The Portland Trail Blazers have one of the best offenses in the NBA this season — they currently sit at No. 4 with an offensive rating of 113.9. This is nothing new for the Blazers, in spite of the perennial complaints about a low assist percentage. They finished in third both last year and in 2019.
Despite the consistency, the way the Blazers have scored, in the broadest of terms, has changed since last season.
Where do the Trail Blazers Shoot?
This table breaks down the Trail Blazers shot selection by the broadly defined zones of “at the rim,” “mid-range,” and “3-pointers.” Numbers are pulled from nbashortcharts.com and the heat map of this table can be found here.
PPS = Points Per Shot, Freq = Frequency
Interestingly, the Blazers are shooting less often at the rim and less often in the mid-range and also scoring fewer points per shots in both of those zones. Meanwhile, their points per shot on 3-pointers has stayed flat at 1.13. So, if the Blazers are getting fewer points per shot in two of three zones, and not improved in the other zone, how have they maintained an effective offense?
The answer: more 3-pointers. Nearly half of Portland’s shots have come from deep this year, compared to only 37 percent last season — an eight percent increase. Shooting more from the higher-value range of the floor has helped them maintain an efficient offense despite some struggles to score around the rim.
The change is noticeable at the league-wide level too; the Blazers have jumped from No. 15 in 3-pointers per 100 possessions to No. 2.
Who’s making the difference?
Most of this effect is driven by a single player: CJ McCollum. Check out his shot distribution for the proof:
McCollum has gotten a little worse around the rim and a little better from the mid-range. Probably a net neutral. But he’s also shooting less from both of those zones while shooting more often from 3 AND converting more often from 3.
To put it into context: Damian Lillard averaged 1.20 points per shot from deep last season. CJ is averaging 1.34 so far this year. That’s absurd!
McCollum is averaging 15 3-point attempts per 100 possessions, an increase of 4.5 compared to last season. The Blazers, meanwhile, have increased by 7.5 3s per 100. McCollum and the team have a nearly identical pace, and CJ has played 71.1 percent of all possible minutes this season, so that means he has individually accounted for 43 percent of the team’s bump in 3-point attempts. Needless to say, that’s a lot.
CJ is historically bad at drawing free throws for a player who is so offensively prolific, and it would be tough to squeeze much more efficiency out of his already effective mid-range game, so adding more 3-pointers is one of the only ways CJ could significantly bump up offensive efficiency. He has done that this year, and then some, and it’s made a difference for the Blazers.