FanPost

CJ McCollum vs. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: A Comparison

With mock draft season in full swing, we've seen a surprisingly consistent projection for the Blazers. Mock drafters have either pegged the Blazers for CJ McCollum or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP), with the odd Steven Adams or Gorgui Dieng thrown in. Reading your comments the past few weeks it seems BlazersEdge is divided in your preferences between the two, so I want to take a look at them side-by-side.

Because they're both guards, it is easier to compare their individual skills than it would be with McCollum and, say, a center like Steven Adams. I'll be looking at both basketball and non-basketball traits, comparing them in seven different areas: physical attributes, ball handling, shooting, passing, rebounding, defense, and intangibles. At the end I will give some general draft thoughts about the two, and then give you who I think would be a better fit for the Blazers.

Physical Attributes:

Let's just get straight to the numbers on this one, from the NBA Pre-Draft Combine in Chicago.

McCollum: Height 6'2.25" (6'3.25" in shoes), 197 lbs., 6'6.25" wingspan, 8'0.5" standing reach, 8.6% BMI, 8"/9.5" hand width/length.
KCP: Height 6'4.5" (6'5.5" in shoes), 203.6 lbs., 6'8" wingspan, 8'4.5" standing reach, 6.45% BMI, 8.5"/9" hand width/length.

McCollum: 3.32 three-quarter sprint, 11.2 lane agility, 32" standing leap, 38.5 max leap.
KCP: 3.12 three-quarter sprint, 10.6 lane agility, 29" standing leap, 34.5 max leap.

The only things we can really take away from this is that KCP is bigger, faster and more agile, while McCollum can jump higher. That means nothing without context, and in this instance the context is position. KCP is strictly a 2-guard and has ideal size for the position. His arms are a little short, but he has great athleticism, speed, lateral quickness, and good hand size. You can comfortably project KCP as your starting SG in a year or two if he develops properly.

McCollum on the other hand is, um, well, it's unclear what McCollum is. ZiggyTheBeagle did a nice statistical comparison of McCollum, and what is interesting about it is the variety of comps he draws. He gets comps to Damian Lillard, Rodney Stuckey, Courtney Lee, Randy Foye, Jeremy Lin, and Stephen Curry, among others. He doesn't get comps strictly to SG's or PG's, because he is ultimately an undersized scoring guard (a.k.a. combo guard). He's not big enough to be a starting shooting guard, and with Lillard firmly entrenched as the starting PG he would have to come off the bench as the Blazers' third guard, making Eric Maynor expendable.

Advantage: Moderate edge to Caldwell-Pope.

Ball Handling/Finishing:

KCP is still very raw as a ball handler. From DraftExpress:

As a slasher, Caldwell-Pope still remains raw, especially operating on the ball, where he shows little in the way of advanced ball-handling and even has trouble with anything more difficult than straight-line drives.

This one area where he could have certainly used another year in school. On the one hand it is understandable, he's a SG and as he revealed in his interview after his workout with the Blazers, he didn't handle the ball growing up. In an odd twist, however, he is adept at getting his own shot off the dribble. He can't create for others at this point, but he can get his own shot. He doesn't finish at the rim as much as you would like, but is draws fouls at a good rate (he shot 6.4 FTA/g last season, up from 3.4 FTA/g his freshman year). This is one area where teams will hope for significant improvement his first several years of his career, but the upside is he has the potential to be a much better ball handler.

McCollum, on the other hand, is a great ball handler. He has a wide array of weapons to score, including off ball-screens, pull-ups, and uses a quick first step, and change of pace and direction to get into the lane since he lacks great top-end speed. He can create his own shot and create for others, is a good, if not elite, finisher and doesn't turn the ball over (only 2.8 TO/g for his career). He can penetrate a defense, and gets to the line often, averaging about 6.5 FTA/g for his career. While he is a great ball handler and can create for others, he isn't a true PG. It is possible he could make a Damian Lillard esque transition to point in the NBA, but would remain a scoring, shoot-first PG rather than a facilitator.

Advantage: Large edge to McCollum.

