Did Efficiency Statistics Kill the Mid-Range Jump Shot?

Every season, a coach or NBA analyst publicly bemoans the lost art of the mid-range jump shot. I never understand the argument, as a mid-range jump shot is typically a lower percentage shot than a three-pointer, the shot typically vilified by the argument (we’re arguing, of course, about players old and strong enough to shoot three-pointers without altering their shooting technique; I’m not advocating for six-year-olds to start jacking threes).

I don’t see a problem with the apparent “lack of mid-range shooting” mythologized by some. A mid-range jump shot is an inefficient shot. Last season, our entire defensive game plan was to force mid-range jump shots, preferably off the dribble.

A stand-still catch-and-shoot three-pointer is an easier and higher efficiency shot than an off-the-dribble, full-speed pull-up jump shot. There are many more variables at work in a mid-ramge jump shot versus a three-point shot, not the least of which is that a three-point shot is from the same distance and speed every single time which improves the specificity of practice. The increase in three-point shooting has nothing to do with pleasing the crowd, as some suggest, but an evolution as the game becomes more statistically analysis-based.

What are the variables for a stand-still catch-and-shoot three-pointer? The defense. Distance is constant and shooting technique should be constant.

What are the variables for an off-the-dribble pull-up jump shot? Pick-up of the dribble (left or right). Speed of movement forward. Speed of movement lateral of the basket. Degree of bend to decelerate. Type of stop. Defense’s proximity. Distance from the basket.

Therefore, once a player is strong enough to overcome the distance to the basket, a catch-and-shoot three-pointer has fewer variables to consider than a mid-range jump shot. To the point of variables and difficulty, in the 2009-10 NBA season assisted shot values ranged from 36.9 (Orlando) to 77.2 (Utah) for shots from 16ft-23ft and 32.1 (NYK) to 52.9 (Toronto) for shots 10ft – 15ft.

On the other hand, assist values for three-point shots ranged from 75.7 (Cleveland) to 92.6 (Indiana).

While not a definitive measure of shot complexity, assisted shots generally mean that another player created the shot for the shooter, while unassisted shots mean that a player had to create his own. In my opinion, when one must create his own shot for a jump shot, that is a more complex shot with more variables than a shot created by a teammate.

Looking at the shooting percentages and efficiency numbers, and considering that the three-pointer is worth 50% more than a two-point shot, illustrates the reasoning behind increased three-point shooting and decreased emphasis on the mid-range jump shot.

In the NBA, mid-range shots are defined as 16-23 feet. Last season, team shooting percentages ranged from 36.4% (Charlotte) to 43.2% (Dallas). Shots from 10-15 feet ranged from 34% (NJ) to 44% (LAL), while three-pointers ranged from 31.4% (Detroit) to 41.2% (PHX). Teams shoot better on mid-range shots, but not enough to overcome the extra point.

In terms of offensive efficiency, the top 5 NBA teams in 2009-10 were PHX, Orlando, Atlanta, Cleveland and Denver. These teams ranked 1st, 4th, 9th, 2nd and 10th respectively in 3-point percentage and 3rd, 10th, 18th, 23rd and 16th respectively in mid-range shooting.

What to make of the numbers?

1) Offensive efficiency (the measure of how good an offense is in terms of points scored per 100 possessions) correlates with good three-point shooting more than good mid-range shooting.

2) Three-pointers occur after a pass more often than 2-point jump shots.

3) The efficiency from the three-point line per 100 shots for the worst three-point shooting team is better than the efficiency on mid-range jump shots of the best 2-pt jump shooting team.

Now, mid-range jump shots MAY lead to more free throw attempts, shorter rebounds, etc. Of course, many teams now design their defenses to encourage deep two-point shots and discourage three-point shots, meaning some of three-point attempts may be tougher shots now, leading to lower shooting percentages.

In my last two coaching positions with high school girls’ teams, I actually encouraged lesser players to shoot three-pointers. Why?

  1. It stretches the defense for other players if they are a threat.
  2. They were novice players and fairly unskilled. If they did not shoot, they often traveled when trying to make a move and drive to the basket. If they missed, we had a chance for an offensive rebound, and we were a good offensive rebounding team.
  3. They were the smallest players on the team, and often on the court, and had difficulty shooting or passing inside the key.

In one game against the defending Section Champions with my top two players fouled out in the third quarter, this player hit 5 three-pointers. She kept the game close with her shooting, and she had the confidence to shoot because I encouraged her to shoot all season. She did not shoot a high percentage that season, but, honestly, nobody shot a high percentage at that level of play. You never know when the attempts will pay off, especially when players are not scared of being yanked from the game for a shot attempt.

Now, I do not take this approach with all players. When I coached a pro women’s team, I encouraged our worst offensive player (who we needed on the court for her defense) to put her head down and drive hard to the basket on her first pass reception of the game. I did not care if she drew a foul, made a basket, missed a lay-up or was called for a charge: I simply wanted our opposition to know that they could not leave her to double our best player because she would attack the basket. She went from a player who played less than 10 minutes during the previous season and who traveled almost every time she caught the ball at the start of the season to a very important role player/defender off the bench who did not kill us offensively.

However, back to the argument, the “lost art of the mid-range game” is not as bad as those who mythologize the mid-range shot make it appear as (1) it is a lower efficiency shot and (2) there are more variables on the shot making it a more difficult shot and (3) there is less specificity of practice.

Therefore, why is it a bad thing that more players and teams take higher efficiency shots with fewer variables and more specificity of practice (distance is the same every shot, just like practice, whereas the distance changes constantly for a mid-range shot)?

If the argument eliminated the idea of three-point shots versus two-point shots, and instead started with the suggestion that high school teams should take higher efficiency shots where there are fewer variables and a greater specificity of practice, would anyone disagree?

By Brian McCormick
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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