SLAM Top 50: CJ McCollum, No. 31

The snake dribble gets activated when the ballhandler turns the corner on the pick-and-roll. He puts his defender on his back and then engages the opposing big man in a series of zig-zags, navigating through the paint like a (you guessed it) snake.

It sounds simple enough but it requires a high level of multitasking. Dude with the rock has to be able to occupy two defenders at the same time while avoiding a turnover or a wild shot. And then he has to make the right read, quickly deciding whether to find an open teammate or call his own number. There are few very guys in the League good enough to take advantage of it.

CJ McCollum is in the elite minority.

He breaks defenses down with the snake dribble every damn game. His handle has become air -ight and he uses his long-ass arms to catch defenders with abrupt left-to-right dribbles and hesitations. The snake and his collection of crossovers have helped the 26-year-old develop into a dangerous one-on-one scorer.

Sixty-one percent of McCollum’s baskets came without any help at all last season. He would navigate throughout the floor, at his own pace, and find alley ways to get to his patented stepback from inside the arc.

He made 230 shots from the midrange, good for sixth most in the League. And he barely had help on those makes, too. Of those 230 connections, only 29 percent of them were assisted.

On the rest of the 71 percent, it’s safe to assume that McCollum was weaving around defenders, seeking out an opportunity to snap an ankle. On the low, the Lehigh product has some of the filthiest handles in the League. He blows by big men that switch out on him with too much ease. If a guard dares to D up, he’ll one-two yank ‘em real fast. Then when he has them leaning, he raises up and knocks it down.

The 6-3 McCollum missed only two games last season, averaging a career-best 23 points on 48 percent shooting from the field. He converted at a 42 percent rate from distance, good for seventh best in the NBA.

He erupted for 41 points in Game 1 of the playoffs against the Warriors, showing the national TV audience what he had been doing all season long up in the Northwest. Even though the Blazers lost the game and the series, he put a legitimate scare in the Dubs by easily scoring against everyone they put on him.

Klay Thompson? Smooth catch-and-shoot. Draymond Green? Pull-up off the bounce. Kevin Durant? And-1 opportunity right at the front of the rim. Stephen Curry or Shaun Livingston? Light work.

His back court mate, superstar point guard Damian Lillard, willingly found him time after time that night (Dame chipped in a big 34 points) and together they gave the whole League a glimpse of their unbelievable scoring ability and what’s to come this season.

McCollum has increased his scoring, PER and True Shooting percentage in each of his four seasons in the League. With his bag ever-expanding, and with coach Terry Stotts allowing him to dip into said bag whenever he wants to now, CJ’s looking at a 25 points per game type of season full of stepbacks, head fakes and snake dribbles.

Previous Rankings:
2016: No. 42
2015: Not Ranked
2014: Not Ranked
2013: Not Ranked

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford
No. 40 — LaMarcus Aldridge
No. 39 — Kevin Love
No. 38 — Paul Millsap
No. 37 — Hassan Whiteside
No. 36 — Andrew Wiggins
No. 35 — Marc Gasol
No. 34 –  DeAndre Jordan
No. 33 — Bradley Beal
No. 32 — Kemba Walker