Shooting:

The book on KCP coming out of high school was that he was a lights out shooter. And it's easy to see why. He has a textbook jumper, with almost no wasted motion, an excellent release point and a good follow-through. (Here is his DX highlight video for examples). However in his freshman year he was anything but lights out. He shot 30% from three on eight attempts per game and had a FG% under 40%. In his sophomore year his numbers rose across the board. Here are his shooting numbers from his two college seasons:

2011-12: 5.9-14.9 FGM-A, 39% FG, 2.5-8.3 3PM-A, 30% 3P, 2.1-3.2 FTM-A, 65% FT, 50% TS, 48% eFG.
2012-13: 6.9-15.8 FGM-A, 44% FG, 3.1-8.3 3PM-A, 38% 3P, 4.9-6.2 FTM-A, 80% FT, 58% TS, 54% eFG.

His sophomore year he became a much more efficient scorer, which was encouraging as he had zero help around him at Georgia. He upped his scoring from 13.2 pts/g to 18.5 while only taking one more shot, and his 3P% jumped from 30% to 38% on the exact same number of attempts per game. He has the ability to make tough shots (known as the "Carmelo Special"), and will no doubt see similar shooting numbers in the Association.

McCollum can score, and we should give him his due for that. He can score from anywhere in the half court at any time. He is not, however, what you would call a "shooter". The downside to looking strictly at KCP's numbers and projecting further growth is that you saw one inconsistent year and then only one year of solid growth. It's easy to look at his sophomore season and project a junior year of 46/40/85 shooting for him. However, you could just as easily project a junior year of regression from him. It's a case of small sample size.

The other side of the information coin is McCollum. McCollum's numbers were much more inconsistent over his four years at Lehigh, as seen here:

2009-10: 7.4-16.1 FGM-A, 46% FG, 2.6-6.2 3PM-A, 42% 3P, 5.6-6.9 FTM-A, 81% FT, 54% TS, 59% eFG
2010-11: 7.3-18.4 FGM-A, 40% FG, 1.8-5.7 3PM-A, 32% 3P, 6.7-8.0 FTM-A, 85% FT, 45% TS, 52% eFG
2011-12: 8.5-19.1 FGM-A, 44% FG, 2.0-5.9 3PM-A, 35% 3P, 6.6-8.1 FTM-A, 81% FT, 50% TS, 56%, eFG
2012-13:** 10.2-20.7 FGM-A, 50% FG, 3.5-6.8 3PM-A, 52% 3P, 6.6-7.8 FTM-A, 85% FT, 58% TS, 52% eFG

**McCollum only played 12 games his senior year before breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

Let's start with this: those aren't bad numbers by any means. But they show a fair amount of inconsistency in about the same number of shots per game over a four year basis. It's easy to get starry-eyed over his senior year numbers, until you realize that level of production (50/50/85) is not sustainable over the course of a full season, especially taking 20 shots per game. While he gets compared to Curry and Lillard because all three spent four years at mid-majors, McCollum's jumper just isn't as technically sound as Curry and Lillard's (DX video here). He shot mechanics have improved from his freshman year, but they aren't on the level of Lillard or Curry. He has a nice, high release point and makes the shots he takes when his feet and body are squared toward the basket. He will need to be more consistent with his improved mechanics at the NBA level. It's intriguing to think of how much he might have improved if he had an entire senior year. McCollum may be the better scorer in this comparison, but he's not the better shooter.

Advantage: Moderate edge to Caldwell-Pope.

Passing:

His sophomore year, apart from shooting the ball with greater consistency, showed an all-around improved game from KCP, including his passing. He averaged 0.13 ast/FGA, up from 0.10 his freshman year. His ast/TO ratio dropped from 1.08 his freshman season to .87 his sophomore season, in spite of the fact he upped his ast/g to 1.8 from 1.2. The drop in ast/TO rate was largely due to his handling the ball more his sophomore season (his USG rate went from 19.1% to 26.4%), doubling his TO/g from 1.1 his freshman season to 2.1 his sophomore season. The important thing here is KCP is a willing and good passer, and not a black hole on offense. As his ball handling skills improve, so will his passing.

McCollum is a more accomplished playmaker, which is what you would expect out of a four-year senior who used 25-30% of his team's possessions his last three years in school. He can pass, he does pass, and his higher assist totals (4+/g) and ast/TO (1.14), ast/FGA (.18), and ast/pos (0.15) numbers reflect that. While he has a high basketball IQ and makes good decisions with the basketball, he isn't a facilitator; he's still a scoring guard.

