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

8 thoughts on “Did Efficiency Statistics Kill the Mid-Range Jump Shot?

  • What would you consider to be the reasen why FG% decrease since the 80’s while 3-point-Attempts increased since then. Is it becauce the players in the 80’s wher better mid-range jumpshooters (witch is claimed very often I think) or is it because nowadays much more 3-point-shots where taken, but still shooting today is more efficient because of the extra point. Or is a better defense a factor. What is your opinion on that?

    PS: Please excuse my bad english, but I from Switzerland and english is not my native language.

  • Jurij:
    I think you answered the question. Three-pointers are lower percentage shot, but higher efficiency shots. So, shooting more three-pointers leads to a lower overall shooting percentage, but a higher adjusted shooting percentage (when accounting for the extra value of the shot). Also, there has been expansion of the NBA which has diluted the talent to an extent, so more non-shooters make the NBA. Also, the zone defense rule has made it harder to iso a quick player or a post for 1v1 moves or to clear a side and run the PnR for a lay-up, so in that sense, I would say defense has a factor too. Finally, players are more physical, and allowed to be by officials, which affects shooting percentages.

  • I agree that a spot up three point shot is a great shot. What your article misses however is that no one is going to just give you that shot. How do you get that shot?

    The mid range jump shot is the cornerstone of the game of basketball because it sets up all other shots. You get the spot up three pointer by getting into the teeth ogf the defense and kicking it out, By drawing the defense in deep, you give the spot up shooter a better look and he can also move straight forward to shoot win one fluid motion. That lets him get a better jump also, because you can jump better when you step into it and it also helps him keep his shoulders back.

    How do you get into the teeth of the defense? By being a threat from MID RANGE. The game today is frustrating to watch because no one wants to catch the ball within range and turn to the hoop to be a triple threat. That position from 18 feet in is the most dangerous position in basketball because you are one dripple away from a layup. A guy lwho is a threat to drive and can knock down that shot cannot be guarded. A player is not a triple threat from beyond the arc because it takes too long to get to the hoop and the defense can close on you. Also, it is not a good percentage shot with a man in your face – only when you can get a good look and move forward to step into it. The mid range shot is the corberstone of the game because it makes you a THREAT.

    So that is where you start- from mid range. That position of the court has been completely ignored in the college game and as a result, the college game is just frustrating to watch. Teams catch the ball outside their range and waste energy putting the ball on the floor. It becomes a huge chinese fire drill. Many fans misinterpret this wasted energy as trying harder – compared to the NBA – but it is actually just bad basketball. The best NBA teams – the ones who win championships – understand the value of the mid range game. Think of the teams that have dominated, like the Lakeres led by Kobe Bryant or the Celtics led by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. These are great mid range shooters and they set up shots for everyone else on the floor. These teams do not waste their energy the way they do in the college game.

    I think your article misses this point.

  • I think you can throw all the statistics out the window regarding the three. It is so easy to be deceived by these statistics. Adding the extra 50 per cent to compute equivalent percentage makes sense for accountants but is very deceiving and will lead you to make bad decisions on the court.

    When it is late in the game and the legs start to go, the easiest thing to do is to jack up a three rather than spending the extra effort working for a good three. It is easy for that guy to argue it was a good shot when he is a good three point shooter but the fact is it is lazy. You need more legs from long distance. You get those legs by stepping into your shot without spending extra energy eluding a defender. Your teammate helps you conserve energy by becoming a threat from mid range. The mid range shot from a triple threat position doesn’t require as much energy as the same shot from beyond the arch. The guy who can knock that midrange shot down COMMANDS ATTENTION. No one is going to give it to him so the defense must come out to guard him. Now he is one dribble from a lay up and the defender needs help on the drive. When that help arrives, it is very difficult to close out on the spot up three because he is too far out. So the three point shooter owes a big debt of gratitude to the mid range shooter.

    When you think about that, you stop and appreciate the greatness of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, all of whom were great mid range shooters and controlled the game from that area of the floor. Look at Amare Stoudemire today. He is on course to be the MVP. Why? He starts from mid range and knocks that shot down with amazing regularity. Do you think he would get all of his layups and dunks without that weapon in his arsenal? No way. Look at what that shot has done for the chemistry of the Knicks. Everyone is involved and the Knicks have gone from big time losers to big time winners in one year.

    The pick and roll play is the biggest weapon in the NBAl. How many players can get a good three curling off a pick? No one can do that very well, espoecially in crunch time. The pick and roll works well for players who can knock down the mid range shot. Why? You spend energy pulling up off the dribble and you don’t have energy to spare from long range. You end up jacaking up a bad shot just to get it above the rim. It is a different story from mid range because the ball doesn’t have to go as far. It needs less energy to drop in. So you can afford to spend some energy curling and coming top a stop because that mid range shot is within range. Now the defender can’t afford to go through – he has to go over the pick. That opens up the drive, which opens up everyone else, including the roll to the hoop.

    The game of basketball is all about the mid range jump shot.

  • I forgot to mention another reason why threes should be taken only after striving for something closer first. If a three misses, the rebound is usually long. By drawing the defense in deep and kicking it out, you have a much better chance at an offensive rebound because the ball is likely to bounce over the defender’s heads. The quick three with a man on you is not only a bad shot but it does hurts your chance at a rebound.

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