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Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, president of the NBA Players’ Association, is initiating a meeting with his fellow players this week to discuss a perceived rough transition to the league’s new Wilson basketball.
The NBA replaced its long-time Spalding basketball, deployed the past 37 seasons, with the Wilson ball in a year-long process that included input from players and teams. But since the 2021-22 season began on Oct. 19—assuming the current stats through this year’s first 102 games play out over a full season—shooting percentages would be down and turnovers would be up by historic numbers amid subtle complaints that the new ball is responsible.
“Not to make an excuse or anything, it’s just a different basketball,’’ Clippers forward Paul George told reporters Monday night after Los Angeles defeated Oklahoma City. “It doesn’t have the same touch or softness as the Spalding ball had. You’ll see this year, there’s going to be a lot of bad misses.’’
In a tweet from Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, McCollum was quoted as saying he will “get feedback’’ from other players this week on how to address the ball going forward. In the 2006-07 season, the NBA tried transitioning from a leather ball to a microfiber composite ball, at which time players universally rebelled. The league switched back to Spalding’s leather ball at that time, but a similar swap now seems unlikely considering the NBA signed a long-term deal with Wilson in June.
Before tonight’s games, the league-wide field goal percentage is at 44.6 percent—which, according to Sporting News, is one of the lowest numbers in the past decade. The NBA’s three-point shooting percentage has also dipped to 34.2 percent, the lowest in 18 years if prorated over a full season. Turnovers are at 15.1 per game league-wide, which over a full season would be the largest number since the year the microfiber ball debuted.
However, the shooting statistics from the early season may not necessarily alarming at all, considering the stats through 102 games are quite consistent with other seasons. For instance, field goal percentage this year through 102 games is tied with 2016-17’s first 102 games and higher than in 2015-16, 2012-13 and 2011-12.
What’s more, the NBA’s current three-point shooting percentage is higher than the first 102 games of the 2016-17, 2015-16 and 2011-12 seasons, and, through the first 102 games of this season, turnovers per game (15.1) are actually 0.3 less per game compared to the same point last season (15.4).
Either way, poor shooting has definitely afflicted some of the league’s premiere scorers. Although George is shooting a strong 49.2 percent from the floor, two of the league elite shooters—Portland’s Damian Lillard and Washington’s Bradley Beal—are slumping. Lillard’s scoring average is down from 28.8 to 18.3, his shooting is down from 45% to 35% from the field and his three-point shooting has plummeted from 45% to 23%. Beal’s scoring average is down from 31.3 to 24.3, his shooting percentage is down from 48.5% to 37.9% and his three-point percentage is down from 34.9% to a career low of 22.9%.
“It’s an adjustment,” Beal told NBC Sports-Washington prior to the season. “It’s definitely different. It’s a little slicker. The word ‘Wilson’ isn’t embossed as ‘Spalding’ was.’ It has its differences, but once it’s broken in, it feels pretty much the same. It’s just a matter of getting used to it.”
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