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Lowe: Trail Blazers Suffer from Poor Shot Selection

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The ESPN columnist doesn’t like long twos from Portland’s big players. Is he right?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN Columnist Zach Lowe has issues with the way the Portland Trail Blazers are using their big men, including projected-star center Jusuf Nurkic. In the latest edition of 10 Things I Like and Don’t Like about the NBA, Lowe takes on Portland’s shot selection.

Something is wonky in Portland. The Blazers rank 22nd in points per possession, and their shot selection has trended the wrong way -- toward midrangers. There are too many stretches when they trudge through the paces of their motion offense without the vigor that makes it sing. They whiff on picks, or cut at three-quarters speed.

One bugaboo: Portland's big men love barfing up long 2s, even semi-contested ones, early in the shot clock. Even Jusuf Nurkic, usually a bowling ball rampaging toward the rim, is launching too many pick-and-pop jumpers before exploring better options. I know Zach Collins is a shooter, but let's bag this stuff, please.

Lowe’s critique isn’t incorrect, but he may be painting with too broad of a brush. It’s true that Nurkic is attempting more shots between 16 feet and the three-point arc than at any time in his career, doubling the rate from his next-highest season, but that still only amounts to 18% of his total attempts, about 2.5 shots per game. Of all Portland’s bigs, Lowe’s criticism fits him best.

Zach Collins takes about 10% of his shots from 16 feet and out. He’s not hitting them, but his percentages are significantly worse when he’s closer to the bucket. He’s shooting 20% between 16-22 feet, 14% between 10-16 feet, just 9% between 3-10 feet. This is probably less about shot selection than the decision to shoot in the first place. (“Greetings, Professor Falken. Strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”)

Noah Vonleh’s rate of long two-point shooting is also up significantly, but he’s completely eliminated the three-pointer from his repertoire. His percentage of shots outside 16 feet remains almost exactly the same as last season; he’s actually moving in to get them.

Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless, and Meyers Leonard have all dropped in percentage of long two-pointers taken. All moving farther out past the three-point arc compared to prior seasons. Harkless is suffering greatly, but Aminu and Leonard are shooting career highs from distance.

Thanks, as always, to basketball-reference.com for the stats.