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Are the Trail Blazers Opening Up the Floor Enough?

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Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are prolific scorers, but they need space to operate. Are the new personnel providing it?

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason the Portland Trail Blazers looked to change things up by bringing in players with prolific perimeter shooting backgrounds. Through the first 7 games of the season, is that paying off?

The 8-game mark is typically where I make my first round of reactions on a team- it’s roughly 10% of the way through the season so a few things might start to present as some sort of pattern, good or bad. With that, the question I had coming in was; are the additional shooters affording Portland more perimeter opportunities and the harder to answer question- is there more room for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to operate because of the additional space created by having more shooters on the floor?

The question could be as simple as “how many total threes are they taking” or “what percentage of their total shots are coming off the three” (likely more important). Those are simple enough answers. This season the Blazers have taken 222 total 3’s (35% of their total shots) compared to 2,520 3’s (34% of their total shots last year) in the 2018-19 season. Portland is getting roughly the same number of looks.

That doesn’t mean nothing has changed. The difference so far has been where the Blazers are taking the shots from.

This season Portland is taking nearly 20% of their 3’s from the corners in contrast to the 16% they took last year. Factor in the uptick in conversion percentage this year and it feels like Portland has discovered new life from the perimeter.

Improving on the worst corner three-point shooting team in the league last year (dead last in attempts, 24th in percentage) elevates the feeling within the fanbase that Portland has really found something. That something, 5th highest corner three-point percentage (14th most attempts) gives just enough hope that the additions of Rodney Hood (hold over), Mario Hezonja, Kent Bazemore and the green-lighting of Anfernee Simons will be enough to spring the release valve on defenses as they look to contain Lillard and McCollum.

Whether or not things are freeing up for Lillard and McCollum is not clear this early in the season. (Doubly so with McCollum’s slow shooting start.) When we take a look at Lillard’s early numbers, he’s shooting the same percentage of shots in the paint (45%) with a slight uptick in shooting percentage (58% this year compared to 54% last year). This could easily be attributed to variance as much as more space- it’ll be something to actively track throughout the season to see if it proves to be something of a trend.

As I’ve said throughout the summer and into the early season, I’m going to give Portland roughly 20-25 games before taking a hard look at trends. We’ve seen positive signs so far in location, if not production. In another couple weeks, we should know better whether the offense is working or not in this area.