CJ McCollum is having a very good season for the Portland Trailblazers. He’s scoring over 21 points per game, and is shooting 42.3% from three, the highest mark of his career. He just put down 50 points, a new career high, against the Chicago Bulls. McCollum is a potent shot creator and, with Damian Lillard, is one half of one of the hardest to stop duos in the entire NBA. As improbable as it seems, CJ has actually taken a step back this year in terms of scoring efficiency (TS% is 54.7%, and it was 58.5% last season). More puzzling, he’s done so while seeing a drop in usage rate (27.4 to 25.9). Usually, taking on “less responsibility” in the offense would generate an increase in scoring efficiency. What’s behind this odd shift? Well, there are a few things at play here
When you think of CJ McCollum, you think of a crafty ball-handler who can get a shot off from almost anywhere on the court, an isolation scorer who doesn’t need help to get buckets. That’s true as far as it goes, but it’s not the whole story. In previous seasons, McCollum scored off-ball a lot, particularly as a three-point shooter. In his previous three seasons, the percentage of his three-pointers off assists were 85.5, 72.1, and 74.1 respectively. This season, that has dropped to 66.9%. Similarly, 80.9% of his two point field goals are unassisted this year, compared to 74% the year before. Basically, McCollum has been asked to create a lot more of his own offense this season, and that has impacted his efficiency.
It’s also helpful to understand why McCollum is creating more offense this year. With the emergence of Shabazz Napier as a credible third guard who can also create his own shot, it actually seems like CJ could work off-ball more this season than before, not less. Two interesting stats could explain the drop in assisted buckets.
CJ’s second-chance points have dropped from 2.0 per game last season to 1.5 this season. Second-chance points are often assisted (especially for guards), since big men get offensive rebounds, and have easy kick-outs to three-point shooters. Those shots are also extremely high percentage, since they are usually wide open. A drop in easy, open shots could impact shooting efficiency.
Fast break points are another source of easy buckets. Here again, CJ has seen a drop, from 2.2 per game (each of the previous two seasons) to 1.6 this season. Portland’s defense is quite a bit better this season, and stops lead to an increase in transition opportunities, so it’s curious that his fast break points have fallen. Nevertheless, failing to run leaves more difficult halfcourt shots as the only option.
Finally, McCollum is attempting only 3.0 free throws per game this season, compared to 3.7 last season. Worse, he is doing so in more minutes per game, and while taking more shots per game. That translates to a 16.6% free throw rate this year, against 20.4% last year. This is another reason his game has been less efficient this season, and something that CJ can definitely work on. Someone with his ball-handling abilities should be able to draw more fouls and free throws. He’s such a fantastic outside shooter that defenders close out hard. That should either open up driving lanes to the basket (another opportunity to draw fouls), or free throws from drawing contact on the shot attempt. If CJ can get those free throws up from three per game to five, his efficiency should skyrocket.
Stats are taken from NBA.com and basketball reference, and were accurate as of January 31, 2018 (before the Bulls game, which I know makes this article seem a bit mistimed). Let me know what you think about CJ and his season in the comments below.
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