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?