The Trail Blazers are in the middle of their annual early-season swoon and and fans are, justifiably, getting a bit angry. I’m not going to clutch pearls over a few losses — in all likelihood Portland isn’t THIS bad (although the corollary isn’t that they also likely aren’t as good as their 10-3 start).
Instead, let’s take a look at a few key stats regarding 3-pointers, a point of emphasis in offseason transactions, and see if we can find some reasons to be optimistic.
3-point accuracy: 36.8 percent vs. 35.7 percent
Last season Blazers not named Damian Lillard shot 36.8 percent on 3-pointers, but this year they are shooting 35.7 percent. That’s not a terrible conversion rate, it’d be somewhere in the middle third of the league depending on which season you compare it against, but it’s somewhat concerning to see a decrease in accuracy a year after GM Neil Olshey emphasized outside shooting in his offseason acquisitions.
3PAr: 0.294 vs. 0.339
The good news is that despite the slightly decreased percentage the team is shooting 3-pointers more often, other than Lillard. Last year Blazers-not-named-Dame had a 3-point attempt rate (3PAr) of only .294, equivalent to No. 26 in the NBA. This year they are up to .339, equivalent to No. 21 in the league. Lillard, meanwhile, has cut his 3PAr from a Rockets-esque .445 to a “mere” .409.
Overall, the team’s shooting efficiency has improved; non-Dame effective field goal percentage (EFG% — a measure of shooting efficiency that weights the value of 3-pointers) has jumped from 50.9 percent to 52.3 percent. That increase is equivalent to improving 16 spots in the league’s overall standings. Lillard’s eFG% has fallen by 0.6 percent, but the Blazers’ overall offensive rating has jumped from No. 13 to No. 8 mitigating concern about Dame’s personal stats.
3PAr: .355, No. 15 of 30
With that said, the Blazers team rate is still hovering around the middle of the league — they are currently No. 15. Given that shooting more 3-pointers has improved offensive efficiency thus far the team needs to consider shooting even more long balls. If they can up their 3PAr even further and keep the conversion rate around 36 percent it may boost their offense into the top five.
All the stats in one place
CJ McCollum needs to shoot more triples
“Fun” fact: CJ McCollum had a true shooting percentage (TS%) of 53.6 last season. Second worst among 20 point per game scorers, ahead of only Russell Westbrook. McCollum has improved to 55.6 percent this season, but he still ranks only No. 17 of 30 in efficiency for 20 PPG scorers.
McCollum also carries a very low 3PAr — he’s at .331 this season, tied with Zach Collins for No. 10 on the Blazers despite the fact CJ shot 40 percent on 3s last season!
Since McCollum has never been effective at drawing free throws, and has shown no sign of improving that skill this season, it may be time for head coach Terry Stotts to move him five feet further out on the perimeter and turn some mid-range attempts into triples.
Specifically, McCollum took 315 shots last season (21 percent of all attempts) around the elbows or the top of the key — some of those could be presumably be converted to 3-pointers, hopefully giving his efficiency a boost.
To put it bluntly: Why in the hell is a guy who’s capable of hitting 40 percent of his 3-pointers shooting them about as often as Zach Collins?! Some of this effect is driven by the defense leaving Collins open, of course, but McCollum has proven himself very capable of generating his own shot, especially when sharing the court with Lillard.
Last season 33.7 percent of McCollum’s shots were 3-pointers when he and Lillard played together, but that number dropped to 28.6 percent when Lillard subbed out. It’s disappointing that McCollum has not been able to attempt more 3-pointers this year despite spending more time on the court with Dame.
Non-Lillard Blazers are shooting more 3-pointers this season and still converting them at the same clip as last season. That’s a good thing! And likely one of the reasons the team offense has improved. The team should consider shooting even more triples to boost the offense even further; McCollum’s low 3PAr but high percentage make him an obvious candidate to be a primary catalyst of that change.