By: Jonah Sprinkel
At this point in his career Damian Lillard is a near household name. His back court buddy, CJ McCollum, had his coming out party last year when he averaged 20.8 points per game on 41.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc after averaging a mere 6.8 points per contest the year prior.
This tandem is known throughout the league as one of the best back courts. It might just be time to ask the question, who is the better player?
For the sake of this argument we will look at each players numbers for the 2016-17 year alone. First, we will view their per game numbers, their actual minutes per game are within 1.2 minutes of each other. After that we'll look at their advanced numbers before diving into some clutch statistics.
First, before we get into all of it I must mention that Lillard has played five fewer games than McCollum due to injury. Over this five game stretch McCollum averaged 31.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 steals, and 3.4 turnovers with an effective field goal percentage of 54.74.
Without further ado, let's get to it.
Damian Lillard is currently averaging 19.3 field goal attempts and making 8.5 of them, which is good for 44 percent from the field. He is also making 2.5 of his 7.3 threes, 34.4 percent. Lillard currently ranks seventh in the league in free throw attempts and fourth in the league in free throw percentage; 7.1 attempts, 90.3 percent. Pair all of this with his 26 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 0.7 steals, and 2.6 turnovers per contest and it's easy to see why Lillard is considered one of the top point guards in the league.
Turning our attention to the shooting guard, CJ McCollum, we find his 18 shot attempts coupled with 8.7 makes per game; 48.6 percent. The Lehigh grad attempts 6.0 shots from beyond the arc and converts 2.5 of them which earns him a shiny 41.9 percent from deep. While McCollum's free throw percentage, 89.8 percent, is comparable to Lillard's, McCollum only attempts 3.8 of them per game. Finally we have McCollum's 23.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.3 turnovers.
Lillard's point, rebound, assist, and free throw totals per game are much better than McCollum's. Though it should be noted that McCollum has slightly fewer turnovers and more steals. McCollum easily has the edge in terms of shooting efficiency. Let's move on to advanced statistics.
For those of you unfamiliar with advanced statistics I'll break them down for you now with a little help from Basketball Reference.
Player Efficiency Rating (PER) - This is a measure of per minute production that has been standardized so that the league average is 15.
Usage Percentage (USG%) - An estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while on their floor.
Turnover Percentage (TOV%) - An estimate of turnovers committed per 100 possessions.
Win Shares (WS) - An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player.
On-Off - Plus/Minus Net per 100 possessions.
Lillard starts things off with a player efficiency rating of 22.7. His usage percentage is 30.7, which is common for a star player, and he has a turnover percentage of 10.5. Lillard has also contributed 5.7 of the Trailblazers 23 team wins. Finally, Lillard boosts the Blazers with his +3.2 in terms of On-Off.
McCollum on the other hand has a slightly lower PER, 21.0. He is currently using 27.9 percent of the Trailblazers possessions per 100 while turning over the ball 10.4 percent of the time. Both these numbers are lower than Lillard's. This doesn't show us much; the fewer possessions you have, the less you should turn the ball over. McCollum's On-Off number is the most telling. McCollum is actually a +4.5, an upgrade over Lillard
Clutch time in the NBA is defined as the fourth quarter or overtime, under 5 minutes left in the game with a lead no larger than 5 points.
Damian Lillard has established himself as a great clutch time player. So much so that it's also known as "Lillard Time." Who could forget this shot?
Keeping in mind that we are only focused on the 2016-17 season numbers let's take a look at each of these players numbers in crunch time.
According to NBAMiner, Damian Lillard has scored the seventh most clutch time points in the league, 116. In those final five minutes his field goal percentage drops by 8.1 percent and his three point percentage drops by a shocking 11.5 percent. In clutch time Lillard has an effective field goal percentage of 41.0 percent. During the final minute of the game the Weber State product is shooting 33.3 percent
McCollum is a much different story. "3J" has scored 121 points in clutch, good for fourth in the league. His field goal percentage jumps dramatically by 9.3 percent with his three point percentage rising by an incredible 10.2 percent. During those final five minutes McCollum has an effective shooting percent of 66.9. No player with more than 60 shot attempts in clutch time has an effective field goal percentage above 60. In the final minute of a game McCollum is shooting 15 of 21, 71.4 percent. He is the one of only two players with more than 20 shot attempts shoot over 50 percent. Erich Bledsoe is 10 of 18, 55.6 percent.
