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NBA Draft 2013: CJ McCollum is draft's most intriguing mystery

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We don't know very much about Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, and that makes him one of the most appealing players in the draft.


If you haven't seen top NBA prospect C.J. McCollum play before, you can be excused.

He played just 12 games last season for the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, a small program in northern Pennsylvania that posted a one-win season less than 10 years ago. Seeing him typically meant trekking to a small venue somewhere like Hamilton, New York, or lucking into a rare broadcast on ESPN3.

However, had you been curious enough to comb the crowds that ventured to see McCollum before he suffered a season-ending foot injury over the winter, you probably would've found three kinds of people: drunk college kids, suit-wearing boosters and NBA scouts.

Playing on the small stage, McCollum emerged as one of the biggest names in the draft this year. The funny thing is, we still hardly know anything about him as an NBA player.

This isn't completely unusual for someone so young -- most rookies are rubik's cubes: puzzles of athleticism and untapped energy requiring a steady hand and patience to be properly utilized. For every LeBron that seemingly skips the first 10 steps and heads straight to stardom, you have a Michael Beasley taking it easy.

But this McCollum fellow? He's an athletic, 6'3 guard with a limited resume against questionable competition. The things we know -- he's fast, he can shoot and he won't be fazed by playing against Holy Cross -- are quite easy to list.

The things we don't know? We're not getting exhaustive here, but...

Is a point guard or a shooting guard, or neither? Is he really a great shooter with a lightning-quick first move, or did it simply look that way amidst overwhelming mediocrity? At what point does his potential outweigh the uncertainty that he'll reach it? If most prospects are difficult to project, McCollum is nearly impossible.

And yet, scouts and analysts alike continue to pump his reputation up like a wacky waving inflatable flailing arm tube man. At this point, it's difficult to imagine McCollum getting past the first 10 picks.

For most players, lack of exposure can be a death knell for big league aspirations. Just get a foot in the door, they say, but who's opening that door for an undersized scoring guard who missed most of his senior season at Lehigh? Probably the same people that did so for Damian Lillard.

A year ago, Lillard was C.J. McCollum. The questions about point guard skills, quality of competition and ultimate upside, we already asked these last year. And the way Lillard ultimately answered them with Portland, by leading the league in minutes played en route to winning Rookie of the Year, may be clouding our evaluations.

Really, it's not unlike the European craze that consumed the NBA draft during the early 2000s. Following the success of players like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Mehmet Okur, the hot new trend of picking up foreign players brought us Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Bostjan Nachbar and Darko Milicic, among others.

Some of those picks were more questionable than others, but it remains true that many teams over-compensated to the emergence of some good European players by looking to unearth their own Dirk or Pau. Looming beneath the surface was an unreasonable optimism filling out the gaps in absence of quality information.

This isn't necessarily to argue that McCollum has been falsely hyped. But for a guy with a rather brief resume, might he be getting the good graces of NBA evaluators off the coattails of Lillard's success? Within the complex art that is prospect evaluation, it's something to consider.

In this draft, every prospect has his warts. The consensus top player, Kentucky's Nerlens Noel, is a skinny big man with little offensive skill and a blown out knee still working back to form. The more you know about these guys, the easier it is to pick them apart.

And that, above all else, may be pushing McCollum to the top. In a draft full of clearly defined question marks, the mystery surrounding the Lehigh point guard at least lends itself to some serious dreaming. With Anthony Bennett, you know his problems, you know his potential, you hope for the best.

With McCollum? The possibilities feel endless, and that's more than most guys can offer.

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