Every so often, I find myself with enough time to watch a full game (thanks to WatchESPN's archive) and scout a top NBA Draft prospect. I'm still gathering information on prospects, so don't take these individual games as a be-all, end-all opinion. But as long as I'm watching these games, I may as well write down some notes. This will be an ongoing series. Keep in mind that any conclusions are subject to change after watching more film.
Today, I'm watching Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum play against Pittsburgh on November 13. There isn't much publicly-available tape on McCollum since he plays in the Patriot League and only suited up for 12 games before suffering a season-ending foot injury, but there's a lot of buzz thanks to his breakout against Duke in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and the success of fellow small-school star Damian Lillard. I'm curious to see if McCollum can function off the ball, because that will make him a much more useful player with John Wall and Bradley Beal already in the fold.
McCollum's team lost badly in this game, but he scored 17 points on 11 shots. Here are some notes I took while watching:
- McCollum has really long strides when he drives. On the first play of the game, he got his shoulders by his defender going left, then planted off his right foot to go back to his right and glide through the air to finish. A hell of an impressive move, considering he'll have to elevate through trees in the NBA. One thing I watch for very closely is one-foot jumping, because if you can power off one leg, you can get to the rim faster. This was an impressive one-foot jump.
- McCollumn does seem to look to score more on the pick and roll that pass, though that might be a function of his team. I didn't really see him look for the second pass when coming off screens. Normally, you want to see young point guards have down the first (roll man or at least closest man to the ball) and second (spot-up shooter) passing reads down, but McCollum's were slow in this game. He committed one turnover waiting to zip in a pass to a big man until a beat too late and should have committed another.
- I was pleasantly surprised how much Lehigh used McCollum off the ball. While he did go at it in the pick and roll and on isolations, he also navigated through screens to catch the ball. I even saw him run off a Crazy 8s screen once (this is when a player curls off two screens like he's drawing an "8" on the court before popping to the wing) and a Paul George-like screen the screener set another time. While most of these plays were designed to get him a pick and roll touch in a certain spot on the floor, he did demonstrate the ability to quickly act on the move.
- His pull-up jump shot is probably his best trait. He didn't really show it off a lot coming off screens, but he did nail a couple shots in pick and rolls and on isolations. His jump is on-balance and I suspect this will be how he gets most of his points early in his pro career.
- His handle was very good as he drove, as he used his off arm nicely to shield defenders that pressured him. However, he really struggled when trying to gather and finish, whether it was on a pull-up jumper in traffic or trying to finish with a layup. He also seemed to like driving left, but committed four of his five turnovers on that side. If this is indeed an ongoing problem, he'll need to clean up his motion and get a bit stronger with the ball.
- He missed both his floaters, but I liked the form he showed and it's good that he has that shot.
- Defensively, he did better than I expected on the ball. Trey Woodall, his man, had a big game, but a lot of the production was on other players. I'm curious to see how he measures out, because he at least looked like he had the wingspan needed to guard backup 2s.
- Off the ball, though, he was caught ball-watching a lot and seemed to relax when his man didn't have it. Several of Woodall's buckets came because McCollum was a beat behind him on a screen.
- He got a bit frustrated late as the game got out of reach, launching two wild shots in the second half. I also blame his point guard, Mackey McKnight, for playing out of control and failing to get McCollum the ball in good spots.
All in all, I think McCollum's a very good prospect, though perhaps not as good as Lillard. He will immediately be able to score in the pick and roll and he seems capable of playing with other ball-handlers.
To become a great prospect, he needs to improve his passing reads. Lillard is not a heavy-assist passer, but he at least understands all his reads, making him a more dangerous threat. As of now, I worry teams will pressure McCollum and he will struggle to manage those traps.