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CJ McCollum Is Playing Well, the Blazers Just Changed the Game on Him

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Portland fans want to know what’s wrong with CJ! Not as much as you think.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers have been playing well through the early part of the 2018-19 season. They’ve won 10 games, the offense is going like gangbusters, everything is shiny! Well, except for one little matter, according to questions in the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag like this one:

Dave,

Love the start of the season. The only thing I’m disappointed with is CJ. What happened man? The Blazers get the bench of their dreams and Nurk is playing well then CJ goes sideways? Can they put it all together and can CJ get back to being CJ again?

Another Dave

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say CJ McCollum is every bit of the player he’s always been: a sparkling scorer with more tricks in his bag than Professor Hinkle at his busy, busy, busiest. The Blazers have changed the system around him. Adjusting to that takes time.

In a way, CJ is the inverse of Evan Turner. ET’s performance looks great this year. He’s clicking on all cylinders because the coaching staff took him off of the perimeter and put the ball in his hands in the middle of the floor. Now that he’s not shoehorned into a stand-still three-point-shooting role, the game is coming easier.

McCollum has now taken Turner’s place as the guy slightly out of his comfort zone. CJ works best when he can handle the ball and pursue multiple options: the quick pull-up three, drive-stop for a mid-range jumper, come off a screen for same, or get to the hole. His ability to hit from the middle ranges makes him deadly. Portland isn’t valuing those shots as much this year, nor the dribbles CJ likes to take to get them. If they can’t get a quick, easy shot inside, the Blazers want to go inside out or around the horn for open threes. Point guards and post players get to dribble, everybody else becomes a catch-and-shoot player again.

McCollum’s scoring is off less than a point from last season (21.4 vs. 20.5) and his per-minute scoring is actually UP. He’s had huge variance in scoring, posting a 40-point game against the Bucks and 30 against the Lakers, but finishing with 15 or fewer points three times already. We’re not seeing diminished production as much as sporadic.

CJ is shooting 45.4% from the field, higher than his 44.3% rate last year. Here are three big differences in his production:

  1. He’s registering a huge drop-off in three-point percentage, though: 34.8%, down from 39.7%.
  2. Last year 31.6% of his attempts came from long distance. This year that number is up to 35.4%.
  3. Last year 17.8% of his shots came between 16 feet and the three-point arc. This year it’s down to 13.8%. This is the range in which he makes his money, hitting 63.9%. (That number is an aberration which will come down with more attempts, but still...) The same is true from the 10-16 foot range to a lesser extent: percentage of shots taken from that range is down, percentage of those shots made is up.

Summing up: McCollum is getting more shots from long distance, taken in a less-natural style, in Portland’s new offense and is hitting far fewer of them by percentage. He’s not getting to take the shots he’s best at. This accounts for some of the perception that he’s not doing well. Under these circumstances, up-and-down nights are to be expected, though. Plus he’s still averaging 20+ on a more-than-acceptable percentage from the field.

So yeah, CJ is OK. Give it a little time and see if things smooth out.

Keep those questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com!

—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / blazersub@gmail.com