Six additional questions answered about Tennessee and mid-range jumpers

1. Can you clarify some of the data sources?

I’ll admit that I allowed myself to get Actually Excited when I saw that Brian Cook at MGoBlog linked to my article and wrote a lot about it from a Michigan viewpoint. I’ve read MGoBlog at least once a week since 2009 or so and have loved it for a very long time. There’s a good chance that it’s probably the site I’ve read longest at this point.

Cook did bring up something of importance that I needed to do on my end:

“I wish this post had disambiguated where this data came from because there’s a pretty big gap between what Synergy considers “at the rim” and what box score play-by-play—which is the source of Torvik’s shooting split numbers—does.”

I’ll try and do that here, specifically with every major statistic taken from the article that doesn’t already have a citation. If this is not something you’re interested in, feel free to skip to #2.

  1.  “Anyway, Texas got an astounding 45.5% of their shots from non-rim two-pointer land on the season.” That is from barttorvik.com, which offers its own play-by-play data dating back to 2008-2009.
  2. “However, Texas did have a relatively easy time scoring at the rim (62.6%, 68th-best)” hoop-math.com and their 2015 offensive leaderboard, linked here.
  3. “2018-19 Tennessee got 35.1% of its shot attempts from non-rim two-pointer land, the highest rate by a mile of any team with a top-25 eFG% that season. (Next highest: Hofstra at 28.1%.)” hoop-math’s 2019 offensive leaderboard.
  4. “in that 2018-19 season, Tennessee made an amazing 46.2% of their non-rim two-pointers, the third-best rate in America and easily the highest percentage among any team getting 30% of more of their shot attempts from this range.” Same as above.
  5. “With both Johnson and Springer on the floor, Tennessee’s offense has an eFG% of 51.8%, which is 2.3% higher than when one or the other (or both) is off. Tennessee shoots better at all three levels of the court – 35.7% vs. 33.9% from three, 39.6% vs. 36.4% on mid-range, and 64.3% vs. 62% at the rim. The offense is both statistically better and eye-test better with both on the court, and the TO% is pretty much the exact same: 17.2% vs. 17.5%. . . . Still, there are some worrying signs, namely that Tennessee gets 38.2% of their attempts from non-rim two-pointer land when both Johnson and Springer are on the court. It certainly helps that they’ve hit 39.6% of these shots, but again, 39.6% would only rank 98th-highest.” All from hoop-explorer.com, which offers lineup and on/off data.
  6. “As a team, Tennessee has taken an astounding 180 mid-range jumpers from 8-14 feet.” I ran a search on the Synergy Basketball Application, an app that produces shot charts and a full list of every team’s shots, to limit Tennessee’s jumper range to 8-14 feet. This is the number that came back.
  7. “Tennessee’s taken 128 of these jumpers in the paint and has hit just 39 of them for a 30.5% hit rate.” Same as above.
  8. “Last year, John Fulkerson made 33 of his 64 two-point jump shots.” Synergy Basketball Application.
  9. “Fulkerson is just 13-for-39 on two-point jumpers, has barely taken any shots from beyond 11 feet” Synergy Basketball Application.
  10. “The Bruins have taken all of 64 two-point jump shots this season across 25 games, or barely more than 2.5 a night. Tennessee’s taken 67 two-point jumpers in the last four games alone.” Synergy Basketball Application.
  11. “Over the last two seasons at Sacred Heart, E.J. Anosike attempted 201 jump shots.” Synergy Basketball Application.
  12. “Only the first three players see serious time, but together, lineups with at least 2 of these players on the floor together make up 28.7% of all of Tennessee’s on-court time.” hoop-explorer.com.
  13. “Of the current top 25 offenses on KenPom, only five devote more than 10% of their on-court time to lineups with multiple non-shooters in them. Only three – Arizona, Baylor, and Drake – go for more than 20%.” hoop-explorer.com. I calculated this by running searches for lineups with multiple players that have no made threes this season, with a particular focus on those that were obviously frontcourt players.
  14. “In contrast, Loyola Chicago has taken 131 shot attempts on post-ups this season. (109 of these are Krutwig’s; no one else has more than 8.) Just 28 of these shots have come from 6 feet or further out, a 21.4% rate compared to Tennessee’s 62%.” Synergy Basketball Application, using the distance tool that I used for the 8-14 foot prompt.
  15. “In 2010-11, the average top 25 shooting offense got nearly 30% of their shot attempts from non-rim two-pointers. In 2020-21, this number has fallen all the way to 20.9%, and it hasn’t cracked 25% since 2015-16.” This is an error that requires a small fix. It’s actually 2011-12, not 2010-11. All numbers presented are from hoop-math.com, which I got using a manual calculated average of the top 25 teams in eFG% each season. It did not take as long as I’m making it sound.
  16. “No team in the current top 100 of eFG% in 2020-21 gets more than 33.7% of their shots from non-rim twos, which is a full 2.3% less than Tennessee. In fact, only six of the top 50 even crack 30%, which was the average just ten years ago.” hoop-math.com.
  17. “Among the current top 25 in eFG%, no team is anywhere near Tennessee’s 324 mid-range jumpers on the season. Only one team (Campbell) even cracks 200 mid-range jump shot attempts on the season.” This is a manual calculation from the Synergy Basketball Application and requires further explanation, which actually comes about from Brian at MGoBlog. I noticed that when Brian did his article, he clicked Synergy’s “Short to <17” and “Medium >17 to 3PT” categories. These do narrow down the actual jump shots, but when I ran the data myself, I noticed something unusual. These categories exclude jump shots from post-ups, cuts, and offensive rebounds. Seeing as Tennessee gets a lot of shot attempts from the first two, that was how I ended up with 324 mid-range jumpers and not the number in the low 200s. Which, sadly, still would have been #1 among the current top 25 in eFG%.
  18. “Lastly, the expected Points Per Possession on a two-point jumper from 8-14 feet is roughly 0.732 (36.6% FG%) and 0.704 (35.2%) from 15-20 feet.” This is based on a rough average using Synergy’s distance zones in their shot charts, using a sample of 25 teams to weight averages by zone, and coming up with the above number. It isn’t exact, but I felt confident that these were the correct numbers within 2% either way. The smarter thing to do here would’ve been to cite CBB Analytics, who provides the following numbers: 44.3% (0.886 PPP) on shot attempts from 5-9 feet, 35.6% (0.712 PPP) on shot attempts from 10-15 feet, and 37% (0.74 PPP) from 16+ feet. This is actually pretty steady with last year’s numbers, which were 44.5% (0.89 PPP) from 5-9 feet, 35.2% (0.704 PPP) from 10-15 feet, and 36.7% (0.734 PPP) from 16+. My numbers are very close to the CBB Analytics database, but I should’ve gone with the larger sample.
  19. The entire SmallVols lineup section is from hoop-explorer.com.

