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Trail Blazers Hidden Highlights!: CJ’s cunning, Collins’ passing, and Coach Stotts Picks Up an Assist

Eric Griffith takes a moment to appreciate some of the little things that make all the difference during an NBA game.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

NBA fans love buzzer beaters (0.9 anyone?), but most games are decided well before the final horn. Small, barely noticeable moments accumulate over 48 minutes to give one team an advantage. These “hidden highlights” (small moments that have a disproportionately large impact) are often overlooked — but, in this article, the little things really will take center stage as we look back at some sneakily interesting moments from the Trail Blazers.

CJ McCollum’s Mid-Range Cunning

CJ McCollum is known for his mid-range prowess; he’s already taken 311 shots in that zone, seventh most in the NBA, and shot a respectable 43.4 percent. The consequences of entering high school at a scant 5-foot-2 live on.

McCollum often takes advantage of defenses not expecting a mid-range pull-up — watch Dwight Howard backpedal on this play to prevent a lay-up, leaving McCollum wide open for the easy 13-foot runner:

Now, the hidden highlight: On the next play, Dwight Howard remembered CJ’s previous basket and jumps out to prevent the shot. McCollum recognizes that this put the Hornets’ rim protector out of position and finds Nurkic for the easy floater:

This is excellent recognition and exploitation of a defensive adjustment. McCollum isn’t great at drawing fouls or finishing around the basket, so it’s nice to see him finding ways to use his mid-range game to manufacture easy buckets for his teammates.

Zach Collins, Assist Machine

Zach Collins had three assists in a matter of minutes against the Jazz recently. The assists were hidden in the flow of the offense, so they didn’t jump out as exceptional. Collins, however, has made a habit of finding open players and the results really help the flow of coach Terry Stotts’ offense:

Big man passers have been a key elements of the Stottsfense since LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure. It’s nice to see that Zach Collins may be joining Jusuf Nurkic, Meyers Leonard, and Mason Plumlee as a competent playmaker on the perimeter. Having a center or power forward who can be a multi-threat option around the 3-point line will go a long way toward opening up the middle of the court for Damian Lillard and McCollum.

Collins can still improve, however. He often gets mentally locked into the offense and fails to recognize unexpected opportunities. You can almost see the wheels churning in his head as he doublechecks to make sure he’s running through the right progressions on any given set. The result is some missed opportunities:

Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see a rookie big man making passes from the perimeter, and Collins’ recognition should improve with more in-game reps.

McCollum, again, with some cunning

Watch where McCollum holds the ball as he goes into his lay-up attempt:

It’s hard to tell, but it looks like McCollum’s worried about Durant’s long arms poking the ball away as he turns the corner, so he puts KD onto his hip and then holds the ball way out into open space (again, he’s exploiting the mid-range hole in the defense) so that any steal attempt will draw a foul. Easy lay-up as a result.

I can’t help but wonder if this is an adjustment to help fend off defenders like Giannis Antetokounmpo after the infamous and controversial loss to the Bucks earlier this season.

Everybody Needs a Helping Hand

Looks like Stotts has his players’ backs:

That makes sense, but why is Michael Carter-Williams also giving Evan Turner a pat on the back after a big 3-pointer?!:

Turns out they were teammates on the 76ers and Turner thought highly of Carter-Williams.

These aren’t strictly game changing highlights, but sometimes it’s nice to humanize the players and coaches with some sneaky in-game human interest stories.

Readers — do you have any favorite hidden highlights? Let us know in the comments below!