The Mid-range Jumper: Persistent Dinosaur in the Analytics Age

(Image via Wikipedia and chensiyuan)

(Image via Wikipedia and chensiyuan)

The mid-range jumper and the long 2 have earned a reputation as the most inefficient and stupid shot in basketball at any level. Modern players just can’t seem to convert the shot on a consistent basis. Defenses are engineered to force opposing teams to take that specific shot. And it simply isn’t worth the risk if you’re going to create a long rebound which your big man can’t grab for you. In short you’re just really hurting your team with that shot. You probably won’t get points, you wont get the rebound, you risk giving up points on the other end on a fast break… its just stupid.

Now, I don’t mean to sound like a crotchety old man here, but I can’t help but believe AAU ball has something to do with this. Guys are taught to take it hard to the rack and get fouled. Use your superior speed and athleticism to either score, get an and-one, or shoot free throws. Now, this kind of play works great in AAU and High School games. It even still works with some guys at the college level, but once you land in the NBA that style of play has run its course for all but the truly elite.

(Photo Credit - Tom Pennington, Getty Images)

(Photo Credit – Tom Pennington, Getty Images)


Conversely, the layup and dunk will always be considered great shots as long as you’re not fouling someone. The terms “layup” and “slam dunk” have entered the vernacular meaning something that is so easy that it is almost certain to happen. So in short, if you can engineer a layup or a dunk under the basket for your team, you are helping them immensely. You have a high percentage chance of scoring 2 points and allowing your team to get back on defense and set themselves up to stop your opponents.

(Photo Credit - Rocky Widner, Getty Image)

(Photo Credit – Rocky Widner, Getty Image)


The other option scoring option (besides a mid-range jumper or a bucket under the basket) is a three. This shot goes in a lot less than a dunk and actually it goes in less than a mid-range jumper. However, with a jumper you are risking losing the ball and giving up points IN ADDITION to not scoring for only a 2 point return. With a 3 pointer you gain the incentive of an extra point, making it worth the risk, according to the NBA Analytics community. The opportunity cost is there and makes up for the risk. Moreover, the risk is further minimized when you shoot a three from the corner. A corner three is only 22 feet from the basket while a three from the arc is 23 feet 9 inches. A corner 3 is 21 inches closer to the basket and still gets you that extra point, so its a beautiful shot.

(Photo Credit - Pat Sullivan, AP Photo)

(Photo Credit – Pat Sullivan, AP Photo)

Enter the Houston rockets, Daryl Morey, and yes the Rio Grand Valley Vipers. Daryl Morey is the GM of the Rockets and the Vipers are the Rockets’ D League affiliate. Because we know 3s (especially corner 3s) and layups/dunks are the only shots reeeeally worth taking, and because we know that the mid-range jumper is both a bad shot and a team hurting shot, Daryl Morey, the mad scientist, has decreed that his NBA D-League team should shoot nothing but those 4 types of shots (dunk, layup, corner 3, and iiiiiiiiif you haaaaaaaaave to… a normal three).

On the surface this looks like a perfect plan. We have used scientific analysis, mathematics, and reason to determine what the best shots on a basketball court are. By taking these shots and avoiding inferior shots, science would dictate that this team win constantly. And actually, the Vipers DO win… A LOT. They’ve won 2 of the last 5 D League Titles and were runner up another year. Three trips to the title game in five years seems pretty good to me. So, this is the mindset the Houston Rockets entered into the playoffs with this season. The Rockets believed they had cracked the code to basketball success, and perfectly constructed a team to exploit these perceived market inefficiencies.

(Photo Credit - Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)

(Photo Credit – Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)


They had one of the best centers in the NBA, Dwight Howard, who can convert with ease under the basket offensively, and can prevent the other team from converting layups on dunks (allegedly the best shots in basketball) on the other end. They had an arsenal of lanky perimeter players who could run the court and bomb threes to exploit the other market inefficiency, the three point shot (and corner 3). And again, Howard is the 3 time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, so as long as their laboratory-built offense succeeded, he should have been able to clean up everything else on defense. A perfect storm. The only problem? They had to play LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trailblazers in the first round.

