C.J. McCollum led the Blazers to a comeback win in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals, scoring 37 points to lead Portland to a 100-96 win in Denver to earn a date with the Warriors in the conference finals.
It was a tremendous end to a great series, one that featured a number of tight games and clutch moments from both teams, none moreso than McCollum’s pull-up jumper up one to keep the Nuggets at bay.
McCollum hit a number of tough shots in the game and many of them came from the midrange, as the Nuggets did their best to wall off the rim and run the Blazers off the three-point line. In a game where neither team could seemingly buy a bucket from deep, McCollum’s success in the in between game was a major difference. Among those tuned in for the exciting conclusion of the series was LeBron James, who in the aftermath offered up a little anti-analytics spice after seeing McCollum’s midrange display take down the Nuggets.
There’s absolutely truth to the notion that, sometimes, midrange shots are good looks and to completely eschew them from your offensive philosophy can leave you without a counter when teams in the playoffs sell out to stop threes and shots at the rim. However, it’s also an extremely “prisoner of the moment” take given we watched the Warriors bomb the Rockets out of the playoffs from deep with a barrage of three-pointers from Klay Thompson and Steph Curry.
Beyond that, it’s an odd take from LeBron specifically, who quite literally just saw his team miss the playoffs in part because they employed no one that could hit a perimeter shot consistently and has been part of some very analytics friendly squads over his career (including some of his championship teams). This seems, mostly, to be an excuse to push back at analytics by a player who, despite benefitting from the shift to pace-and-space around the league, still sees the dehumanizing aspect of seeing basketball from a purely analytical view.
The artfulness of basketball is part of what makes it so great to watch, and when you strip that away in search of the perfect shot there is certainly something lost — ask anyone that complains about watching the Rockets play basketball. Still, at some point we have to figure out how to balance the two, with players like LeBron understanding and appreciating how and why analytics benefits them. At the same time, there has to be an understanding from the other side that there absolutely are going to be moments where the best shot might just be one team’s best player taking a pull-up jumper in isolation.
If analytics didn’t work, teams wouldn’t spend millions on staffing analytics departments to better understand what they can do better and more efficiently. There’s also a reason most the best players still work on their pull-ups near the free throw line, because sometimes that’s the soft spot in a defense. A balance needs to be struck between the analytics and anti-analytics crowd, but for today that won’t come as LeBron has incited debate on social media.