It is hard to believe, but the NBA’s Most Improved Player has improved yet again.
Christian James (C.J.) McCollum had a true breakout season last year for the Portland Trail Blazers. At age 24, McCollum went from playing 15.7 minutes per game to 34.8 minutes a night, and the production skyrocketed. He averaged 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.5 3-pointers made, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks and 2.5 turnovers per game over 80 games last season. It was good enough to earn him the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.
This article checks in on how McCollum is performing this season. We will examine the numbers to see if he took yet another step forward, leveled off, or regressed so far this season. Let us get down to business.
Through 29 games this season, C.J. McCollum has become more efficient on the offensive end of the floor. He is shooting 47.8% from the field (up from 44.8% last season), 45.5% from 3-point land (up from 41.7% last year), and 90.8% from the foul line (up from 82.7% last season). He has, also, dropped his turnovers from 2.5 per game to 2.1 a night. That efficiency boost has led to scoring 22.0 points a game despite attempting fewer field goals and 3-pointers than last season.
McCollum has improved his production in rebounds and blocks as well. He is averaging 0.5 more rebounds per game and doubled his block output from 0.3 to 0.6 per game.
McCollum’s only traditional stats that have decreased are assists and steals. He is averaging 3.6 assists per game, a 0.7 decrease from last season. The steal rate has gone from 1.2 per game down to 1.0 per game.
Why has the Shooting Percentage Skyrocketed?
A 3% increase from one season to the next in field goal percentage is a big jump. Let us take a deep dive into the numbers to see where the increase is coming from.
If you view the percentage of field goal attempts taken by distance from the basket it tells an interesting story. McCollum is attempting more 3-pointers and less 2 pointers this season by 0.6%. That is interesting and counter intuitive to why his field goal percentage has risen, so let us break down the number further. McCollum has started taking more shots from 3-10 feet from the basket and 16 feet to the 3-point line this season as well as 3-point attempts. At 3-10 feet he is connecting on 50.0% of his attempts up from 40.8 last season. McCollum is hitting a remarkable and unsustainable 57.1% of his shots from 10-16 feet but on shoots about 13.5% of his attempts from that area. Overall, McCollum is shooting slightly over his head, but the improvement on taking closer (up 0.2% from 0-10 feet from last season) and the fact that he is being assisted on 16.7% more of his makes this season allows me to believe that he should shoot significantly better than last year’s 44.8%.
I suspect the field goal percentage will level out in the 46% range which is a big jump from last year, but a sustainable number for Mister McCollum.
C.J. McCollum is only 25 years old, so it stands to reason he still has time and room to improve his NBA game. Let us look at what the advanced metrics have to say about this season.
McCollum has increased his box score plus/minus to 3.8 this season (2.5 last year). His overall box score plus/minus has improved by 0.6. If you view win shares per 48 minutes he rated as a just above average player last year at .104 (.100 is league average). This season, he has jumped it to .117. McCollum is still improving by most advanced metrics.
It is hard to believe, but the NBA’s Most Improved Player has improved yet again. The jump is not as significant this time, but he is really rounding out his game and performing at greater efficiency. It has been impressive to watch C.J. McCollum grow the last two years and I hope only bigger and better things are to come for this truly special talent.
Thanks to Basketball-Reference for all the great statistics in the piece.
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