The Blazers are loaded with perimeter players just like the Rockets. Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, and even rookie C.J. McCollum can hit 3s at an incredibly high rate, thereby neutralizing Houston’s 3 point advantage. Moreover, Aldridge hits the mid-range jumper beautifully meaning their plan to plant Howard under the basket and shut down dunks and layups is neutralized as well, because Portland can take, and make, a mid-range jumper instead.

Simply put, the long two is a part of Aldridge’s game. Over a lifetime he worked to add this shot into his arsenal, and has therefore given himself an advantage over the rest of the league. With a basketball culture that, from AAU ball through college and into the pros, has neglected this shot and in extreme cases (like Houston) even shuns it vehemently, Aldridge is a rare breed. And in the end the upstart, spunky Portland Trailblazers upset the mighty (and scientifically proven) Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.

So Aldridge’s case, dovetailed with the AAU hypothesis, provides us with an alternative narrative to the mysterious case of the mid-range jumper. I think it is more of a lost art than a truly bad shot. In fact, it isn’t a bad shot at all because the individuals, like Aldridge, who have the shot in their arsenal find themselves with a monumental competitive advantage in the modern NBA (or college basketball for that matter).

(Photo Credit - Randy L. Rasmussen, The Oregonian)

(Photo Credit – Randy L. Rasmussen, The Oregonian)

Defenses are no longer prepared to defend the shot as efficiently as they could be because it is considered common knowledge that the shot is so bad that it defends itself. Yes players defend it, but a truly well executed mid range shot, like Aldridge’s, will simply be unstoppable.

Moreover, this phenomenon has resulted in a shift in the NBA. When I was growing up the narrative was always, “there are no big men in the NBA! You need to go all in for big men whenever you can!” and “guards (specifically shooting guards) grow on trees, never put any effort into finding one for your team cuz you can pick one up off the scrap heap whenever you like.”

However, this is no longer true. There are tons of big men in the league now, and there is a dearth of shooting guards in the NBA. Moreover there is a wealth of point guards… guys who can dish the ball to big men down low (for dunks) drive to the rack themselves (for a layup) or kick it out to an open teammate (for a 3). However, what we don’t have much of anymore is the big man who can step outside the paint and hit a jumper. We don’t have the shooting guards who can abort a drive and pull up from mid-range after breaking his man’s ankles and drain a shot.

The 90s are gone and they took their wealth of shooting guards with them. (Images via Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated and )

The 90s are gone and they took their wealth of shooting guards with them. (Images via Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated and )

I think the game of basketball is much worse off this way. Again, I’m sounding like an old man watching basketball in the 50s but we need pure skill and shooting ability to return to the game. The way things are now you really can break the game down to a science where its all numbers and percentages like the Rockets do. You can just grind away at those low variance, high benefit shots while ignoring the rest of the nuance of the game of basketball. You can’t really do this at the NBA level simply because there is so much talent around, but college? High School? And the lower levels of pro basketball like Europe, China, and the D League, you can, and that seems kindof sad to me. I hope in the future we can have more guys who can hit these mid-range shots coming up through the ranks, but I’m not sure the AAU culture will allow it. Its going to remain a select few. So maybe I’ll just have to settle for the loving the rare few who can do it for their competitive advantage and the utter domination they can unleash on their opponents.