It just might be time to rename "Lillard Time," "McCollum Time."
After all this it's really up to you, the reader, to decide. Do you prefer the player who gets buckets in Damian Lillard, who puts up the per game numbers despite some inefficiency? Or the darling of efficiency, CJ McCollum, whose per game stats don't quite measure up?
By: Jonah Sprinkel
Per Shams Charania, the Wolves have signed 7th-year guard Lance Stephenson to a 10-day contract.
Stephenson, 26, was last seen in a Pelicans jersey for six games earlier this season, averaging 9.7 points, 4.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 27 minutes per game. The University of Cincinnati product is best known for his days as a Pacer where he was an integral part of a Pacers team that nearly took down LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the playoffs. How could you forget the iconic scene of Stephenson blowing into LeBron's ear?
That was four years ago. Since then Stephenson's career has taken a pretty sharp downward spiral. After the 2014 season Stephenson declined a four year, 44 million dollar contract with Indiana before signing a three year, 27 million dollar deal with the Charlotte Hornets. Don't ask me why this man passed on a contract that was worth an extra 17 million dollars and included an extra year of job security.
He spent a down year in Charlotte before he was traded to the LA Clippers for the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Stephenson was used sparingly, though showed signs of promise by shooting 40.7 percent from beyond the arc, before he was once again traded to the Memphis Grizzlies where he would finish out the 2015-16 season.
Lance is a conundrum. If you were to plot out his three point shooting percentage for each season and each team the graph would look more like a roller coaster than peaceful rolling hills. The same can be said about his assists per game. His best basketball seems to be played when he is surrounded by top tier talent; the Pacers and Clippers.
So how does that help the Wolves? Let's take a look.
With Zach LaVine out for the year with a torn ACL it's easy to think that Stephenson is being brought in to play shooting guard. That may not be the case. Stephenson has not been seen consistently playing the two since his Indiana days. In Charlotte he spent 61 percent of his time at the three and 37 percent at the two. With the Clippers Stephenson spent 78 percent of his time at the three with 8 percent spent at the two. The percentages are even more drastic during his short stint in New Orleans, 89 percent was spent at the three, 10 percent at the two.
It seems to me that if, BIG IF, Stephenson receives consistent minutes in Tom Thibodeau's rotation during this 10 game contract he will compete with shooting guard Brandon Rush for minutes. Rush has played 82 percent of his minutes at the two, with the remaining time spent at the three.
Now, obviously Brandon Rush is the better shooter of the two, however let's remember that at this point Thibs is not worried about shooting, defense is and will always be his biggest concern. The Wolves are giving up an average of 105.6 points per game which is 19th in the league. That number has been helped by the stretch of poor teams that the team has played recently. A more accurate number would be the Timberwolves 24th ranked defensive rating, 111.0.
As mentioned above, Stephenson has proved more effective at the two simply because of his size, 6'5, 230 pounds. Once upon a time Stephenson was a lock down defender who could hang with anyone, including LeBron. It's been a fall from grace since that point.
If Stephenson is able to come in and prove that he still has that competitive fire and aggressiveness that made him so successful and entertaining to watch in Indiana you can be sure that Thibodeau will keep this guy around. In a vacuum Stephenson is the perfect player. He's hard nosed, emotional, energetic, easily agitated, determined and best of all completely believes that he can play with the best. This statement may seem rash and uninformed, but once again, in a vacuum, the Timberwolves have not had a player like this since Kevin Garnett left the team.
Please, don't think in anyway that I believe Lance Stephenson has the leadership qualities that the great Kevin Garnett had. He never has and never will have those type of qualities. If I believed that Lance Stephenson and Kevin Garnett were similar leaders I definitely would not be writing in this space. I simply drew a comparison to their fiery demeanor. Though it should be noted, no one will ever match the intensity of KG's competitiveness.
Now, this is the first real in season move that Thibodeau has made as the Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. He won't be heavily judged on this move simply because it is a 10-day contract to fill a roster spot that was left empty due to injury. Though if this move proves to be successful and Stephenson sticks with the team, Thibodeau will be heralded as a genius for taking a player who has nearly washed out of the league and transforming him into a capable rotation player.
All of this is speculation of a best case scenario. The odds of Stephenson regaining his Indiana form are small. But keep in mind that Stephenson is only 26 years of age. The best days of basketball should be right in front of him. Let's hope that those days are in a Timberwolves jersey.