The Portland Trail Blazers are off to shaky start with a water-treading 3-4 record and the second-worst defense in the league, but there is one bright spot: CJ McCollum. Through those seven games, McCollum is averaging 27.7 points per game, good enough for fifth in the league, and he’s shooting 43 percent from three, which would be the best mark of his career.
But it’s not just the 3-point accuracy that stands out. It’s the volume. McCollum is currently firing over 11 triples a game, four more than he shot last season, which was a career high. Per Cleaning the Glass, 50 percent of McCollum’s shot attempts are coming from 3-point land, compared to 36 percent last season.
On the flip side, just 16 percent of McCollum’s attempts are coming from the long mid-range, which is defined as outside 14 feet (basically the free throw line) but inside the 3-point arc. This, if sustained, would register as the lowest percentage of mid-rangers McCollum has shot in his career.
It’s a significant development because McCollum is one of the deadliest mid-range shooters in the league. To quite literally stretch his game, exchanging a greater percentage of his long twos for threes, has nudged him from his comfort zone and taken his efficiency to another level. One of the nastiest ball-handlers in the league, when McCollum has dug into his bag in years past, it was most often to work his way inside the arc and into shots like this:
He’s still doing plenty of that, as he should, but we’re now seeing McCollum make a more concerted effort to create his space behind the 3-point line, and stay there, rather than driving downhill for his pull-ups:
In isolation situations like this, McCollum is scoring 1.19 points per possession so far this season, per Synergy, a major tick up from the .88 PPP he posted last year. Pretty simply: If you take more shots that are worth one more point (and of course make a good percentage of them), you’re getting more overall bang for your buck.
In this next clip, McCollum appears to be going into a basic pick-and-roll. Montrezl Harrell anticipates McCollum coming off to the right, and as soon as he takes a step up, McCollum goes the other way. Once he turns the corner and Jusuf Nurkic resets the screen, with Harrell now in no-mans land, look how much runway McCollum has in front of him to continue downhill into a comfortable mid-range pull-up, which is still his bread and butter. Instead, he stops right on the line and cashes the extra point.
Here again, McCollum works a pair of dribble-handoffs, squirting back behind the 3-point arc the second he crosses it, and ends up with ton of room to continue into the mid-range when Serge Ibaka stays dropped as the held defender. Instead, he stops on the line and pops.
McCollum is also doing far more efficient work in pick-and-roll situations, posting 1.14 points per possession against 0.92 PPP last season. Again, it’s because he’s pulling up from deeper rather than continuing his dribble downhill into the midrange.
Notice how quickly McCollum went in a lot of those clips. He’s doing this a lot, attacking in early offense with the screener ready to make contact with his man before the defense is set. He did it again here against Chicago on Tuesday night, when he connected for six more 3-pointers.
Plays like that are why McCollum is scoring at a far more efficient clip this season. He’s always been a capable 3-point shooter. Now he’s becoming a prolific one, and his adjusted shooting percentages (which account for the extra point of 3-pointers) are the proof. From Synergy:
Pick and Roll
All Jump Shots
That last column is, ultimately, the story. McCollum is almost exclusively a jump shooter. He throws in floaters, but he does his damage pulling up out of his mixtape handles and spotting up out of the attention Damian Lillard draws. By way of that raised adjusted field goal percentage, McCollum is scoring 1.29 points per jumper this season, against 0.97 last year.
That is a major difference. McCollum has indeed taken the next step as a scorer. In this case, that step is backwards, to the 3-point line, and he’s become an even more dangerous scorer because of it.