Disappointment in McCollum debut shouldn’t lessen enthusiasm for rest of Pelicans season

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NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Pelicans traded for CJ McCollum to improve their outside shooting and overall backcourt play.

They valued him so much that they negotiated a seven-player trade with Portland to acquire him and complementary players in Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell.

They valued him so much that they were willing to part with a valuable starter (Josh Hart), a young rotational player (Nickeil Alexander-Walker) and three draft choices as well as seldom-used players in Tomas Satoransky and Didi Louzada.

McCollum and Snell met with reporters after the team’s shoot-around Thursday morning (Nance is scheduled for arthroscopic knee surgery Friday that the Pelicans say will sideline him for about six weeks).

McCollum’s professed excitement for coming to the Pelicans further enhanced the excitement in the organization and throughout the city.

“I know how to lead, I know how to follow, I know how to play a lot of different roles,” McCollum said. “This is a great place for me to evolve.”

The Pelicans were so excited about acquiring McCollum that they even had executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin speak to reporters before the game against Miami on Thursday night, knowing he would be asked about Zion Williamson’s ongoing absence.

(For the record, nothing has changed. Williamson is still out indefinitely because of off-season foot surgery.)

So the Pelicans won’t be getting a boost from Williamson any time soon, but help did arrive when McCollum suited up and started against the Heat in the Smoothie King Center.

The enthusiasm generated by McCollum’s arrival was dampened by his play and that of his new teammates in a 112-97 loss.

The Pelicans didn’t look like an improved team with McCollum’s arrival. In fact they didn’t look as good as they had in winning the last four pre-McCollum games.

McCollum shot worse than his new teammates did. He made 6 of 21 shots (28.6 percent), including 2 of 10 3-pointers (20 percent). His teammates made 30 of 64 shots (46.9 percent), including 9 of 31 3-pointers (29 percent).

Of course, one game means very little, and the circumstances weren’t ideal.

McCollum’s cross-country flight from Portland brought him to New Orleans at 12:30 a.m. Thursday. He had little time to learn the offense and was guarded much of the time by Jimmy Butler, one of the elite defenders in the NBA, as the Pelicans faced the Eastern Conference-leaders.

“It was a long night for him last night, and then early morning, and then shoot-around earlier today,” Green said. “Just in general, our team was a little out of our normal rhythm.”

But the performance by McCollum and the Pelicans should do little to lessen the excitement about his arrival and the team’s enhanced chances of at least grabbing a play-in spot.

Shooting performances such as the one McCollum, who also contributed seven rebounds, five assists and a steal, had Thursday are an aberration as demonstrated by his career stats. He’s in his ninth season and has averaged 19 points and shot 45 percent from the field, including 40 percent on 3-pointers.

Common sense says that his typical performance will be much better than that of his Pelicans debut – and better performances from him will be a catalyst for better performances by the Pelicans.

It was notable what Griffin said about McCollum during the Bally Sports New Orleans broadcast of the win against Houston on Tuesday, just hours after the trade was completed.

Griffin said the aspect of McCollum’s game “that excites us the most” was not his widely acknowledged shooting skill but his playmaking ability, which he demonstrated when he started at point guard for the Trail Blazers when Damian Lillard missed time.

“The mentality he took to the game was very, very representative of the way our coaching staff wants to play,” Griffin said.

The Pelicans have four more games on this home-stand, over the course of six days, beginning Saturday against the Spurs, a fellow competitor for a play-in spot, before the All-Star Break arrives at the end of next week.

After the break the Pelicans will have 23 games to make a post-season push that will be more manageable with McCollum than it would have been without him.

“I’m looking forward to continuing to get better for our team (and) continue to play winning basketball,” McCollum said. “(I want) to help put us in position to be successful, and I think that’s the ultimate goal. As we continue to gel and get more comfortable with each other, kind of figure out what we need to do to get better, we’re going to put a great product out.”

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Les East

CCS/106.1 FM/Daily Iberian

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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…

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