting his teammates involved.”
McCollum has also brought a much-needed dose of veteran leadership to the Pelicans. Clark cites the example of McCollum’s statement during All-Star Weekend that he hadn’t talked directly with Williamson. They connected a few days later, and Williamson recently rejoined the team after spending two months working out on his own.
“You earn your vocal leadership,” McCollum said. “It starts with your preparation. It starts with your approach. And slowly, I integrate my voice when it’s necessary. But I never wanted to be the guy whose voice is heard all the time. I think it gets drowned out. I speak when I need to.”
There’s more from New Orleans:
- Herb Jones took advantage of the Pelicans’ early-season miseries to establish himself as a bright spot for the future, writes Damian Burchardt of The Ringer. Williamson’s absence created an opportunity for the rookie power forward, and he showed he could handle the NBA right away, especially on defense. “I found my way on the defensive end,” he said. “I’ve always been taught that your defense follows you everywhere.”
- The only downside to acquiring McCollum is that he limits the Pelicans’ financial options moving forward, John Hollinger of The Athletic points out in a conversation about the team with William Guillory. McCollum’s $33.3MM salary next season means New Orleans is currently unable to use its full mid-level exception this summer without going over the tax threshold for 2022/23. The team already has 13 players under contract for next season and is about $7MM away from the expected tax line.
- Jones and two-way player Jose Alvarado have made the Pelicans’ 2021 rookie class the best since head of basketball operations David Griffin arrived in New Orleans, but first-round pick Trey Murphy hasn’t been as successful, Hollinger adds in the same piece. As one of the older prospects in the draft, Murphy was supposed to provide immediate help, but he has played in just 52 games and is averaging 4.6 PPG in 13.1 minutes per night.