With the NBA draft inching closer, our friends at CSNChicago.com are analyzing prospects leading up to the draft on June 27 in New York.
Thursday, they broke down C.J. McCollum, a 6-foot-2 point guard out of Lehigh:
Despite only playing 12 games his senior year before suffering a season-ending foot injury, the mid-major superstar is still considered among the cream of the crop in the current draft class by professional scouts. On the radar of NBA teams since he was a freshman, McCollum is a big-time scorer who fits the mold of combo guards who run the show for their teams in the league. Even playing against a lower level of competition in the academic-oriented Patriot League, his overall talent and skill level is unquestioned, and based on his showings in preparation for the draft, not only is he fully recovered from his ailment, but as one of a handful players poised to make an impact as a rookie, his stock continues to rise.
A lightly-recruited Ohio product, McCollum pulled off the remarkable feat of winning his conference's freshman of the year and player of the year awards in the same season, averaging 19.1 points per game and taking Lehigh to the NCAA Tournament, where the team suffered a first-round defeat to Kansas, though the guard scored 26 points in the loss. Although he settled for merely first-team all-league honors as a sophomore, he upped his scoring to 21.8 points a contest as a sophomore behind outbursts like a career-high 42-point effort against home-state program Kent State, as well as averaging a staggering 7.8 rebounds per game.
Improved playmaking ability saw him average 3.5 assists per game his junior year, to go along with another conference player of the year honor and finishing fifth nationally in scoring, but he saved his best for the postseason, as he scored 30 points in the Mountain Hawks' historic upset of Duke in the NCAA Tournament, which caused him to consider declaring for the draft before returning, dropping 36 points on nationally-ranked Baylor in the season opener and averaging 23.8 per game before getting hurt.
Armed with a high basketball I.Q., a well-rounded game and underrated physical tools, McCollum isn't a one-dimensional scorer. He can beat opponents from the outside as a perimeter marksman and off the dribble with his ability to get to the basket and finish. He's capable of playing either on or off the ball, but excels in both one-on-one situations and when working off ball screens, displaying a crafty and efficient breakdown game, a deadly mid-range jumper and clever finishing ability in the paint. McCollum possesses good size for a point guard and can also be used as an undersized shooting guard, which is reflected in his uncanny rebounding.
Like mid-major predecessors Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry before him, McCollum's aptitude for playmaking has been questioned, but while his assist numbers are somewhat mediocre, much of that can be attributed to playing with less talented teammates and the heavy offensive burden placed upon him, things that will certainly change on the next level. Similarly, his effort on the defensive end, focus and attention to detail must improve. Not an overwhelming athlete, if McCollum is utilized as a shooting guard, he'll need to add some bulk to his frame without sacrificing quickness and regardless of which backcourt position he plays, his shot selection will have to be a bit more discerning as a pro.
McCollum is a definite lottery pick and depending on how much shooting is valued by teams with the fifth pick and lower, he could be selected very early in the draft. While there has been a major emphasis to categorize him as a combo guard, his versatility aside, point guard is the position he'll have to play in order to reach his full potential, especially with the nature of the position in the league these days. Playing alongside a ball-handling wing or a dominant post player would help his cause, but at worst, McCollum can be an instant-offense scorer off the bench or an undersized wing starter, but it would make more sense for him to develop as a floor general, where he could be a solid long-term starter and scoring point guard and as a journalism major from a well-regarded academic institution, even document his own exploits.