Mar 21, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; South Dakota State Jackrabbits guard Nate Wolters (3) moves the ball on Michigan Wolverines guard Trey Burke (3) in the second half during the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at The Palace. Michigan won 71-56. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Higher Draft Value: CJ McCollum or Nate Wolters?

The potential shooting guards in the NBA draft are thin after the top few are off the board. The growing consensus is that CJ McCollum and Nate Wolters are so similar, the Wolves could pass on McCollum with their 9th pick and wait until their 26th to take Wolters and get better value out of their first round. This is all assuming one or both picks aren’t traded for a proven veteran, but Ed Weiland over at hoops analyst has given the two some thought. The case for not overreaching with McCollum and the ninth pick would seem strong…

Nate Wolters, South Dakota State: Wolters is the best passer in this group and is really more of a PG than a combo.  I just thought he was better evaluated here, because he’s probably a better prospect than the rest of the lesser PGs and he’s definitely one of the top small college players out there. As a PG prospect he hits all the necessary benchmarks. That’s a good thing, but I prefer that a small college prospect show a little more dominance than he has. I like small college players who have at least one eye-popping number in his statistical profile, like a 30+ P40, 9+ A40, 3+ S40 or 10+ RSB40. Wolters has been more of a player who meets all the minimum requirements for successful NBA PGs. While that sounds more boring than “a dominator”, it does make him a decent prospect to become an NBA PG. The only small college player I can find who didn’t make the NBA after topping .500 2PP, 24.0 P40, 6.0 A40 and 7.0 RSB40 is David Holston, a 5’7” player from Chicago State a few years ago. But there have only been a couple of others in this group, Speedy Claxton and Stephen Curry, so we’re dealing with a very small sample size here. Both players were much more dominant on this level than Wolters.

Wolters as a prospect is somewhere in that grey area. I can’t dismiss him because of any specific statistical red flag. He has NBA size at 6’4” and his team had a lot of success with him as the lead Jackrabbit, making the tournament his last two seasons. Looking at all the stats and information, one would have to conclude that Wolters is a better prospect than Lillard was at this time last year. While that might make him the most likely answer to the “Who is the Damian Lillard of 2013?” question, it doesn’t mean he’ll follow Lillard’s path and dramatically improve in his rookie year. He still lacks a dominant skill, like Curry’s scoring and steals or Hill’s efficiency. We’ll need another decade to determine if he has Fisher’s outlier intangibles. This makes Wolters a player to start thinking about somewhere around mid-late first round.

CJ MCollum, Lehigh: McCollum’s status as a prospect has taken a strange and happy turn during his senior season. He was limited to 12 games when an injury cut his season short in early January. His numbers in the above chart are for those 12 games. In the time since the injury his stock has only gone up. The mocks had him as a mid-first rounder at the time of the injury, but he has shot into the top 10 since. Injured players generally see their stock drop.

With McCullom a look at his entire career might be more helpful since the senior season lasted only 12 games and 372 minutes.  Here are McCollum’s career numbers:

CJ McCollum

2PP

3PP

P40

A40

S40

A/TO

RSB40

Freshman

433

421

22.9

2.9

1.6

1.3

7.9

Sophomore

435

315

23.2

2.3

2.6

0.8

9.6

Junior

489

341

25.9

4.2

3.1

1.5

11.5

Senior

485

516

32.0

3.7

1.9

1.1

8.9

Looking at these stats, the first thing jumps out is he only had one year, his junior year, where he passed well enough to think he could play NBA PG. That year he was only a marginally good passer. His 4.2 A40 is extremely low for a PG prospect. The benchmarks are 5.0 A40 and 1.4 A/TO for successful PGs. The only time McCollum topped either of these was his 1.5 A/TO his junior year. The caveat here would be that small college passing stats can be a little tricky, as Damian Lillard proved last year. But Lillard’s success doesn’t mean McCollum will follow the same path. It’s also worth noting that Lillard had much better numbers than McCollum, both as a passer and a scorer.

McCollum’s case as a SG is also shaky. The big issue is that his 2-point pct. has never topped .500 in any of his 4 college seasons. Recent lottery busts Harold Miner, Troy Bell, Trajan Langdon, Courtney Alexander, Shawn Respert and Jimmer Fredette all came into the draft with a 2PP under .500. While this is definitely a red flag, it isn’t uncommon for college SGs to make a successful jump to the NBA with a sub-.500 2PP.

So there are serious questions about McCollum as either a PG or SG. He hasn’t consistently demonstrated he has the passing skills to run the point and his efficiency looks too weak to be an effective NBA SG. What he does have going for him is strong defensive numbers. His RSB40 has been well over 8.0 for 3 consecutive years now, topping out at a stellar 11.6 last year. He also topped 3.0 S40 as a junior, a dominant number that suggests he has more than enough athleticism to make some sort of impact. He might have what it takes to become one of those sniper/defenders that are in vogue now as wing players. He’d have to work on his offense some to become such a player. His 3-point shot has been inconsistent, but overall he’s been decent, with a career mark of .377 on 576 attempts.

CJ McCollum rates as an NBA role player at best. I don’t see that he’s a bust on the level of Jimmer Fredette. He’s a much better prospect than that. Guards have had an easier time coming into the league recently, so it wouldn’t completely surprise me if outdoes my projection for him. That would depend on his landing in the right situation as much as anything though. The bottom line though is NBA guards are not in short supply, so using a lottery pick on one with as many red flags as McCollum just isn’t a good use of a pick. I would start considering him after #20 at the earliest. McCullom and Wolters are basically even. I give Wolters a slight edge because of his PG abilities, but McCullom  is probably a better option for teams looking for depth.

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