How much mid-range is too much mid-range?

Hello out there. I hope you’re trying to enjoy the dog days of summer. Every day is exactly the same; an 88-to-93 degree high, a 69-to-73 degree low. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it doesn’t. Much like basketball, something either goes down or it stays out. This is perhaps the peak time of boredom, something we rarely get anymore with our collective addiction to social media and online life. You can zone out for minutes, even hours and realize that nothing around you has changed all that much. In its own way, it is quite nice.

More than any other time this could possibly be written, mid-August in the middle of Sludge Weather seems like the ideal time to continue the Mid-Range Discourse.

AFTER THE JUMP: The Discourse begins anew

Defining the ‘green light’

If you’re new to my site, I went into this in great detail back in February when I was wondering why Tennessee seemed so reliant on mid-range jumpers, both historically and in the 2020-21 season. It was spurred on by a quote from Rick Barnes about how he’d rather take an open 8-foot jumper than attempt a contested shot at the rim. In theory, I get that. You’d rather not have a defender in your face when shooting.

In practice, the amount of truly open mid-range shots for any team in college basketball is quite small. They’re few and far between (this is an eye-test thing, as the NCAA doesn’t have Second Spectrum’s tracking like the NBA does), and it makes me distrust these non-rim two-point attempts to an extent that I began openly sighing after attempt #7 in the first half of any random SEC basketball game. It wasn’t the healthiest way to watch my favorite sport, and at certain points, I felt myself regressing to a younger version of myself with a binary view of Mid-Range Bad, Everything Else Acceptable. Daryl Morey would be so proud, as would Nate Oats.

Of course, no two mid-range shots can be considered equal. Some, to put it simply, are superior to others and are genuinely worth pursuing in an offensive set. For example, here’s Johnny Juzang of the UCLA Bruins coming off of a screen into a wide-open catch-and-shoot attempt. Juzang shot 49.4% on all non-rim twos in 2020-21 and a hair over 51% on mid-range jumpers specifically. This 17-foot attempt would be given the green light by any coach, as Juzang is open, in rhythm, and taking a shot that makes a lot of sense for him.

Similarly, for Cam Davis of the Navy Midshipmen, it was perfectly wise to let Davis both pull up off the dribble (44.1% FG%) and take that shot anywhere within the two-point line (47.4% on all non-rim two-point attempts, per Bart Torvik). It was even better if Davis worked his way to the left elbow as he does here, where Davis was particularly excellent on the season.

For shooters like these, you’re looking at a good shot. No one will argue against a very good-to-great shooter taking a shot that they’re really good at hitting, regardless of where it falls on the court. The problem runs into when coaches, teams, or players do one or all of the following things:

  • Let less-efficient shooters take these shots in volume
  • Don’t create plays or screens that allow for said players to take these shots without a defender closely attached
  • Allow for low-percentage shots to take away from higher-value attempts at the rim or three-pointers

When a player who hits just 28.9% of his mid-range attempts is taking 5.6 of those attempts per game, as Justin Turner did for Bowling Green, it is perhaps not a great idea to see all of those possessions result in just under a 0.58 points-per-shot rate.

Alternately, if the shots you’re creating in the mid-range are of low value – what I’d loosely call “closely-guarded, off-the-dribble twos” – you’re more likely than not in for a bad time. These are very popular shots because most of the greatest shooters living (Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Khris Middleton, Klay Thompson, and numerous players whose first names do not begin with K) can and have hit these in volume. Unfortunately, the most likely outcome for the average college basketball team is that the shooter taking these shots in volume is probably not going to end up being as good as one of those four players.

Lastly, if it comes at the expense of better shots from a closer range, like it did for Marcus Carr here (53.4% FG% on 103 rim attempts, 36.9% on 160 non-rim twos):

Or at the expense of better shots from a further range, as it does here for James Akinjo of Arizona (32.5% on 126 non-rim twos, 40.8% on 130 three-point attempts):

Then these can also be considered poor shots. In Akinjo’s case, a top-of-the-key ISO against a good defender was probably a poor idea to begin with; this particular player shot just 6-for-21 (28.6%) in isolation situations in 2020-21. (That’s a small sample, but it’s not a great one.) And yet: Akinjo also made 20 of his 46 three-point attempts off-the-dribble last season, per Synergy. He was an excellent pull-up shooter and a fantastic deep shooter overall. If you have a player that’s hitting at least 33-34% of their threes, they should obviously be taking more of these than non-rim two-pointers.

Those are simply a few examples of what it may look like for a player or players to take shots that fit their personal shot profiles. However, it can reasonably look different when you’re a team trying to maximize your potential from a shot quality and shot selection perspective. In general, the types of players who really need to be taking these shots are typically no more than two per team. In extreme circumstances, you can push that number to three, but for our average team, we’re thinking 1-2 players. But what about everyone else? What would this look like for a team who’s hoping to get the most out of their shots?

Using a basic eFG% calculator I’ve built and some somewhat useful hypotheticals I’ve crafted, let’s see what happens when a team maximizes (and doesn’t maximize) their potential through shot quality.

NEXT PAGE: Why your shot selection matters

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