PHOENIX – “I embrace it. We’re different players. Demeanor is what sets him apart. I think we share that demeanor.” – C.J. McCollum on the comparisons between himself and small-school guard and 2013 Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard
Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum didn’t play for a majority of the 2012-13 season but that’s done little to derail his draft hopes. Spending four years at a small school, McCollum had the door opened even wider by Damian Lillard’s success this past season for the Portland Trail Blazers. Similarly, McCollum is a scoring point guard who has used the college experience to his advantage.
“I would say there are a lot of advantages,” McCollum said of staying in school for four years. “I stayed there, I committed myself. Just my character. Just how smart I am. I know my game … I won’t make mistakes off the court. You were a student first, athlete second. That’s how I kind of approach this game, approach life.”
Professionally, McCollum’s biggest asset is his scoring. He’s an insanely accurate shooter despite being the focal-point of most defenses that he faced. He shot 49.5 percent from the field and 51.6 from beyond the three-point line in his senior season that lasted just more than 11 games.
The word that describes the 6-foot-3, 200 pound guard with a 6-foot-6 wingspan would be “fluid.” He’s at his best in the open court and in pick-and-rolls, and he resembles a smaller version of Joe Johnson in how he uses his ballhandling and shiftiness to get open. He knows how to use to body to keep defenders on his hip and can pull up for jumpers or get into the paint for smooth floaters.
Though McCollum isn’t a natural point guard, he has the smarts to be a floor general and the vision to at least find the open man when he breaks down defenses.
Defensively, McCollum will have issues adjusting because of his lack of elite athleticism. He averaged more than two steals per game in his junior and sophomore seasons at Lehigh and knows how to play off the ball to jump into passing lanes, but he’ll have a learning curve in guarding the elite NBA point guards, many of whom rely on their athleticism to create. His on-ball defense that could use some improvement might also hinder him from playing a lot of time at the shooting guard spot.
The average athleticism will also hurt McCollum’s ability to get shots off in the paint. Going back to the Johnson comparison, it’s obviously easy to play as does the Nets shooting guard because he stands 6-foot-8. McCollum’s wingspan and natural feel for the game should make this a lesser concern but not one to go unmentioned.
Finally, McCollum has skills to run a team but it’ll be hard to completely convince teams that he won’t have an identity crisis – after all, even scoring point guards like Russell Westbrook face such things well into their NBA careers.
“I’m a basketball player first and foremost,” McCollum said. “I feel like I can knock down shots. I also feel like I can handle the ball full time if necessary. I don’t really get caught up in roles. My role will be defined depending on what team I go to.”
McCollum’s broken metatarsal bone in his foot that ended his senior season might bring up concerns about his longevity as well.
Overall, McCollum is a professional who prides himself on a journalism degree and maturity. He’s a smart player and for that reason, any concerns about fitting in as a point guard should give him the benefit of the doubt.
As far as immediate impact, however, how much he can be a playmaker for others in his first season will be key. Will he take a while to find a niche a la another big-bodied floor general, Chauncey Billups, or quickly turn into a starting point guard like Lillard?
How he fits with the Suns
McCollum would fit well with the Suns because Jeff Hornacek loves smart basketball players and McCollum’s 1.21 points per possession on fastbreaks would seemingly fit well in the new system.
“I definitely feel like my game translates well to the NBA. I think I fit in well with any system, especially Phoenix,” he said after working out for the Suns. “I know a lot about the Phoenix Suns. I know they have a great guy in the office who happens to be LeHigh alum (Lon Babby). I know the roster a little bit, talked to Kendall (Marshall) a little bit as well.”
Of course, Marshall’s presence and that of Goran Dragic would make a McCollum choice at No. 5 redundant. Then again, McCollum can play some shooting guard – he’d probably thrive not being relied upon to the degree he was at LeHigh – and Ryan McDonough’s philosophy of taking the best available could make the redundancy point moot. McDonough likes character guys, and it should be noted that ESPN’s Chad Ford has often mentioned McCollum as being a surprise pick by the Suns in his mock drafts.
And 1 … a second-rounder to consider
Lorenzo Brown. A bigger point guard and former rival of former UNC point guard Kendall Marshall N.C. State, Brown worked out for the Suns on Saturday. The 6-foot-4 guard is big for his position and needs a lot of work on his stroke, but he has the passing ability to
Suns work out six on Saturday
The Suns workout on Saturday was highlighted by Pittsburgh big man Steven Adams. He banged with workout partner Alex Oriakhi of Missouri and Bucknell’s Mike Muscala. The bigs were joined by Brown, Texas point guard Myck Kabongo and Illinois’ Brandon Paul.
We’ll have a scouting report on Adams in the next few days. He could be a reach at No. 5 but with a couple rumors popping up about the Suns potentially getting another top-15 pick – the Trail Blazers’ No. 10 pick, perhaps – Adams would be an intriguing choice.