2. Are there any other teams that take more or as many mid-range jumpers as Tennessee?

This was requested by several, and I have to admit that this one was a bit of a data undertaking. As I explained in the post, both Bart Torvik and Hoop-Math count a lot of runners, putbacks, post-up hooks, etc. as “non-rim two-pointers.” To get to the true number of mid-range jumpers, I had to go into the Synergy Basketball Application, filter out every shot that wasn’t a two-point jumper team-by-team, and count what was left. The below list is the current Top 10 Mid-Range Jumper Takers in college basketball, with a full-season number, a game-by-game average, and what percentage of total shots it represents.

Below, I’ve included a list of the 13 teams in college basketball who get at least a quarter of their overall attempts from mid-range jumpers. It is ranked by total percentage of all shots, with a minimum of 15 games played required to make the list.

Team Mid-range jumper attempts Mid-range attempts per game Percentage of total shots
Florida A&M 279 17.4 30.4%
High Point 366 15.9 27.8%
Tennessee 356 15.5 27.5%
Alcorn State 232 15.5 27.3%
Southern Miss 364 15.2 27%
Rider 296 15.6 26.9%
Southern Univ. 229 15.3 26.9%
Mississippi 339 14.7 25.8%
Arkansas State 327 14.9 25.7%
UCLA 338 14.7 25.5%
West Virginia 359 15.6 25.3%
Sacramento State 249 14.6 25.1%
Nebraska-Omaha 346 15 25%

So that’s one table. Here’s another, which lists each team’s FG% on mid-range jumpers, their KenPom offense ranking, and their eFG% ranking.

Team Mid-range jumper FG% KenPom offense ranking eFG% ranking
Florida A&M 41.2% 339 265
High Point 38.8% 275 305
Tennessee 37.4% 74 166
Alcorn State 34.5% 329 332
Southern Miss 38.7% 305 277
Rider 35.1% 228 271
Southern Univ. 40.6% 326 255
Mississippi 37.2% 114 238
Arkansas State 35.8% 211 248
UCLA 44.4% 19 88
West Virginia 34% 11 216
Sacramento State 39.4% 236 205
Nebraska-Omaha 35.8% 314 307

Here’s the main takeaways I had from this little exercise.

