July 28, 2022, 1:10 pm
There are a variety of skills that make up your average winning basketball team, but there’s one that no team can ever get enough of: scoring. When a team’s offense starts to sputter, there are players on every roster that are tapped on the shoulder and told to go make something happen. In particular, this has been a particular specialty of the players we typically slap with the “combo guard” label; the ones that we trust to handle the ball but not necessarily to pass it. Two of the best in this category are CJ McCollum and Terry Rozier, who have the confidence and ability to score from all over the floor. Neither man has been recognized as an All-Star, but it’s no stretch to say that they can score like their more-celebrated peers. The pair have been top-tier fantasy options for multiple seasons, with the younger Rozier following a statistical path similar to the one that McCollum had been on for many more years. This week, we’ll dive into the numbers and see whether McCollum or Rozier will be the better fantasy option in the season ahead.
CJ McCollum vs. Terry Rozier
PAST: Who was the better fantasy player?
23.1 PPG, 3.6 3PG, 3.9 RPG, 4.7 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 1.4 TOG, .458 FG%, .812 FT%
47 games, 1,087 points, 169 3-pointers, 185 rebounds, 223 assists, 44 steals, 21 blocks, 65 turnovers, 405-of-884 field goals, 108-of-133 free throws
20.4 PPG, 3.2 3PG, 4.4 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 1.9 TOG, .450 FG%, .817 FT%
69 games, 1,407 points, 222 3-pointers, 302 rebounds, 293 assists, 87 steals, 26 blocks, 128 turnovers, 510-of-1,134 field goals, 165-of-202 free throws
Managers with a strong memory will recall the absolute tear that McCollum was on to open the season. It took him 13 games to score fewer than 20 points during a stretch that saw him average 26.7 points, 4.8 treys, 3.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.3 steals on .473 shooting and .844 on free throws. That unlucky 13th game saw him sidelined for two months, which drastically impacted his value in leagues that emphasize aggregate stats. A slight decline after his return would still see the Lehigh product close the year with top-30 value by averages, carried by elite points and treys. McCollum’s greater contributions in those categories were offset by a clear defensive advantage for Rozier as a steals producer.
Aside from a 42 point season debut, the Louisville alum’s production didn’t reach comparable levels until shortly after his peer succumbed to injury. Despite a major gap in availability between the two men, there is a clear conclusion when evaluating their average production. McCollum pairs victories in per-game production on points, treys, assists, field goal percentage and turnovers with a tie on blocks and a near-tie in free throws to take the judgment over Rozier in the Hornets’ guard first season as a top-50 producer in per-game value. However, managers focused on total production or building for steals may disagree, since Rozier crushed the cumulative rankings while swiping twice the amount of passes as the former Blazer.
Verdict: CJ McCollum
PRESENT: Who is the better fantasy player?
22.1 PPG, 2.9 3PG, 4.3 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 2.0 TOG, .460 FG%, .682 FT%
62 games, 1,370 points, 182 3-pointers, 269 rebounds, 315 assists, 70 steals, 22 blocks, 127 turnovers, 536-of-1,164 field goals, 116-of-170 free throws
19.3 PPG, 3.0 3PG, 4.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.3 BPG, 1.3 TOG, .444 FG%, .852 FT%
73 games, 1,408 points, 222 3-pointers, 315 rebounds, 326 assists, 93 steals, 25 blocks, 96 turnovers, 518-of-1,167 field goals, 150-of-176 free throws
The Hornets just completed their first winning season in six years behind the strength of one of the league’s most potent transition attacks. Alongside LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges, Rozier was part of an offense that generated more points and shots than all but two teams, while nobody was cranking out assists like the Hornets. Unfortunately, McCollum was less lucky on a Blazers squad that hadn’t been .500 or better since November, and it showed. There weren’t many signature performances for one of the highest-scoring players to never make an All-Star team.
Until McCollum was traded to the Pelicans, there wasn’t much competition between his production and that of Rozier. This was reflected in the gap between them in their final 9-cat rankings, as McCollum’s Pelicans-only averages are much more competitive: 24.3 points, 2.7 treys, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 turnovers. In fact, if it weren’t for McCollum’s absolutely horrendous and uncharacteristic free throws, as well as his significantly higher turnovers, he might have been able to earn another season’s judgment. As it stands, Rozier kept close enough pace in their mutual strength categories by averages while winning literally every category but field goals by totals. Somehow, McCollum played 11 fewer games than Rozier but finished with almost three times that number as the difference in turnovers.
Despite being a stronger points producer, the ratios of assists-to-turnovers outweighs McCollum’s categorical win as a distributor, and we can’t credit him for taking and making more shots than his peer when that distinction also applies to higher volume free throws with significantly more misses.
Verdict: Terry Rozier
FUTURE: Who will be the better fantasy player in 2022-23?
Looking ahead to the 2022-2023 season, it’s important to consider the environmental factors that will influence this battle. While McCollum has the highest scoring average among qualified players to never be selected as an All-Star, Rozier’s present pace may see him enter that discussion one day. Further, there is a matter of roles: who will be asked to do more next year? On one hand, there is the ongoing Bridges situation in Charlotte: with their leading scorer missing, it will fall to Ball and Rozier to pick up extra scoring reps. Between the two, it’s more likely that Ball will be the focus of gameplans and may find it easier to create for others. On the other hand, the Pelicans are looking forward to welcoming Zion Williamson back to action. Further, the franchise will be looking to maintain Brandon Ingram’s usage rate, while also dealing with what could be a strong effort from Jonas Valanciunas to produce entering a contract year. There are forces pulling in opposite directions on both men’s possible outcomes.
