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Does small school star make sense for Phoenix Suns?

The NBA Draft is an inexact science. No matter how much effort is spent scouting and researching, there are variables that can’t be accounted for. The goal is to limit risk by following patterns of previous success to try and find a player that can be a valuable asset to your franchise as a building block or for a potential trade.

The Phoenix Suns landed the number five pick through the NBA Draft Lottery on Tuesday night.

The narrative of the draft has been it’s a “weak class”, but while doing my research, I see numerous players that could help the Suns in a variety of fashions. Where they are slotted, Phoenix should get a solid rotation player with the potential for more.

One name floated by ESPN’s Chad Ford was Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum, and the former Mountain Hawks guard makes sense on a variety of levels.

Phoenix was a bad offensive team last year that lacked players who could create their own shots. While ISOs and dribble jump shots are largely looked at as negative, over the course of an NBA game, defenses force you into less optimal situations. Teams need players with the ability to score in broken down plays.

The Suns’ struggles in these situations are exemplified by their ranking of 29 (of 30) in ISO situations with .688 points per possession and a ranking of 24 PPP with a .755 in shots off the dribble, according to Synergy Sports.

McCollum thrived in those types of plays at Lehigh with a 1.017 PPP in ISOs and 1.157 PPP for jumpers off the dribble. He would give the Suns a second shot creator next to Goran Dragic.

People will argue McCollum’s numbers can’t be taken seriously because he played at a small school. To an extent they’re right, you do need some context, but he shouldn’t be written off because of it.

The 2012-2013 Rookie of the Year was Damian Lillard out of Weber State. Steph Curry, Jameer Nelson, George Hill and Eric Maynor are legitimate NBA rotation players who went to small schools. Jimmer Fredette could still eventually grow into a rotational role even though it doesn’t look good now.

I used all of the above players’ junior years compared to McCollum’s junior year, so the statistics indicate similar stages in their development. Here are how they stack up against each other. Thanks to for the stats.

Stats Average of 6 C.J. McCollum
Usage Rate 33.1 36.9
Points Per 40 mins 27.9 30.9
Offensive Rating 119.6 114.7
True Shooting % 61.0% 62.7%
Defensive Rebound % 12.5% 14.1%
Assist % 32.5% 24.9%
TO % 15.4% 14.7%

If I were to rank each of these players’ junior seasons George Hill was the clear cut number one, followed by a grouping of Lillard, Curry and McCollum in some order. After that I would put Fredette, Nelson and Maynor in the next tier.

What we learn from those numbers is McCollum fits the profile of a high usage guard from a small school that translated well to the NBA. It doesn’t guarantee he will be a good player at the professional level, but this shows a history of players who performed at similar statistical level that were able to have success.

I’m not currently locked on the Suns needing to take McCollum with the pick. At this point I still think I would lean toward Indiana’s Victor Oladipo because of his ability on the defensive end and versatility from an offensive perspective.

But looking at the numbers in addition to knowing what the Suns’ weaknesses are, I do see why McCollum is a fit and would be a quality selection at number five.