  1. Of these 13 teams, only four rank in the top 13 of Hoop-Math’s “percentage of overall shots as non-rim twos” stat. This is not a condemnation of either Hoop-Math or Synergy, but rather an important divide in how both companies measure mid-range shot attempts. Hoop-Math very likely incorporates floaters/runners/hook shots as “other twos,” which is generally drawn from StatBroadcast or whatever the team chooses to use for its in-game data tracking. Synergy has people who chart the shots themselves. Both have a human element to them; it’s simply worth noting that these are the teams that take the most jumpers, not the most jumpers, floaters, runners, and hook shots.
  2. Only two teams in America take a greater percentage of all field goal attempts as mid-range jumpers than Tennessee, and neither of them are in a power conference. This is pretty bad stuff. The company Tennessee is with at the top is not necessarily that which is known for phenomenal basketball, and only one of these 13 offenses has a top 100 eFG% in 2020-21. Speaking of which:
  3. With the possible exception of UCLA, none of these offenses are seeing great benefits from mid-range jumpers. UCLA is getting nearly 0.9 PPP from their mid-range attempts thanks to their 44.4% clip. A guy you may have heard of named Kawhi Leonard is making 44.6% of his this season, and no one really complains when he shoots a 15-footer. If you’re making them this often, it’s hard to say no. UCLA has also had issues with scoring at the rim and is primarily a jump-shooting team in general. (They’ve made 37% of their threes.) Aside from them, Tennessee is literally the only other mid-range heavy offense with an above-average eFG%. West Virginia ranks 11th because they’re top 50 in OREB%, TO%, and Free Throw Rate. They’re dominant everywhere but shooting.
  4. Open question: may age have something to do with this? High Point is coached by Tubby Smith – yes, THE Tubby Smith – who is a 69-year-old coach on his seventh head coaching job. Florida A&M’s head coach is Robert McCullum, who is 66. Rick Barnes is 66. Bob Huggins is 67. Kermit Davis is 61. Brian Katz of Sacramento State is 63. That’s almost half the coaches on this list who are 60 or older and may be less open to late-career philosophical changes. The average age of these 13 coaches: 56.7. When I ran the list of the ten coaches whose teams have taken the fewest mid-range jumpers, the average age was 42.4, and only one coach was older than 46. This is not an ageist thing, but merely an observation; it’s up to you if it’s important at all.
  5. Even worse, Tennessee’s started to take more mid-range twos as of late. Which we’ll touch on shortly.

3. Has *anyone* been great offensively over the last few years taking this many mid-range jumpers?

Well, yeah: 2018-19 Tennessee. You can read that section in the article if you’d like. Strictly limited to power-conference teams, though, there’s very few examples in the last five years of college basketball where a team took a ton of mid-range jumpers and had one of the 20 best offenses in the sport. 20 is an arbitrary number, but it’s a decent enough cutoff; aside from 2013-14 UConn, no team has won the national championship in the KenPom era entering the Tournament with an offense ranked lower than 18th.

What we’re looking for is a power-conference team that ranked in the top 25 of percentage of shots that were non-rim twos and had a top 20 offense. At minimum, that’s a team that everyone watching knows takes a lot of mid-range twos and is very successful doing so. Here’s the full list of teams to accomplish this over the last five seasons:

  • 2018-19 Tennessee (20th in % of shots from non-rim twos; 3rd in KenPom offensive rankings); made Sweet Sixteen
  • 2018-19 Kentucky (11th; 14th); made Elite Eight
  • 2015-16 North Carolina (4th; 1st); national runner-up
  • 2015-16 Purdue (19th; 19th); lost in Round of 64
  • 2015-16 Baylor (23rd; 14th); lost in Round of 64

That’s it! That’s the whole list of teams that took a bunch of mid-range attempts and still had great offenses. Five in the last five seasons, or one a year. This certainly isn’t frustrating at all!

Each of these teams is a unique case unto themselves, though.

  • 2018-19 Tennessee had the 25th-lowest TO%, the 72nd-best OREB%, and hit 46.2% of their non-rim twos. That was the third-best rate of any team in 2018-19, easily the best among teams getting 30% or more of their offense from non-rim twos. More importantly, 46.2% is the best mid-range shooting rate by any team getting 30% or more of their offense from non-rim twos in the Hoop-Math database, which dates back to 2011-12. At minimum, this was a once-in-a-decade mid-range shooting team.
  • 2018-19 Kentucky only made 39.2% of their non-rim twos, but ranked 8th in OREB% and 14th in FT Rate.
  • 2015-16 North Carolina is the only team in modern history to rank in the top five in both of our categories. They made 42.5% of these shots, which was very good, but they also converted 72.8% of their attempts at the rim (4th-best nationally), had the 21st-lowest TO%, and the 3rd-highest OREB%.
  • 2015-16 Purdue made only 38.1% of their non-rim twos, but posted a 74.7% hit rate at the rim (#1 nationally), ranked 31st in OREB%, and made 36.7% of their threes.
  • 2015-16 Baylor was a solid 40.4% on non-rim twos, but they also rebounded 40.1% of their misses, the fourth-best rate in America.

Essentially, none of these teams got there on great shooting alone. (2018-19 Tennessee came the closest.) All had to be great – not good, great – at several other things. That’s the case for many teams, but it can be especially pertinent for teams who take a lot of analytically-unfriendly shot attempts. Had 2020-21 Tennessee been able to hit these shots fairly well and been dominant in either offensive rebounding or ball protection, I think their ceiling would’ve been raised significantly. Instead, they’re 0-for-3 in this respect. It’s not just all the mid-range jumpers, but it obviously isn’t helping.

NEXT PAGE: Questions 4-6

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