Advantage: Slight edge to McCollum.

Rebounding:

Both players are great rebounders for guards. Here are McCollum's rebounding numbers averaged for his career at Lehigh, and KCP's sophomore season numbers. I'm averaging McCollum's numbers because they are so amazingly consistent throughout his four years, and only using KCP's sophomore season because he showed so much improvement from his freshman year.

Player

ORB/g

% of Team

DRB/g

% of Team

Tot RBD/g

% of Team

McCollum

1.5

13.7

4.5

18.6

6.0

17

KCP

1.1

10.9

5.9

23.8

7.1

20.1


It's mostly a wash, though when it comes to rebounding you always want the bigger/longer player.

Advantage: slight edge to KCP.

Defense:

KCP is blessed with great lateral quickness and decent enough length. He has very active hands (racking up 2 stl/g his fresh/soph seasons), and thanks to his size and athleticism has the potential to be a great individual on-ball defender, capable of defending both guard positions and the SF position as he bulks up. He is basically a replica of Wesley Matthews, just with more potential as an one-on-one defender because he is quicker and more athletic.

McCollum is a similarly equipped as a defender, with excellent hands (2 stl/g for his career, 2.5 stl/g his soph. & jr. seasons), though his size and good-but-not-great lateral quickness will limit him some in his versatility. He may struggle against quicker PG's, and bigger SG's will cause match up problems for him. Don't get me wrong, he is a good, solid defender. He just will not be as versatile in the NBA as KCP.

I only care, for purposes of this post, about their potential as individual defenders. That is because both come with the caveats that they will need some time to learn how to play NBA level defense: how and when to fight through or go under screens, how to navigate through off-ball screens, who to leave alone on the wing, how to play the "to 2.9" defense, that sort of thing. Both guys should be able to get it pretty quickly at the next level.

Advantage: moderate edge to KCP.

Intangibles:

This is where things get pretty subjective. You have to rely on second-hand stories, reports from coaches and teammates, and generally you get platitudes and cliches about guys that attest to their work ethic ("he's the first one in the gym and the last one out"). So here are non-basketball skills that affect what you see on the court:

KCP's biggest selling points are his work ethic and basketball IQ. You could see tangible evidence of his hard work in the offseason and his basketball IQ in the improvement in his numbers from his freshman to sophomore years, when him became a much more efficient player in his second year. He was also the leader of his Georgia team, scoring 18 ppg his sophomore season on a team when no one else scored even 8 ppg. Still, he remains young and would greatly benefit from the Blazers' team culture and veteran presences of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge.

If you listen to McCollum talk, the word that comes to mind is mature. You get the sense he would fit right in with the Blazers culture. He was a leader for four years at Lehigh, and played in some very big games (most notably that time he single-handedly embarrassed Duke on national television). He's a hard worker, has a great basketball IQ, and you have zero character concerns about him if you were to draft him.

Advantage: moderate edge to McCollum, only because he knows what it means to be a true leader of a team as opposed to just being a team's best player. But both of them are good kids.

Verdict:

Who you like best largely depends on what you're looking for. KCP has the higher ceiling, but strictly as a shooting guard. If you draft him you're getting a solid rotation player who could turn into your starting 2-guard in a few years. If he gets handles and puts on a little muscle, then you're looking at a rich man's Wesley Matthews. For the first year or two of his career he'll give you good backcourt depth, another 3-and-D player to space the floor for Lillard and Aldridge.

As mentioned above, McCollum wouldn't ever be a starter in Portland, barring injury. He could make a spot start here and there if Lillard or Matthews needed a night off, but he would primarily be a bench scorer, someone to come into the game and give the Blazers a little spark. He would give the Blazers a secondary ball handler who could both spell Lillard at PG and allow himto play off the ball some for a dozen or so possessions a game. He is more polished than KCP, so he could contribute significant minutes from day one.

Personally I prefer KCP, just because he has the higher ceiling, and the history of undersized combo guards in the NBA is a mixed bag. Asked to do too much and they fail (see: Knight, Brandon). But if McCollum could embrace a distinctly 6th man role for the Blazers he could thrive. As the draft is all about potential, I'd rather have the guy with the larger upside (KCP), who could blossom into a starting SG in a year or two. But I wouldn't be upset if the Blazers kept the 10th pick and used it on MCollum, either.

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