When the Portland Trail Blazers traded Allen Crabbe to the Brooklyn Nets this past summer, NBA reaction came in two flavors: “That’s a contract dump! But how will Portland replace his three-point shooting off the bench?” The answer to the latter appeared to be veteran shooting specialist Anthony Morrow, who signed a non-guaranteed contract with Portland in September. Morrow was released following preseason. Heading into the regular season, the majority of Blazer fans seemed confused as to why the team would let Morrow go, and for a vacant roster spot at that. As it turns out, the answer may have been third-year guard Pat Connaughton.
For the first two years of his NBA career, Connaughton was Portland’s version of M.L. Carr: a towel-waving, hype man extraordinaire. That all changed on the opening night of the 2017-18 NBA season. With the Blazers facing the Phoenix Suns without suspended shooting guard CJ McCollum, Connaughton entered the game around the 9:30 mark in the first quarter. He proceeded to score seven of Portland’s first nine points, finishing the game with a career-high 24 points on 9-14 shooting, including 4-7 from three-point land.
While 24 points per game isn’t a realistic expectation, his outburst showed that he has the potential to provide important minutes off the bench. He scored in the paint four times in the Phoenix game, but his bread and butter (and most important contribution to the Blazers) is making the open/semi-open three off of dribble drive penetration by the team’s primary ball-handlers, seen several times in this highlight package.
With McCollum, Damian Lillard, and Evan Turner getting to the rim off the dribble, forcing the opposition to draw towards the paint, the perimeter stands exposed. These looks aren’t going away any time soon. As long as he can continue to hit the three at a +35% clip, Connaughton’s spot in the rotation is secured.
Connaughton has also been able to score off of the hand-off, as seen in this play from the Clippers game Thursday:
Patty Fastball has hit at least one three in every game so far this season.. His confidence appears to be extending over multiple attempts, independent of result. In the Clippers game he missed his first two three-point attempts, but kept shooting and hit on his third. Through five games, he has hit over 45% of his long-distance attempts (10-22).
Earning significant minutes for the first time in his young career, the Notre Dame product has already attempted more threes in five games this season (22), than in his entire rookie year (21). Having averaged about six minutes a game across his first two seasons, he is averaging over 21 in 2017-18. He’s recorded 19 or more minutes in all but one game, even with McCollum back in the rotation.
In addition to his shooting prowess, Connaugton has also showed signs of becoming a well-rounded player. He has played adequate defense this season, and he grabbed six rebounds against the Pelicans in the home opener, while averaging 2.6 boards a game on the season.
The former second round pick has done all this while making about $1.4 million this season, almost $18 million less than Allen Crabbe is making with the Nets for the year. Two weeks into the season, Crabbe, is averaging 13.2 points per game for the Nets, and shooting just shy of 39% from 3-point land, in 25 minutes a game. Connaughton’s numbers: 9.2 points, 45.5% from the arc, 21 minutes per game.
The season is young. Nothing is decided yet. But so far Connaughton has answered the questions surrounding him and, more importantly, has helped ease the team’s bench questions as well. The Blazers and their fans will take it.