Allow me to anonymously introduce you to an NBA player. He’s 29, has 57 games of playoff basketball under his belt, and boasts the following stat line since becoming a full-time starter back in 2015-16: 21.8 points, 3.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and .9 steals per game with an overall shooting percentage from the field of 45.6 and a 3 point shooting percentage of 39.8.
What do you think? This player sounds pretty good, right? Not quite a do-it-all disher or the most efficient shooter in the NBA, but there isn’t a team that wouldn’t love to employ said player and deploy them as one of their top offensive options.
But wait, it gets better. This player also has a positive defensive win share of .078, a neutral defensive RAPTOR, and finished out the 2020-21 NBA season with a +1.78 DRPM, the 49th best mark league-wide according to ESPN.
Whoa, whoa, whoa; you’re telling me this mystery man is a two-way player? Boy, oh boy, maybe the Philadelphia 76ers should try to trade Ben Simmons for him instead of settling for some of the not-so-exciting proposed deals circulating around the NBA oeuvre right now.
Friends, allow me to (re)introduce you to CJ McCollum.
Don’t discount CJ McCollum’s fit with Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers.
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CJ McCollum is the kind of player you want to root for.
He was 5-foot-2 when he started high school, was incredibly overlooked as a college recruit, and willed himself to become the first – and to this point only – player to get drafted out of Lehigh University in beautiful Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Despite being drafted 10th overall off the strength of a very impressive stat line with the Mountain Hawks, McCollum didn’t get a ton of run during his first two seasons in Portland, averaging 6.3 points and .9 assists in 14.5 minutes of action a night. He earned three starts versus 100 regular season performances, and yet, when his number was called, McCollum showed out on the court, scoring 20-plus points in three games in 2014-15 and 22 more games with 10-plus points scored over his first two professional seasons.
Though McCollum has rarely been asked to serve as Portland’s primary on-ball guard, instead playing off of Damian Lillard in one of the smallest frontcourts in the NBA, when he’s been given an opportunity to run the show, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound performer has shown out, averaging 28.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game without the team’s top option.
But wait, it gets better. McCollum isn’t just hard-working, but he’s also incredibly intelligent. He knows how to get better, is a savvy media operator with his own podcast and guest gigs as a pundit for ESPN, and was elected the NBAPA’s president after a seven-year run by Chris Paul.
If a majority of the NBA’s players are willing to get behind McCollum as a leader off the court, I would imagine the on-court respect he receives is even greater.
So why, you may ask, is this relevant to the Philadelphia 76ers? Well, because McCollum has long been linked to the Sixers this offseason, and for the most part, fans have scoffed at the idea of trading for Portland’s 1B, even though technically, Simmons is also a 1B next to Joel Embiid.
I get McCollum isn’t as big of a household name, doesn’t have a signature shoe with an American company – he is endorsed by Li-Ning – and (probably) isn’t a rapper, but he’s a darn good player who sort of splits the difference between Dame and Bradley Beal while potentially presenting the Sixers with the sort of anti-Simmons backcourt contributor that makes sense next to Embiid.
In 2020-21, Simmons took 10 total 3s. McCollum, by contrast, took 8.9 per game and finished out the season with 169 makes on 420 attempts. In clutch situations, Simmons took an average of .7 field goals per game with a +/- of 1.7, whereas McCollum took an average of 2.3 field goals – including a single 3 – in said situations and led the Blazers in +/- at 3.8 despite playing alongside one of the best end-of-quarter shooters in the NBA.
Really, the only areas of the game that Simmons is unquestionably superior to McCollum are on defense and as a passer, both of which are true. McCollum is an average NBA defender and will never finish out a season with the assist crown, but if he was tasked with playing a hybrid combo guard role alongside everyone from Tyrese Maxey to Seth Curry, something tells me it would work out just fine, as players with uber-high basketball IQs usually find a way to get stuff done.
Though the exact role McCollum would play on a post-Simmons Sixers team is a bit hard to quantify, as such a trade surely wouldn’t be a one-for-one, it’s not hard to imagine how he would perform at the end of quarters, halves, and ultimately games, all you have to do is look back at “point” Jimmy Butler from the 2018-19 season. Like Butler, McCollum isn’t a true point guard with an otherworldly ability to teleport passes to his teammates, but he is a do-it-all offensive weapon who can handle the ball very well, find his spots with ease, and ultimately score the ball from anywhere in the halfcourt.
Do you want a player who can attack the basket? McCollum took an average of three shots per game within five feet of the basket from the two-guard spot and went to the line an average of 2.8 times per game. How about one who can form an elite pick-and-roll attack with Embiid? Despite being the Blazers’ secondary ball-handler, and the team’s lack of elite screen-setting bigs, McCollum still took an average of 7.1 pick-and-rolls per game and scored an average of 1.02 points per game on each drive. Paired up with the best picker in the business, those numbers would surely rise even higher.
Heck, at worst, McCollum is just a really good shooter who can help to space the floor when Embiid is doing his thing, giving Philly five-on-five situations where opposing teams can’t double-team the paint with a clear conscious because they know one player isn’t going to shoot.
So, you’re telling me the Sixers would be able to run a… normal NBA offense with McCollum on the floor? My goodness, what does that even look like?
Now granted, trading for CJ McCollum isn’t a magic pill. The team would need to reconfigure their defensive strategy sans the best wing cover guy in the business, and the team would surely need to further bolster his rotation with supplemental playmakers to make up for Ben Simmons’ 6.9 assists per game. Fortunately, the Philadelphia 76ers could probably snatch another supplemental asset away from Portland in a hypothetical trade, maybe enough to pull off the elusive three-team trade that brings back a player like Dillon Brooks to further fortify the corps. Is McCollum the young All-Star Daryl Morey was looking for in a trade? No, but in the East, that could change rather quickly.