NBA Trade Betting Breakdown: Can the Pelicans Make the Playoffs with CJ McCollum?
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: C.J. McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Breaking down the trade of CJ McCollum from the Blazers to New Orleans for draft picks and Josh Hart…
Pelicans Gearing Up for Playoff Push
If you want to read between the lines, Pelicans President of Basketball Operations David Griffin needed to make moves to make the playoffs, get some momentum, and potentially save his job. So you go out and get the best scoring option on the market outside of James Harden.
New Orleans has a shot at the play-in and is going for it. This is a pretty transparent “get the team good enough to cool the temperature on the Zion situation” move.
The Pelicans started 1-12 and are basically a .500 team since. They have a +9.3 Net Rating when Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas, and defensive rookie phenom Herb Jones play together.
So now the Pelicans add CJ McCollum to a team that ranks 23rd in Spot-Up Scoring and 26th in Catch-and-Shoot Effective Field Goal percentage. They need exactly what McCollum brings to the table as an on-ball scorer who can also operate next to Brandon Ingram (if the Pelicans elect to keep him).
They’ll miss Josh Hart and what he brought, but ultimately McCollum is a good enough upgrade for what they’re looking for.
The Pelicans are basically going in, believing that they can show enough to make a run for the play-in tournament with what they have, and if Zion Williamson comes back from injury, maybe they do some more damage and set themselves up with momentum for the offseason.
There’s risk here. McCollum is a defensive liability, and the Pels already rank 19th in that category. But he likely replaces Devonte’ Graham, another defensive liability, in the starting lineup when/if Zion returns.
Under the radar, the Pelicans also acquired the best defender in the deal with Larry Nance, who has struggled with injuries this season. Tony Snell is a top level shooter but rarely gets playing time for a variety of reasons.
The Pelicans wanted to surround Williamson with spacing, and now they absolutely have.
Contractually, this is a lot of money to take on, a sign that the Pelicans think they can win now. There are some leaps to that logic, but they’ve been good enough — or not-bad enough — to justify it, given that Williamson has missed the entire season.
Of course, the larger question about Williamson is about his future with rampant speculation he may try and force his way out on his rookie deal. This is a scenario in which the Pelicans hold all the leverage, but that hasn’t stopped the rumor-mongering.
A McCollum-Ingram-Jones-Zion-JV lineup presents size, length, shooting and athleticism. Defense will still be a major challenge, but coach Willie Green, after a rough start, has New Orleans out of the bottom-10, so that’s progress.
The Pelicans outbid offers from Atlanta, Indiana, and New York to get McCollum. They hope this move vaults them into a tier above and helps them get back on track to building a contender around Zion.
That last part, the Zion part, remains very much up in the air.
Blazers Are Out
Getting a first-rounder from New Orleans (albeit 5-14 protected this season which means it may not convey until down the line) for McCollum is pretty good value. McCollum was not the prized asset that he was two years ago; the former front office before Joe Cronin took over waited too long to cash in on his value to shake up the backcourt.
Hart is a valuable player who helps you win, Nickeil Alexander-Walker still has potential at age 23, and the second-rounder is nice.
Ultimately, the bigger question is what else the Blazers do from here. They generated a massive traded-player exception in this deal, but oftentimes those exceptions do not yield significant return in trades. They picked up a first but gave up so much over the past few years for Robert Covington and Powell (who are no longer with the team) that the balance on draft picks is still in the red.
If the plan is to reload around Lillard, cap space is a specious approach. You would need free agents to buy into Portland with the risk that Lillard could change his mind and request a trade, leaving you stranded in a small-market on a non-contender. This confusion is boosted by the increasing likelihood that the Blazers will not trade Jusuf Nurkic but instead sign him to a new deal this summer.
Nurkic is a quality defender, but the combination of Nurkic’s need to drop in pick and roll and Lillard’s inability to get over screens means that combination is always a pressure point teams can extort points from.
The Blazers are not expected to retain Eric Bledsoe, and the rest of the roster outside of Anfernee Simons and Nasir Little offers little in the way of building a true contender around Lillard.
The Blazers saved a lot of money with their trades this week, which was clearly their top priority. Much like how the Pelicans’ future rests on whether this trade can help win with Zion, the Blazers are hoping creating more options on the table helps them find a winning combination around Lillard.
There’s nothing on the Blazers; they’ll likely shut down Lillard and pursue a top pick to use in trades this summer.
For the Pelicans, make-playoffs futures are off the board at various books. At this point, I can’t see much value in them. The Pelicans are in the 10th spot and will already be priced appropriately.
Unless you believe adding McCollum (and Nance) vaults them past two of the Wolves, Clippers, and Lakers, I can’t see value on it, especially when the Pelicans will be underdogs in any of those play-in games, and you could just wait to bet them there.
Maybe McCollum unlocks something, Williamson returns in March, and they rattle off an incredible run. But I’d rather wait for that data and bet on them after I see it than try and project that.