Pelicans Playoff Push is Only Half the Story of CJ McCollum Trade

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram defended by C.J. McCollum.
New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram defended by C.J. McCollum. / Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The first big domino of the NBA’s trade deadline has fallen, as the Portland Trail Blazers reportedly are trading guard C.J. McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans for guard Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Tomas Satoransky and draft compensation. 

The Pelicans reportedly also received Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell in the deal. Nance is a very solid pickup for the Pelicans, as he should help mitigate the loss of Zion Williamson at forward.

New Orleans is making a push for the NBA’s Play-In Tournament, as it sits at 21-32 and is the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference. The Blazers, who are No. 11 in the conference, have now sold off Norman Powell, Robert Covington and McCollum in the past week, signaling that they are entering a rebuilding phase. 

That’s huge for the Pelicans, as they try to make the playoffs even though Zion has missed the entire 2021-22 season to date with a foot injury. It appears David Griffin and the Pelicans are hoping that McCollum and Brandon Ingram will be able to get the team into the play-in while Williamson could return to make the team much more dangerous in the postseason. 

The Pelicans Need More Than the C.J. McCollum Trade

McCollum gives the Pelicans another proven scorer, as he’s averaging 20.5 points per game this season and has averaged at least 20.0 points per game in each of the last seven seasons.

His defensive fit alongside Devonte’ Graham will be interesting, but the Pelicans are betting on C.J.’s offense being the difference in this trade. 

New Orleans got off to a terrible start this season, going 3-16 through its first 19 games, but it has been an impressive 18-16 since then even with Zion out of the lineup. Despite that, the Pelicans are still just 2-12 in games that Ingram has missed, making the addition of McCollum imperative for this team to stay afloat if he does end up out of the lineup again. 

As Zion continues to ramp up his rehab, that's the second piece for New Orleans in making this deal a success. 

A trio of McCollum, Ingram and Williamson gives the Pelicans plenty of scoring balance, and could make them a dangerous team in the play-in tournament. The Pels are eight games out of the No. 6 seed in the West, but this move should solidify them as a play-in team at least this season. 

Should You Buy Low on the Pelicans? 

Listen, New Orleans isn’t winning the NBA title because they acquired McCollum. WynnBET has the Pels at +100000 to win the NBA title this season, and for good reason considering they aren’t guaranteed anything in the playoff picture. 

However, it is worth noting that New Orleans is playing solid basketball over its last 15 games and has been trending up for some time now. 

Over the Pelicans’ last 15 games, they rank 11th in defensive rating, 18th in offensive rating and 13th in net rating. McCollum should further improve the team’s offense, and the Pels have basically played .500 ball for over two months. 

They're worth a look in the futures market if you are betting on them to make the playoffs this season.

McCollum’s three-year, $100 million contract isn’t something that will look good in the long term, but the Pelicans are clearly focused on giving Williamson a chance to take them over the top and into the postseason if he is able to return in the 2021-22 campaign. 

It’s a risky proposition, but with the way the team is playing, David Griffin is deciding to go all in on a playoff push.