(Photo Credit - Greg Nelson, Sports Illustrated)

(Photo Credit – Greg Nelson, Sports Illustrated)


My Foray into Basketball Bigamy: Part Two

Pretenders to the Throne: My First Failed Choices of Fandom


This is Part 2 of a 3 part series. For Part One click HERE or just scroll down… you know… its whatever…

Yes, Charlotte was getting an expansion team. This seemed an absolutely perfect fit for me. I was a new NBA fan without a team but with a burgeoning love of the league [insert sex joke here… hehe… insert…] and here was a shiny new team for me to grow with and develop a true love of the league and the sport from the grassroots. I knew they wouldn’t be good to start off with (clearly only a mild understatement) but I had faith that I could stick with them through their eventual rise (which has still yet to come… thanks Michael Jordan!). In any event this seemed to me to be simply too splendid of a solution to pass up. I was a Charlotte Bobcats fan and could not have been happier about it.


(accurate depiction of me choosing the Bobcats, thinking everything will be fine. Oh whats that Brandon? Thought you were gonna toss that pass? Noooo… noooo.)

I absolutely devoured the expansion draft coverage with a voracity not unlike that with which small Japanese men consume hot dogs. I remember being absolutely shocked that we came away with Gerald Wallace. Here was the cornerstone of a franchise, an all star caliber player with inhuman athletic ability and we got him in the expansion draft before even adding the premier young talent we were sure to acquire in the actual draft! And I was especially ecstatic about Jason Kapono, a player I deemed to be a lights out shooter. And I didn’t know anything about Primož Brezec as a basketball player, nor did I know how to pronounce his name or why there was a little loopy thing over that z in his name, but NBA analysts at the time told me he was good so I was overjoyed to have the silly named Serbian on my new team!


“Hey guys, are you sure you want me to come to Charlotte? Cuz I’m cool staying here in.. oh.. oh… no no ok I’ll back my bags” ='[


Hey Gerald don’t look so sad! Things will pick up I promise!

And as for the rest of the expansion draft, I didn’t care so much about the rest of the guys because Charlotte made about a billion moves to acquire picks in upcoming NBA Drafts, allowing me to defer my excitement where I was sure we would build on this CLEARLY solid 3 player foundation of Kapono, Brezec, and Wallace. (again… have I mentioned that I was new to the sport of basketball at the time? I hope I have.)

Once the NBA draft rolled around I couldn’t have been more excited. Perhaps shaped by Bill Simmons I could not have been more enthralled by Emeka Okafor, the national title winning beast of a Forward out of UConn projected as the first pick in the 2004 draft. Unfortunately the first pick belonged to the Orlando Magic that year and my new love the Bobcats had to settle for the #2 pick which would most likely be Dwight Howard and I couldn’t have been more saddened by this. I knew enough about the NBA to know that there were far fewer Kevin Garnett’s than there were Kwame Brown’s when it came to prep to pro players and I was convinced the stick figure Dwight Howard would be just another bust. (Clearly 14 year old Rick was both prophetic and savant like when it came to his vast background of basketball knowledge)

BUT ANYWAY when the Orlando Magic made the imbecilic decision to take Howard over Okafor I was overjoyed. Not only were we adding an uber-talented young guy via the draft, we were grabbing a college senior with championship experience! It was like grabbing a veteran superstar with all the potential in the world! Clearly this would be the conerstone of the franchise. I was so ecstatic that I even asked my dad for an Emeka Okafor Jersey for my 15th birthday, which I still have today. Ohhh if only I knew…



“Hey guys… I don’t think this team is actually any good…”

In any event I watched the first season of Bobcats basketball and, in spite of lacking results, was not dismayed. I knew they wouldn’t be good right away, but felt they had a legitimate core to build from with guys like Okafor and Wallace, along with a continuing irrational love of guys like Kapono, Matt Carrol, Keith Bogans, and Brevin Knight. (known in some circles as the cathartic quadroped) More than anything, however, I was excited for the next draft. I just KNEW with a little injection of youthful talent Charlotte would be on the rise! They had the #5 and #13 picks in the draft and good things would be forthcoming!

