Despite the uncharacteristically-slow offensive start to the 2021-22 season, the Portland Trail Blazers employ two of the NBA’s most feared scorers in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Over their seven-year run together as starters, they each rank among the top-10 league wide in points scored and field goals, earning reputations as tough shot makers in the process. In a back-and-forth conversation, I was able to pick the brain of celebrated shooting expert and efficiency specialist Roger Galo, where we discussed a litany of topics surrounding the Blazers, as well as efficient scoring overall.
To summarize Galo: he profiles as a former NBA prospect who, during his playing days, was the No. 3 scorer in the country as a first-team All-MAC at Juniata College at 6-foot. As he notes in this interview, his high school coach was Mike Rice, a Pacific Northwest fan favorite, notably for his time as the Blazers’ color commentator.
Following his playing career, he’s become renowned for his shooting expertise, teaching his Galo Method to NBA, G-League, college, and youth players. In the spring, Galo plans to release a book discussing the details he had to learn — and unlearn — to become a more successful shooter and teacher.
Given McCollum’s body of work as a sometimes-undersized, yet perennial 20-point scorer, he served as the focal point of our conversation. Here are some highlights from the discussion:
Analysis of McCollum’s offensive game:
“One of the reasons he’s one of my favorite players is because he makes it look … he does a lot of things that are efficient. He’s maneuverable and crafty enough to create space. If you look at the video, he does it when the guy is caught totally off-guard. He’s not the guy who’s catching the ball, which usually is the time in which you’re most open. He decides to go into an iso, which gives the defender an opportunity to adjust and body him up or guard him more aggressively. He recognizes that, ‘Look, I just need one more dribble. I made him shuffle to the left too far, I made him back off a half-step, boom, I’m pulling the trigger.”
“That ability to set people up and draw fouls, I can’t say he does that. That would be something that, if he added that to his game, he’d have a few more points. And he’s already at 22 points a game. What really fluctuates is his foul shooting. Four or five years ago, he was a 91 percent foul shooter. He’s fluctuated a lot. He can be 70-something, he can be 80-something. When you’re that capable of maneuvering your body around, I bet he’s capable enough to entrap some of them and draw more fouls. The chances are, the more business you make at that line, the more comfortable you become. When he shot his highest percentage, it was his highest free throw attempts that season.”
In researching, that point was intriguing, looking into if more free throw attempts leads to heightened accuracy. Blazers fans of the early-2000s who were subjected to watching Shaquille O’Neal launch up dozens of shots throughout those playoff battles are likely to disagree, though, with McCollum, there’s certainly a case for it. Here’s what the box scores showed:
Games in which McCollum takes 8+ free throws (incl. postseason)
— 24 games
— 84.4 percent (on 9.1 attempts)
— 731 points (30.4 PPG)
— 13-11 record
Those types of games have become more infrequent in recent years, with McCollum’s free throw rate at a career-low in 2021-22. To his credit, McCollum’s free throw rate has generally risen come playoff time. We also discussed the popular notion of how much differently McCollum’s game and efficiency would look in a system as the No. 1 player, and if he would then become a 30-point scorer.
“There is some truth to that, I’d have to believe, sure. He’s getting his touches. Damian is getting his touches. However, in this particular season, I’m curious as to whether … Why isn’t he a 30-point scorer now? Right now? Is Damian likely to be launching at the rate that he’s launching if he were hitting shots? I would venture to say probably not, but I’m not sure. But, my point is, if I know my teammate is 25 percent from 3-point range, as a teammate, I’m not feeding him as much as I would if he was shooting 45 percent from 3. Fair enough?
I’m speaking to you as a guard. What about the (Jusuf) Nurkic who happens to be a pretty good passer, who happens to also be aware that we want to win games? Am I kicking out to, ‘Wait, I’ve got Dame over here, I’ve got CJ over there. Hmm. I’m going with CJ. 40 percent versus 25. Now, I see Dame cutting to the basket, I’ll get him the ball.
To that, he also talked about what he would do differently if he were Lillard, in the midst of his shooting slump:
“That was even something that as a scorer I was mindful of. If somebody’s got a hot hand and it’s not me, I’m not going to try my 40 tonight. I’ll keep feeding him until he goes cold. Or I won’t shoot jumpers, I’ll try to the basket. I’d look to the other areas that I could exploit. We kind of expect coaches to make in-game adjustments. I think we should expect players to make in-game adjustments.”
We also discussed how McCollum’s shooting form has changed compared to his opening years in terms of velocity and lift on his shot attempts. Yet even so, he’s become an even more productive player in catch-and-shoot and off-dribble situations. As Galo noted, his quickened shot form makes it tougher for defenders to react more effectively, something that has led to less shots being blocked per season for McCollum. Some of that can also be attributed to the types of shots he’s taking, too. Here are two other interesting quotes from the interview.
On his upcoming book:
“It’ll be a very thought-provoking book, in layman’s terms. It’ll be talking like we are, conversational-type stuff. Think about the goose egg. The ball’s already left the hand before you collapse the fingers down towards the floor. We talk about how the legs fatigue on a shooter. ‘Oh, if he loses his legs, his shots are falling short.’ But they’re not as weak as our wrists. Why do we place so much emphasis and responsibility on shooting with that wrist action for so many decades, when in fact, it could be mitigated, so that it could perform at an optimal level for a longer level.”
“That’s probably why I’m motivated to be a book that comes out next spring, probably late spring. Could there be an alternative way to shoot that is categorically superior to what we’ve to accept for 50 or 60 years, if based almost entirely on principles of science. The only reason for any college … Chuck Daly and some legendary coaches were interested in me, was my ability to score. To find out by accident that everything that I tried to master was wrong, was hard. It’s filled with challenges that don’t need to be there. And I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got to get this out there.’”
On Ray Allen’s shooting form:
Our topic shifted to some of the great shooting forms in NBA history. There’s an old anecdote from Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard about Ray Allen’s shooting form being so pure that if he were shot on sand, “he would spring up and, upon returning to earth, land precisely in his footprints.” Remembering that, I asked him about Allen’s celebrated release point, and here’s what he had to say:
“Two years into this journey, Ray came to town to play the Sixers. I happened to get invited to the game, and I’m on court. Right in front of me, six feet in front of me, I’m standing up on the court. He shoots, and the conversation I’m having, I stopped abruptly, and turn because out of the corner of my eye, I could see him from behind. One of my favorite places to videotape someone when I’m analyzing their shot. I see his ball barely turn. Very frankly, some of the worst rotation I’ve ever seen from a high-level player, college, pro, anybody. I’m noticing his left hand, and I thought, ‘Oh my god. He thumbs the ball.’ You urge kids not to do that.
Now, I’m excited because I remember watching and hearing the commentators talk regularly when the season started, ‘Well, it depends on what Ray Allen shows up. If he’s knocking down shots, that team’s in trouble.’ Why would his shot disappear? Because he was a two-handed shooter. What I’ve come to discover is that that’s probably one of the most difficult ways to become a great shooter.”
For those interested, the link to Galo’s page can be found above, where he’s discussed the shooting techniques of players such as Lillard and Kawhi Leonard, among others, all within the last week.