I never know what to think about the Summer League. On one hand, it’s really just glorified streetball. I also think, though, that it can be a valuable time for coaches and fans to get a glimpse at the futures of their franchise. Should we judge players based on it? Does it actually matter? I suspect the truth lies within all of those statements and questions. At a minimum, it is worth paying attention to.
Since I did not have access to any of the games the past week, my version of “paying attention” has consisted of poring over stats, as per usual. I had known that McCollum was putting up some numbers, but I was actually pleasantly surprised to see that, as of this writing, he is actually leading the Las Vegas Summer League in points per game.
This is, unsurprisingly, misleading. My feeling of ‘pleasant surprise’ lasted exactly as long as it took for me to see that his 21 points a game were coming on 20.2 shots with 36.6% shooting. I had to go down to the 16th leading scorer (Ben McLemore, Sacramento) to find a top scorer who was shooting a lower percentage. For comparison, last year in the Summer League Damian Lillard put up 26.2 points per game on 43.8% shooting.
Now, before anything else: CJ McCollum is not Damian Lillard, nor is he expected to be. That comparison can’t be held against him. It is his performance compared to his peers’ this year that has me a little worried. Yes Summer League is, as I mentioned, essentially elite streetball, but the environment is the same for everyone. This makes me wonder why McCollum is so entrenched in the low end of the field goal percentage spectrum.
Twenty-one points a game may seem gaudy, but it is completely negated by the fact that he it has required 20 shots a game to get there. Anyone can volume shoot themselves into huge scoring nights (cough*Allen Iverson*cough), but that does little good for the team. Efficiency is the name of the game in today’s NBA, and requiring over 20 shots to get only 21 points is about as far away from efficient as you can get.
Now, like I said, it is anyone’s guess how much the Summer League actually matters. Rather than being a full blown concern, I would classify this more as something of interest; something I will definitely monitor once the regular season starts. There could also be several other factors at play, though: due to his injury, McCollum has not played since January. Some of the shooting woes could be due to simple rust. You can put up as many jumpers in a gym as you like, but that is still no comparison for shooting against a real defender.
Additionally, as common sense dictates, someone on any basketball team has to take the shots. The Blazers’ Summer League roster isn’t exactly filled with offensive juggernauts, so it appears as if McCollum has been the de facto “shot taker” (an all too familiar persona for those familiar with pick-up games). This certainly will hinder his efficiency, as he is forced to take subpar shots, as well as allowing opposing defenses to key in on him.
With that being said, though, you have to start thinking about his ability to produce against real competition once the regular season starts. McCollum won’t face defenses this weak again for the rest of his career (unless he plays in next year’s Summer League). The competition is only going to get stiffer from here on out, and it will be crucial for McCollum to ratchet up his efficiency in response.
Just to be clear: this is nothing to be worried about yet. McCollum is a rookie playing in his first competitive games in nearly 7 months, so I’m mostly just nitpicking. You win games by scoring points, and so far McCollum has done that for his team. Scoring just 1.04 points per shot, however, is not a recipe for future success. Once the rust gets knocked off, we will be able to pass more accurate judgment.