Throughout the offseason, we’ll be counting down the Top 50 players in the NBA from 50 to 1. Who will just miss the cut? Which names do you expect to see? Regardless, you’ll be able to find them all right here.
Why He’s Great: I don’t want to focus on the 70+ games C.J. McCollum played with Damian Lillard last season. I want to focus on a tiny five-game sample in the middle of the season in which Lillard was injured. During that stretch, McCollum averaged 31.2 points on nearly 50/40/90 shooting splits.
We tend not to know that James Hardens are going to become James Hardens until after they’ve become James Hardens. Harden never had a three-month stretch without Russell Westbrook to show himself off in Oklahoma City. He got traded, then he became a superstar. That’s what happens to star guards stuck in situations where they don’t get the ball enough. They have to get their own team before they truly break out.
The signs point to McCollum having that kind of break out in him. He dominated when he got to play without Lillard. Sooner or later, Portland is going to have to choose between the two. It just doesn’t seem possible to win a championship with such poor backcourt defense. Lillard will be the likeliest choice because of his role in setting Portland’s culture. But if McCollum is traded, he has the potential to be a top-10 player in the NBA. The glimpses we’ve gotten are that bright.
Why He’s Below No. 24: That sample for McCollum is only five games. Isaiah Thomas just averaged 29 points per game on excellent efficiency over a full season. The ceiling for McCollum might be slightly higher because of his size, but Isaiah’s certainty right now is greater. McCollum might be ready to explode with his own team, or he could fall off without having Damian Lillard for opponents to focus on. You never know with young guards. Remember when the Bucks chose Michael Carter-Williams over Isaiah? Or when the Suns chose Brandon Knight over Isaiah? Picking other guards over Isaiah doesn’t tend to work out well.
Plus, Isaiah is much more of a true point guard than McCollum. That’s not to say he’s Chris Paul, he’ll never be a 10 assists per game kind of player. But he’s much more comfortable kicking it out to a shooter in the corner off of a pick-and-roll. He’s a better dribbler. You’d rather have the ball in his hands late in the shot clock. McCollum is a better shooter, but Isaiah has an edge offensively otherwise. Shot creation is too important for McCollum to win out here even if it’s not exactly a weakness for him.