CJ McCollum is well-known for his impressive ball handling skills and rare efficiency in the midrange. His three-point shooting – 38.1% this season – doesn’t make defenders shake in their shoes quite as much as his isolation shake and bakes do. Out of 49 players who attempted more than six triples a game, he ranked 23rd with that percentage – better than most, but not elite.
However, McCollum’s conversion rate on solely catch and shoot threes jumped all the way up to 47.1%. That’s fourth best in the league out of 214 players who took at least two per contest. Only ex-Blazer Seth Curry, current Blazer Rodney Hood, and Dion Waiters (who played just three games this season) shot better.
Catch and shoot opportunities accounted for slightly under half of McCollum’s three-point tries in the shortened 2019-20 campaign. The remainder were pull ups, which he shot a much lower 30.1% on.
It’s tough to generate more catch and shoot looks for him when a significant chunk of his minutes come in the second unit. He’s the primary ball handler and defenses have no problem giving him extra attention to prevent him from getting open.
Still, the Blazers offense can make a more concerted effort to free McCollum on the perimeter and take advantage of his ridiculous efficiency. The easiest way to do so is run in transition more.
A significant portion of CJ’s catch and shoot makes came from filling the lane in transition. Defenders scramble to pick up the ball handler running at the rim and often forget to mark the sniper sliding into the corner. McCollum has led the league in miles traveled more than once and always seems to lead the fast break.
Another easy-to-implement way to provide the guard with open outside looks is through drive and kicks.
Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic run a high pick and roll nearly every trip down the court; many of those lead to one of them driving, recognizing the help defense from the weakside, and finding their open teammate in the corner. Planting McCollum in the corner – where he shoots a preposterous 55.6% – leads to a positive outcome from virtually any option of the Lillard-Nurkic high pick and roll.
This is really only possible with the starting unit, however. Anfernee Simons and Hassan Whiteside, who could be the reserve guard and center next year, don’t have the playmaking chops to consistently find McCollum in the corner. Plus, defenders won’t abandon him in the corner as readily when it’s not Lillard or Nurkic barreling toward the rim.
Running McCollum around several screens along the perimeter, resulting in a handoff or timed pass from a teammate, can also free him up for a fast-fire triple. This is how most off-ball guards get their catch and shoot opportunities.
McCollum has the stamina to constantly run around picks without tiring, and he does well to square his feet with the hoop when catching a pass on the move to maintain balance on the jumper.
There’s also my personal favorite, the elevator screen, which Portland deployed more frequently last year. With any pairing of Nurkic, Collins and Ariza, chasing defenders will struggle to fight through the pinched bodies and McCollum will have plenty of daylight to can a three.
Other unique plays, like this flea flicker pick and pop with Anthony Tolliver, can free up McCollum. If he remains the primary ball handler for the reserves next season, the Blazers will need to break out such creative plays to get laser-focused defenders out of his jersey.