Portland Trail Blazers guard Pat Connaughton has played almost twice as many minutes this season as he had in his first two seasons combined. And not only has he played, he’s played well. He is a member of several of the Blazers’ best lineups, and has an overall Net Rating of 1.0, well above the Blazers’ overall rating of -0.3. Connaughton might not be a starting level player yet, but there’s no doubt he’s a rotation level guy in the NBA, and for a 41st overall pick who plays another sport professionally, that’s quite a feat.
So, what has led to this step forward by Connaughton? Is it just the regular improvement that most NBA players make in their first few seasons? Has his shooting gotten better? Here are three numbers that explain why Connaughton is now a key piece to the Blazers’ rotation.
2.00: This is Pat Connaughton’s assist to turnover ratio. Most point guards strive to have a ratio well above 2, but for wings, that’s a very nice rate. In Pat’s first season, his ratio was 1, while in his second it was 1.65. This improvement is fantastic considering he’s handling the ball more this year than previous seasons— oftentimes young players see turnovers skyrocket as their responsibilities increase. Connaughton’s assist percentage (measuring possessions that end in an assist) has actually gone down this season, but he’s made up for that through an even greater reduction in his turnover rate. It’s always good to create shots for others without turning the ball over, and Connaughton’s development in this area has made him a better offensive player for the Blazers.
56.8: The NBA is increasingly trending towards the perimeter focusing on three-point shooting. If players can shoot from deep, it’s important for them to take as many threes as realistically possible. Pat Connaughton is taking 56.8% of his shots outside the arc this year, up from 45.8 last year and 42.9 the year before. For a player who doesn’t possess the ball-handling skills to attack off the dribble much, and who plays with two star shot creators in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, it makes sense for Connaughton to be primarily a three-point shooter, and he’s made steps in that direction this season. While Connaughton is shooting *only* 37.2% from three, the mere fact that he’s taking more of them helps create space for Dame and CJ to work. Three-pointers are particularly valuable on a team that doesn’t have many outside shooters outside of Lillard and McCollum, and a reason why he’s an element of their best lineups.
17.3: One of the reasons Pat Connaughton was an NBA prospect was his standout athletic ability (even for a D1 college player). He can really move (and jump), which made people think that he could be an active and plus defensive player at the NBA level. There’s a lot more to NBA defense than blocking shots, yet it’s a good sign of activity and use of athleticism at the very least. And Connaughton’s block percentage (the percentage of blocks he’s contributed out of the Blazers’ total) has soared each season: from 0.0 to 7.4 to 17.3 thus far this year. He’s not exactly Hakeem Olajuwon out there, but he can make plays on defense. The fact that he’s going for more blocks could also be a sign of his increased comfort and confidence on the court.
What do you think has been the primary reason behind Pat Connaughton’s rise through the Blazers’ rotation this season? Discuss in the comments below!