After a week-long All-Star break hiatus, the NBA is back in full force tonight. We have nine games lined up on tonight’s slate, and there’s plenty of value. Let’s jump into our best NBA Props for Thursday night’s action.
The New Orleans Pelicans are north of the border to take on the Toronto Raptors — tipoff is at 7:30 ET. The Pelicans remain without Zion Williamson, which could open the door for CJ McCollum tonight.
McCollum was playing excellent basketball before the break after a tumultuous start to his 2022-23 campaign. And, with extra attention on Brandon Ingram tonight, the Pels may need to lean on CJ even more than they usually do.
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NBA Props for Thursday (2/23)
CJ McCollum Over 20.5 Points (-110 @ FanDuel)
This line feels at least one or two points too low. CJ McCollum looked as good as ever in the weeks leading up to All-Star Weekend, even though the Pelicans struggled.
The former Portland guard has dropped 20-plus points in 8 of his last 10 games and 16 of his final 20 games. The Pels need every win they can get in a crowded Western Conference, and CJ will be instrumental in any winning New Orleans efforts until Zion Williamson returns. That begins tonight.
It’s always a guessing game when it comes to smaller guards. We never know when they’re going to fall off a cliff, and it usually happens fast.
It looked like the 31-year-old McCollum’s fall-off may have arrived early this season. Just take a look at his numbers through the season’s first two months (before December 15th):
But, he miraculously turned it around after that abysmal start. He’s been on a tear ever since.
Over the last two months, New Orleans’ lead guard has been far more efficient across the board. And, most importantly, he’s getting to the rim more and drawing fouls more than twice as often.
CJ has cashed this over in 20 of his 29 games during this stretch, good for a 69.0% hit rate. Plus, he’s had five games finishing with exactly 19 or 20 points. So, in 25 of his last 29 games, the Lehigh product has either cashed this over or he’s been one bucket shy.
With Zion Williamson still sidelined with a never-ending hamstring injury, look for McCollum to continue shouldering much of New Orleans’ scoring load.
Less Zion = More CJ
McCollum has played 11 games without Zion Williamson and with Brandon Ingram this season. He scored at least 21 points in 8 of these 11 contests, averaging 21.6 PPG. Going back to last season, he reached this mark in 11 of his 15 games alongside Ingram, including 23 points against Toronto.
Furthermore, two of those three misses came against Cleveland and Boston, two of the NBA’s top five defenses this season. Meanwhile, the Raptors haven’t been as stout defensively this season, ranking 18th in defensive rating.
Toronto has still done an excellent job of limiting opposing forwards and big men, but they’ve been far more vulnerable against guards this year than in years past. It’s unclear who will defend McCollum tonight, but it’s fair to assume he’ll face less pressure than Ingram.
CJ relies on his jumper to score as much as almost any other guard in the league. 68.5% of his shots come from more than 10 feet out, so he’ll be able to avoid the double-teams that Ingram is sure to face in this one.
The Pels need CJ to step up tonight, and I think the 31-year-old guard should be able to get to his spots and do some damage in Toronto.
McCollum has enjoyed a usage rate of just 23.8% with both Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram in the lineup. But, that increases to 25.8 USG% without Zion.
CJ posted 23.7 points per game in three meetings with Toronto last season, and he has a great opportunity to put up points in his first 2023 meeting with the Raps this evening.
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