Moreover, my hopes were realized once again on draft day. I remember excitedly rushing into my dad’s office the night of the draft to explain my utter euphoria at the Bobcats having landed not only Raymond Felton, but Sean May as well! Two more veteran young guys off of another national championship winning team in UNC! (in retrospect I can practically see his eyes glazing over just by recalling it (I also had him take me to Minneapolis so I could watch Bobcats preseason basketball against the T-Wolves… I’m not entirely sure why he put up with this…)  I thought this team could flirt with an 8 seed in the dreadful Eastern conference and couldn’t wait for the season!….

… so then came the 2006 draft… #3 overall pick and Adam Morrison. I remember hearing people say big things were expected of him but honestly my faith in the Bobcats had already been shaken when I discovered that Dwight Howard was in fact much better than Okafor and that Sean May was in fact a fatty fat fat.


Whoaaaa Sean… Buddy… keep the jersey on…


Hey! Sean! Have you lost weight?!


Oh… oh no nevermind… still a fatass…

I was barely hanging on when the 2006-7 season began, having gotten what I now believe is an adequate taste of the terrible management that is such a large part of the NBA and was probably out on the team before Morrison even lost his starting spot…

Thanks for the memories guys

However, though down I wasn’t out yet. The 2007 season reinvigorated me, watching Kevin Durant light it up as a rookie and that epic Boston LA finals was enough to reinvigorate me in a mercenary sense. I had dropped the Bobcats but I still liked watching the league as a whole. However, I had started to have a passing fancy in the Rockets after their 22 game winning streak that season led by Tracy McGrady. I really liked watching McGrady, and, much like Karl Malone before him, I wanted to root for this underdog reclamation project. Also, again because of Bill Simmons I had decided that Daryl Morrey was one of the coolest nerds around, and after my experience with atrocious management in Charlotte I thought watching a competent GM would be a welcome change. Plus, I had always really liked Yao Ming, and once the Rockets brought in Ron Artest (my personal favorite crazy man in sports) the temptation to root for Houston was just too strong to pass up. I didn’t really dive into the Rockets in an “uncalled for but obligatory use of the 1st person singular” kind of way but I really wanted to watch Yao, Artest, and T-Mac win a title. So when the playoffs rolled around in the 2008/9 season I was all in on them.


Although it didn’t really work out I really liked this rockets team. Then in 2009 I decided to really hop back into the NBA for a second time. I was in the midst of watching John Wall and Demarcus Cousins destroy various bitches at Kentucky  and once that season ended I desperately needed more basketball. So I decided to call myself a Rocket’s fan and throw myself in it again. The real turning point probably came when Rockets drafted Patrick Patterson in the first round of the 2010 draft. Patterson was a favorite of mine and for many Kentucky fans on the 2009/10 team because he, like us, had suffered through the Gillispie years and was redeemed with the coming of Saint Calipari.  So I felt like I could use him as a bridge back into the NBA. I was hoping I could follow P Pat into the world of NBA basketball the same way I had with college basketball. I already liked the Rockets and Patterson was just the icing on the cake.

2009-10 NBA Press Conferences

However, I was still in my formative basketball loving years, and college was my true mistress. I was not yet prepared to enter the world of a basketball bigamist. There just wasn’t enough of me to go around. (You may not know this about me but I am approximately the size of Frodo Baggins, and as such am not easily split between two paths.)


“Ahhh yes!!! I can’t believe Gandalf didn’t realize I’m too small to ride in the big boy cart! Best. Day. Ever.”

My lackadaisical Rockets “fandom” began to wane with the departure of Yao Ming and was long dead by the time PPatt was moved to Sacramento to rejoin my beloved Demarcus Cousins.

So once again I was teamless in the NBA. I knew I like basketball, but the NBA just hadn’t stuck with me yet. And then, last seasons playoffs happened. The 2013 NBA playoffs were absolutely stupendous. Some of the best, most dramatic competition I can remember. And I have once again been encouraged to attempt to life the weighty mantle of NBA fandom upon my shoulders, except this time I am determined to make it stick.