PORTLAND, Ore. — With the departure of Allen Crabbe, the Blazers are suddenly short on shooters.
It's no secret that 3-point shooting is vital to a team's success in the NBA today. The Warriors and Cavaliers, who met up in the NBA Finals in June, were the only two teams in the NBA last season that finished in the top five in both 3-point attempts and percentage.
Other successful teams split the difference, either attempting a ton of 3-pointers at a league-average percentage, like the Houston Rockets (first in attempts, 15th in percentage); or shooting an elite percentage with fewer attempts, like the San Antonio Spurs (25th in attempts, first in average).
Last season, the Blazers ranked 10th in 3-point attempts (27.7) and sixth in percentage (37.5).
After the All-Star break, when the Blazers won 18 of 26 games, the Blazers decreased their attempts to 26 per game, which ranked 17th in the NBA, but improved their percentage to 41.1 percent, which ranked first. When they ran off a 13-3 record in March, they shot even fewer 3-pointers (24.9, which ranked 21st) and improved their percentage even more (41.7, first).
During the Blazers’ best stretch last season, they followed the model of the San Antonio Spurs by shooting an elite percentage while limiting their attempts.
This is where losing Crabbe hurts. After the All-Star break, Crabbe ranked second on the team in 3-point attempts with more than four per game and second in percentage at 47 percent. In March, he averaged almost five 3-point attempts and was second on the team in percentage at 45 percent, behind only CJ McCollum.
How do the Blazers make up for the loss of Crabbe's outside shooting?
The league average on 3-point percentage last season was about 36 percent. The Blazers had four rotation players — Damian Lillard, McCollum, Crabbe and Shabazz Napier — reach or exceed that mark last season.
Lillard will continue to shoot 3-pointers at a high volume (almost eight per game) and above-average accuracy (37 percent).
McCollum has to shoot more 3-pointers this season. He shot 42 percent last season but attempted only five and a half 3-pointers per game. This season, McCollum must increase that number by at least two per game.
Beyond Lillard and McCollum, there is no sure shooter left on the Blazers' roster.
Portland may have to bank on the hope of internal improvement. It worked last season with Maurice Harkless, who improved from 28 percent to 35 percent in his second season with the Blazers. Likewise, Shabazz Napier, who could carve out a larger role in the rotation with Crabbe gone, shot 37 percent last season and is a 35-percent career shooter. The Blazers can hope for increasing returns from those two players.
Al-Farouq Aminu has the potential to be a league-average 3-point shooter. He shot 36 percent two seasons ago and even though he dropped to 33 percent last season, he rebounded from a terrible start to shoot 37 percent after the All-Star break.
Meyers Leonard has shot 37 percent for his career, but he's coming off his worst season in Portland, when his 3-point shooting slumped to about 35 percent. He shot 38 percent two seasons ago and 42 percent the season before that, so the skill is there.
Pat Connaughton and Jake Layman are end-of-the-bench players who have both shown promise as 3-point shooters, though their performance has been too inconsistent to project them as contributors next season.
Noah Vonleh shot 35 percent on 20 attempts last season. Jusuf Nurkic has a good outside jump shot with a consistent motion and release. Could either make the 3-point shot a larger part of their game?
The Blazers' two rookies, Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, were both good 3-point shooters in college. Collins shot 48 percent and Swanigan 44 percent. But there's no guarantee how much they'll play, if they'll be given the green light to shoot the 3-pointer or if their accuracy will translate to the NBA.
Evan Turner was seventh on the Blazers last season in 3-point attempts with nearly two per game, but he was the team's worst 3-point shooter at 26 percent. Turner will have a big role on the Blazers this season, but unless he suddenly transforms into a dead-eye shooter this offseason, he should avoid shooting 3-pointers at all costs.
Free agency or trades?
Could the Blazers sign a free agent or make a trade for more outside shooting? Only Blazers general manager Neil Olshey knows.
There are a number of free agents the Blazers could target with the minimum salary exception who could make a difference. Gerald Green (36 percent career), Brandon Rush (40 percent), Mike Dunleavy Jr. (38 percent), Jason Terry (38 percent), Leandro Barbosa (39 percent), Aaron Brooks (37 percent) or Anthony Morrow (42 percent) have all been good 3-point shooters during their career and could potentially help.
On the trade market, the long-rumored trade discussions that would send Rockets power forward Ryan Anderson to Portland would solve the answer to the Blazers’ need for more 3-point shooting. Anderson shot 40 percent on seven attempts last season for the Rockets and has been a 38-percent 3-point shooter during his nine seasons in the NBA. Anderson, however, has three years and $60 million left on his contract and is a poor defender.
The other two players prominently mentioned in trade rumors, Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving and Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, are unlikely to end up in Portland.
The Blazers need more shooting. Where it will come from is a big question heading into the new season.
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW. Follow him on Twitter here.
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