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The Decline of the Mid-Range: Should Players Shoot More Threes?

Use of the Mid-Range Over Time

The mid-range jumper is a beautiful tool that some of the greatest scorers in history heavily utilized to great success. Several of the most iconic moves in history like Michael Jordan’s (and then Kobe Bryant’s) turnaround jumper, and Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged fade-away were mid-range shots. Over the years, however, teams have taken less and less mid-range shots and have transitioned to the statistically more efficient three pointer.

midrange-three-paint-restricted area-1997-2018-transition-fga
Since 1997, the mid-range went from the most popular to the second least popular shot choice. As the mid-range took a dive, the three-pointer rose from the least used shot to the most used shot. Stats courtesy of stats.nba.com

 

The math behind the change in game-plan is rather simple. Shooting 50% on two-point field goal attempts yields a points per play (PPP) of 1. Comparatively, shooting just 33.3% on three-point field goal attempts also yields a PPP of 1. Therefore, if a player’s mid-range PPP is less than their PPP on threes, it makes more sense to shoot the three rather than the long two. The math checks out, but are players actually taking the most efficient shots they can?

 

Mid-Range Shooting This Season

mid-range-fga-fg%-NBA-derozan-westbrook-durant-curry-wiggins
The above graph comprises players who take at least three mid-range FGA/game. It compares players’ mid-range FGA to their FG% on mid-range FGA. Stats courtesy of stats.nba.com

 

For simplicity’s sake, the table below organizes the meanings and the takeaway of each color.

mid range-threes-3p%-fg%-PPPPlayers with red dots connected to their names have a PPP on mid-range attempts that is lower  than their PPP on three-pointers. This means that the player should replace their mid-range attempts with threes. Those with a green dot connected to their name have a higher  PPP on mid-range attempts than on three-point attempts. These players are more efficient at taking the mid-range jumper than the three-pointer and should maintain the status quo. This mostly occurs for players that struggle shooting from deep or otherwise do not take three pointers. In either case, the more efficient of the two for them is the mid-range jumper.

The second point of emphasis on the graph is the color of the player’s names. Players with their name in green shoot the mid-range at a percentage that is higher  than they shoot the three. Players with their name in red shoot the mid-range at a percentage that is lower  than they shoot the three. Those with a red dot and a red name are not only missing out on more PPP, but are better at threes than mid-range shots anyway.

Those with a green dot and a green name are effectively taking the most efficient shot they can between mid-range and three pointers. Players with a red dot but a green name are better at shooting mid-range shots than they are at threes, but they could be achieving a higher PPP if they took the three instead.

Among the 50 players who attempt at least three mid-range FGA/game, 90% are better off shooting the three instead. There are only five players that would score less if they took threes in lieu of their mid-range attempts: C.J. McCollum, Jordan Clarkson, DeMar DeRozan, DeAndre Ayton, Serge Ibaka.

There are eight players who are in the red for PPP and shoot better from three than mid-range. Four players, Tobias Harris, Buddy Hield, Steph Curry and Myles Turner, while effective from mid-range, remain better three-point shooters. The other four, Otto Porter, Jimmy Butler, Lou Williams and Andrew Wiggins are all sub-40% mid-range shooters. Since their three-point percentages are higher than their mid-range percentages anyway, they should simply take the more efficient shot.

Should Players Stop Taking Mid-Range Jumpers?

Overall, the mid-range jumper is a valuable tool in a scorer’s arsenal. Although the stats show that most players could score more efficiently by shooting more from three and less from mid-range, making the transition is easier said than done. For a team like the Warriors, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson’s ability to shoot from the mid-range increases the area that defenses need to cover. This versatility creates a more fluid offense that can score from anywhere and is far more difficult to defend against.

For some players, especially those who shoot a higher 3P% than mid-range FG%, shooting more threes could improve their efficiency. Even for someone like Andrew Wiggins, who shoots a league-worst (among those on the graph) 30.4% from mid-range on 4.4 attempts per game, and a below-league-average 35% from three on 4.8 attempts, turning his 4.4 mid-range attempts into threes would make for a marginally more efficient player.

 


Stats courtesy of http://stats.nba.com and https://www.basketball-reference.com/

Featured image courtesy of Mike Blake, Reuters.

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