New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) shoots over Los Angeles Lakers forward Jarred Vanderbilt (2) and forward Anthony Davis (3) during the first half of an NBA basketball game at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. (Photo by Scott Threlkeld, The Times-Picayune)

It has been close to two years since the New Orleans Pelicans traded for CJ McCollum.

For most of McCollum’s time in New Orleans, the idea of what the Pelicans could be at full strength has been hypothetical. Zion Williamson was recovering from a broken right foot in McCollum’s first few months here. Last season, Brandon Ingram was waylaid by a left toe injury, while a right hamstring injury sidelined Williamson for 44 games.

McCollum, Williamson and Ingram played in just 10 games together in their first year and a half as teammates.

This season, they are finally getting real reps. Wednesday's win was the 17th game they've shared the court this season. The three of them combined for 70 points (26-of-42 shooting) and 18 assists as the Pelicans handed the Timberwolves their second loss at Target Center since October.

“We are trusting each other,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Guys are keeping the game simple. We are driving into the paint. When the defense collapses, we are kicking it out and getting easy shots.”

The Pelicans are 9-3 since their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the In-Season Tournament. They have won four games in a row. During their winning streak, their three best players are all averaging more than 20 points and five assists. Here are the "Big 3's" numbers since Dec. 28:

  • McCollum: 21.0 points (48.4% FG), 6.3 assists
  • Williamson: 21.0 points (68.0% FG), 6.3 assists
  • Ingram: 20.8 points (55.4% FG), 6.3 assists

To quote the Marvel movie villain Williamson gets his “Zanos” nickname from, “Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.”

Ingram and Williamson combined for 28 first-half points Wednesday. The Pelicans took a 13-point lead into the break.

In the third quarter, McCollum stamped out any hope the Timberwolves had of making the game competitive. McCollum made two 3-pointers and a pair of free throws in the first three minutes of the quarter.

McCollum is quietly having one of the most efficient seasons of his 11-year career. He is averaging 19.9 points on 46.4% shooting from the field and 43.9% from 3. The Pelicans needed him to take and make 3s at a high clip, and he is delivering. The 3.4 3-point makes he’s averaging per contest is tied for the seventh-most of any NBA player.

“I think the main thing is CJ came in and said, 'It’s OK to coach me,' " backup point guard Jose Alvarado said. "He’s been a backup point guard. He’s been a starter. He’s been one of those guys who takes over games. He’s also a guy who plays his role. He came in with the right mindset. He told us, 'I’ve played every role, and I understand what this team needs.' "

In New Orleans’ last four games, the Pelicans are crushing other teams by 25.6 points per 100 possessions with McCollum, Williamson and Ingram on the court. 

“I think we are figuring it out,” Williamson said. “I think the more we are on the court, the more we are figuring out what spacing we like. When one player is going to attack. The more games we play, the better we are going to get at it.”

Familiarity has helped. And so has improved spacing, according to Ingram. 

“The biggest thing I know is we need space," Ingram said. “When guys attack in space, we’re really good.”

During the four-game winning streak, McCollum has shot 18 of 34 from 3-point territory, and Herb Jones has converted 9 of 15 triples. Shot-making like that certainly helps open up the floor for the mid-range minded Ingram and the rim-attacking Williamson. 

Aside from Trey Murphy, who has missed the last three games due to a left knee injury, all of the Pelicans rotation players are healthy.

The Pelicans (21-14) have surged to seven games above .500. They are no longer a hypothetical team.

Email Christian Clark at