To be here today with the Pelicans having the 9th seed and in the play after the debacle that was Zion Williamson vs David Griffin to Zion's stepdad running amok like Godzilla to starting the season 7-20 going into December to all of the injuries, it's a blessing we are where we are today. And the biggest factor with the Pelicans being in the hunt for the playoffs is CJ McCollum.

New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
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McCollum was added to the Pelicans on February 8th right before the all-star break. If you look at the team before the trade, they were doing okay coming off of a 3 game win streak. Brandon Ingram was starting to really mature and figure out okay this is how I need to play for the team to be successful. Herb Jones was proving why he was the steal of the draft dominating on the defensive end while slowly but surely getting better on the offensive end. Jonas Valanciunas was dominating the paint and Jose Alvarado was showing that he could be a great role player and backup point guard. So with all of that being said the Pelicans were missing 1. another bonafide scorer 2. someone that could facilitate and draw the attention of opposing defenders and 3. a veteran leader who has had success in the playoffs.

Enter CJ McCollum and thus the best thing that could've happened to the Pelicans this year. McCollum has given the Pelicans everything they have needed. He makes the game easier on Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas by forcing defenders to play help defense on him due to his amazing ability to score the basketball. Before he was on the team Brandon Ingram faced double team after double team. Meanwhile, everyone else would focus on Jonas. But by having CJ the game became easier for everyone else. It allows for shooters like Devonte Graham, Jose Alvarado, and Trey Murphy III to get open 3 pointers. Herb Jones and Naji Marshall would have open back door cuts to the basketball hoop. Everything was made easier.

And that's just me speaking on the gravity of him being on the court. But the Pelicans and Willie Green also found out that he can be the lead guard the Pelicans desperately needed. I truly believe that this was not only great for the Pelicans but McCollum as well. His play was almost stunted in Portland by deferring lead guard responsibilities to Dame Lillard. McCollum is a natural lead guard. He is better at having the ball in his hands and either creating for others or himself. The Pelicans now have someone other than Ingram who can create and no disrespect to Ingram but someone who creates for others better than him at the moment. He is also a 3 level scorer and someone who is extremely efficient when scoring the ball. And the stats really back this up. McCollum is playing his best basketball. He is averaging 25.9 points per game, 6.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 steals per game, and is shooting 56% from 2 pointers and 38% from the 3 point line. All of these totals are better than any year previously in his NBA career.

And this is all without discussing how important he is as a leader. I've shown why he is so important on the court but his off-the-court importance may even be higher. He has shown what true leadership is. When he told the truth about Zion on TNT which caused a media storm he immediately not only rectified the issue but almost alleviated any concerns. By him taking up for Zion it showed the world that the Pelicans have the right vet on their squad. He also has shown how to embrace the city. Everything out of McCollum's mouth has been about how much he loves New Orleans and how he wants to be here. He even acknowledged on the I Am Athlete Podcast that he understands that in New Orleans if you embrace the city, state, and culture you can become a legend. And I believe with all of this Zion hoopla this is something that not only the fans needed to hear but Zion and other players around the league as well needed to hear. He has shown upcoming free agents hey come here because we have something special and the city is special. This is something that was a known issue last season and just with the addition of McCollum all of that should be fixed. It also shows Zion that hey the franchise will do anything to make you a winner.

This has been arguably the most important non-draft acquisition by the Pelicans. It is right there with acquiring Brandon Ingram. But 1 thing that is for sure is it's easily the best thing that could've happened to the Pelicans this year. In one fell swoop, you got an advocate for free agents, a certified 3 level scorer who is also a lead guard, a true leader on and off the court, and a vital piece to making Zion Williamson happy. This move will be remembered as the move that forever changed basketball in New Orleans.

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