CJ McCollum has been indispensable offensively for the Trail Blazers this season. He’s averaging 21.7 points per game on 18.5 field goal attempts, while leading the team by hitting 40.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. McCollum’s hot shooting came to a head on Jan. 31 when he torched the Bulls for 28 points in a single quarter, on his way to 50 for the game in only 29 minutes.
Now for the twist: McCollum’s a great scorer, but he’s arguably the biggest ballhog in the NBA. Reddit user neilson241 illustrates:
This chart highlights the 20 players who are most likely to shoot when they touch the ball. Specifically, McCollum shoots on 31.4 percent of touches, more than all but 17 players in the league. Within this group, McCollum has by far the most field goal attempts — over 1300 while only three other players have even attempted 1000.
McCollum’s ball dominance becomes even more apparent when length of possession is considered for the 20 most frequent shooters:
McCollum leads handily in average seconds per touch and average dribbles per touch. Only Jamal Crawford and Zach LaVine even approach McCollum’s time with the ball. In other words, most players are shooting or passing much more quickly than McCollum — hello, Klay Thompson — while CJ tends to keep the ball for longer before making a play.
McCollum’s time of possession may be slightly inflated by virtue of the fact that he plays point guard occasionally, but it’s also worth noting that few other point guards even made this list.
Why’s McCollum So Ball Dominant?
This table shows how McCollum uses his possessions:
He runs the pick and roll as a ball handler far more frequently than any other play type, and when combined with isolation possessions, he spends 45.4 percent of his possessions in a ball dominant role.
The good news is that McCollum has fared well in this role, currently in the 79 percentile in both play types. The bad news is that he is also below one point per possession, significantly less than the team’s offensive rating. McCollum is better than most other players in the league when working to score in a one-on-one situation, but those plays are ultimately less efficient than the Blazers’ offense, in general.
For comparison, Damian Lillard has a similar breakdown of play type, but is more efficient:
Dame gets half (!) of his scoring opportunities from pick-n-roll situations - more than anybody else in this MVP-level group. He's been super efficient this year, despite the difficulty of his scoring opportunities. pic.twitter.com/TxwkthSg6T— Crumpled Jumper (@CrumpledJumper) March 26, 2018
Additionally, McCollum’s shot frequency is partially exaggerated by his very low free throw rate of only .168 — close to his mark for the 2015-16 season, which was nearly the lowest rate ever for a 20-point per game scorer. This is a consequence of his mid-range prowess and has been an issue for McCollum since joining Portland’s rotation.
McCollum also struggles with passing and he’s averaging a career low of 4.6 assists per 100 possessions, marking a third consecutive season of decreased assist rate. Blazer’s Edge has also covered McCollum’s passing woes before, but suffice to say he often ends up with tunnel vision in the midrange and fails to find shooters on the perimeter.
On next play AFA is wide open again, literally does a jumping jack, w/ all five defenders staring at CJ. No pass and CJ misses shot. Blazers guards have to have more confidence in AFA or D will keep punishing them for it. pic.twitter.com/KUtLpKaphF— Eric Griffith (@EricG_NBA) December 6, 2017
The lack of team involvement when McCollum runs the show has begun to creep into the advanced metrics, as well. When McCollum and Lillard are on the floor together, the Blazers have an offensive rating of 115 and a true shooting percentage of 56.1. But when McCollum plays without Lillard the team’s offensive rating drops to 104 and the TS% to 52.1.
Overall, McCollum’s offensive ability is obviously a huge boon to the Blazers, but his weaknesses are beginning to show as the team becomes a more serious playoff contender. McCollum shoots more often than almost anyone in the league and holds on to the ball as long as prolific gunners like Jamal Crawford. He’s a better scorer with the ball in his hands than most other players, but his assist and free throw rates are very low, and the team’s offense takes a dip when McCollum is the primary scorer. McCollum and the Blazers will need to work to add some diversity to his game next season, or CJ may soon develop a reputation as a one-dimensional isolation scorer.
(On/off stats via NBAwowy.com. Other stats from stats.nba.com.)