Both McCollum and Rozier were “Mr. 4th Quarter” for their teams in the past season. This is unlikely to be subject to much change, aside from the obvious appeal of having Williamson bully his way to every basket. Until there is more refinement to the game, the Pelicans’ mega-star is going to need players like McCollum to space out the defense. When it comes to getting that clutch trey, it’s obvious who they’ll be looking at in New Orleans. While fantasy basketball doesn’t strictly rely on quarter-by-quarter production, it does help to know that both players are locked in as part of a core of primary scorers on their respective teams. Rozier already led the Hornets in clutch scoring and “Scary Terry” earned his nickname for being that type of player, so his value to the team is sure to grow in tight situations and in general. Whether in the Hornets’ egalitarian offense or as part of a trio of scorers orbiting Zion’s gravity, both McCollum and Rozier are easy to predict as potential 20-point scorers on any given night. They are both among the premium floor-spacers in the league, with elite 3-point value and very little difference between their accuracy and volume from range over recent years.
Defensively, both men are solid producers despite being regular targets by opposing teams. This is both a blessing and a curse for each man, whose scoring has always carried their value to their teams and will keep them on the court regardless. The net result is that they may continue to be targeted, but that means that they will be defending on-ball that much more often with passes being thrown in their direction. Perhaps that’s how both men continue to put up solid steals value. However, Rozier wins this matchup in terms of agility, production and tenacity. In fact, Rozier’s two most recent steals averages are both higher than anything McCollum has ever produced and the Hornets guard is solid on similarly-sized players. The bet is that this will continue, while it’s possible that the gap between their averages grows as McCollum may regress to averaging less than one a night, as he has done in the majority of his career so far.
From an efficiency standpoint, it remains to be seen if the former Blazers star is able to return to previous benchmarks. While McCollum has historically been a solid free throw shooter, his season-long inefficiency begs the question of whether this was the new normal or the exception to the rule. There is a similar issue regarding turnovers, where the Lehigh alum generated more than he has in five seasons with an increase after joining the Pelicans. Hopefully, the combination of Williamson’s gravity and an offseason to get familiar with his new team presents McCollum the opportunity to bring his turnovers to a sub-2.0 level. Flipping one or both of the efficiency categories he is currently losing to Rozier could very easily settle the matchup for McCollum. It’s entirely possible that the predicted offensive increases for Rozier end up rebalancing the scales as the Hornets guard may sacrifice some efficiency while boosting his output. However, incoming coach Steve Clifford has eight seasons of top-five finishes for fewest turnovers under his belt and could provide a steadying effect.
While McCollum is certainly capable of scoring as he did last season with the Pelicans, it doesn’t seem likely that his scoring average will survive the return of the franchise icon. Ingram and Williamson accounted for more than 50 points per-game in their last season together and Valanciunas has been at 17-plus points for two seasons. Some combination of Devonte’ Graham, Herb Jones, Jaxson Hayes and Jose Alvarado will probably be good for 10 points each on any given night as well. That’s not to say McCollum won’t hover around 20–he probably will–but the league scoring average is around 110 points per-game and the players listed so far account for somewhere around 107 by their most recent production before accounting for McCollum’s standard output. Something has to give, and even if the veteran guard’s numbers don’t decline, he’ll have to get to those points more efficiently after getting crushed in that area by Rozier last season. There is a zero percent chance that everybody above hits their scoring averages with Williamson back in play, so the hope is that McCollum gets more clean looks and pads his lead in assists on his way to a stronger shooting year.
It bears repeating that Rozier will have fewer concerns when it comes to finding his shots within the offense, flanked by Ball and Gordon Hayward, who are both capable scorers but willing playmakers. While younger players like James Bouknight and Mark Williams may hope for extra responsibilities, coach Clifford has historically been slow to trust and is likely to prefer working with his established veterans when push comes to shove. If he brings the scoring gap closer, Rozier’s numbers will become increasingly competitive with McCollum’s, since they generally split assists and rebounds from season to season while only really fluctuating on efficiency and steals.
Ultimately, this decision hinges on more than just numbers. There is no arguing that Rozier hasn’t reached McCollum’s heights yet, although he has the clearer runway for success. Considering that the 6’3” guard will probably have less on-ball time in the year ahead, it’s more likely that McCollum will give ground on points to the typically lower-scoring Rozier, who is probably getting a bump with Bridges out of the picture. That may mean an even split on per-game scoring, while there’s no telling which player will produce more boards or treys after several consecutive seasons of marginal differences in both categories. It’s probable, if not likely, that Rozier will take steals in exchange for a loss in assists, while nobody will be counting on either player for blocks.
With as many as four coin-flip categories and one win each for McCollum and Rozier, it’s most likely that the difference between the two men will come down to shooting percentages and turnovers. Rozier will surely be getting some of Bridges’ shots and we can’t be sure how many of them he will miss even if his volume increases. It’s also hard to tell how close turnovers will be if McCollum lost turnovers by 31 despite playing 11 fewer games than Rozier. However, it’s clear that the Pelicans are adding around 25 points per-game without subtracting anyone from their roster, while the Hornets are losing around 20 points per-game with no replacement. While there is no telling who will win any number of categories between them, momentum is on Rozier’s side and he gets the verdict in a razor-thin split decision. If there must be a tiebreaker, it’s that Rozier has been the clear winner on totals for the past two years.
Verdict: Terry Rozier