CJ McCollum simply lit up the New Orleans Pelicans during Portland’s season opener on Wednesday. McCollum had 37 points on 63.6% shooting to go along with six rebounds, an assist, a steal, and he went 6/9 from three. 24 of those 37 points came in the first quarter. McCollum is not a big name in the NBA, yet, and he was not a big name in college basketball either as he played for a smaller school in Lehigh. McCollum has not been a bad NBA player, he has merely been quiet, as Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews were given the vast majority of guard minutes for Portland, and veteran Steve Blake was favored over the young McCollum this past season. So why is it that McCollum’s big night was due any moment now?
Maybe that’s because it already happened. Lehigh made the NCAA March Madness Tournament in 2012 behind McCollum’s Patriot Conference Player of the Year award season, and as a 15-seed, Lehigh upset the 2-seed Duke Blue Devils. McCollum had 30 points, six rebounds, six assists, and two steals in the game against other future NBA players Austin Rivers, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, and Quinn Cook. That game proved McCollum could play against NBA talent; it is why he was a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.
McCollum was quiet in his rookie season in the NBA. His development was placed second to Damian Lillard‘s, and he was quiet that year. It was in 2014-2015 that McCollum started to show signs of high quality play. As a starter he averaged 15.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in 31.6 minutes per game, it was only for three games, but those are still excellent numbers for a young guard trying to prove himself. It wasn’t until the playoffs, however, that we really saw what McCollum is capable of at the NBA level.
CJ McCollum literally got better each and every game of the playoffs. From games 1 to 5, McCollum’s point totals went, in order, 2, 6, 18, 26, 33. McCollum was able to put up 33 points against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA in Memphis, and it was during the time it mattered most: the NBA playoffs. If McCollum could score 33 in the playoffs against a slow paced team being guarded by Tony Allen and Courtney Lee, it is not shocking that he scored 37 against a faster paced team being guarded by Eric Gordon.
Is McCollum going to score 30 points per game? No, but McCollum is going to be a 15 point per game scorer at the very least, he will likely score more per game, and have at least 4 rebounds per game to go with that. McCollum is emerging as an above average NBA starter. If he can make 30 point games a consistant thing, McCollum will be even more.