The value of inefficiency
Players who look for midrange shots aren't always a drag on offenses
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference.com
AP Photo/Matt SlocumAndre Iguodala keeps opponents honest by hoisting long 2s, even though his own efficiency suffers.
The Philadelphia 76ers have built an historically great defense
upon the principle of forcing opponents into shooting long 2-point jump
shots, but an unhealthy dose of midrange jumpers can kill a team's
stats, the only shot distance that has a significant impact on a team's
offensive efficiency is the percentage of field goal attempts taken
from 16-23 feet. That the impact is negative shouldn't be very
surprising, either -- after all, the expected value of a given shot from
that range this season is just 0.76 points per attempt. Put another
way: if all else is equal, the difference between having the league's
lowest percentage of shots from 16-23 feet (Denver's 15.5 percent) and
its highest (Charlotte's 35.2 percent) is worth 6.5 points per 100
possessions. That's a bigger boost to an offense than replacing a league-average point guard with Chris Paul.
all the hemming and hawing by purists over the "lost art" of the
midrange game, the basic math on those shots appears to be quite
damning. If the average player makes 38 percent of his shots from 16-23
feet -- shots that are still worth just two points -- and 35 percent on
3-pointers, why not eschew the long midrange jumper entirely and instead
take a shot that gives you an extra point? That's essentially where the
game is heading. In just six seasons, the league has gone from taking
26.9 percent of its shots from 16-23 feet to 24.5 percent. Simply, teams
are learning to cut out the game's least efficient type of shot.
This trend also tracks with the rise of individual efficiency stats.
Almost universally, players who take a large percentage of their field
goal attempts from 16-23 feet also have a low personal offensive rating
a useful all-in-one efficiency metric that tracks a player's expected
points when he ends a possession with a shot, assist, drawn foul or
turnover. Splitting up the 140 players who have attempted 403 or more
field goals this season into four groups based on their percentage of
shots taken from 16-23 feet, you can see a clear relationship between
individual efficiency and the tendency to hoist midrange jumpers:
As was the case with teams, the more shots a player takes from
midrange, the less efficient an offensive player he will be. Not only
does he by definition take fewer high-efficiency shots at the rim or
from beyond the arc, but he is also less likely to draw a foul when
taking a long jump shot. Given this, convincing players to leave the
midrange jumper out of their repertoire would seem to be an intelligent
decision for any NBA team.
However, there is some
counterintuitive evidence that players who have the midrange jumper in
their arsenal still help teams score more efficiently while on the
court. Even after controlling for a player's own rates of possession
usage, shooting efficiency (as measured by effective field goal
percentage, a stat that adjusts for 3-pointers being worth 1.5 times as
many points as 2-pointers) and assists, the percentage of his FGA that
came from 16-23 feet was actually a positive variable when predicting
his impact on the team's overall effective field goal percentage.
That finding was also true when running the same test on team turnover
percentage -- the more of a midrange game a player has, the more he
helps his team avoid giveaways.
Why might this be?
One theory is that merely having the ability to score from the midrange
opens the floor up for a player's teammates. According to 82games.com,
just as 3-point attempts per minute is a positive predictor of offensive impact
even after holding all other stats equal, players who can knock down
shots from 16-23 feet force the defense to respect them from more places
on the basketball court, which in turn creates precious space for other
players. There's value in keeping the defense honest.
also the matter of a player's shot difficulty as it relates to his role
on the team. Among players with at least 1,200 FGA over the past three
seasons, high-usage perimeter players (players listed as guards or
guard-forwards by Basketball-Reference.com) took a greater percentage of
their shots from midrange than those with lower usage rates. While
minimizing midrange shots is a good general rule at the team level, even
the most midrange-avoidant teams take 15-20 percent of their field
goals from that range, shots that high-usage players frequently have to
create from scratch.
Take, for instance, the 20
highest-usage players in the league. As a group, these players are
assisted on a much lower percentage of their field goals than the NBA
average, because in order to consume so many possessions, a player must
increasingly create scoring chances for himself. But even by those
players' already self-sufficient standards, they get very little help on
the 16-23 foot jumper.
Here are the percentages of assisted field goals by shot distance for
the 20 biggest possession users, versus the league average (see chart):
every other location, high-usage players are a uniform 13-14 percentage
points below the NBA average in terms of requiring assists. But on
16-23 foot jumpers, that number zooms to 17.6 percent, meaning the
degree of difficulty on midrange J's is upped considerably for the best
shot-creators. Whether they're forced to shoot under duress at the end
of the shot clock or trying other tough chances that no one else on the
floor is willing to take, this increased difficulty explains why
high-usage players are so valuable even if their efficiency isn't
Perhaps no player exemplifies this phenomenon more than Toronto's Andrea Bargnani.
Despised by some in the stats crowd, Bargnani perennially takes 25-30
percent of his shots from midrange, and as a predictable result his
efficiency metrics are always below average. Yet a regression to
determine player impact on offensive Four Factors found that Bargnani's
presence boosts the team's effective field goal percentage by 0.6 points
and reduces his team's turnover rate by 0.3 points while he's on the
For evidence corroborating his on-court
influence, check Toronto's record with (13-18, 42 percent winning
percentage) and without (7-19, 27 percent) him this season. On paper?
Bargnani is the textbook high-usage, low-efficiency player. But his
actual impact goes much further than that.
course, a more efficient player is preferable to a less efficient one,
given the same levels of usage and shot difficulty. But the next time
you see someone decry the midrange tendencies of a high-usage player
with low efficiency ratings, remember that at least some of that
apparent lack of efficiency is due to absorbing the (necessary) tough
shots that inevitably arise during a game. By being willing to take
those chances -- and make them at a higher rate than his teammates would
-- the high-usage player sacrifices his efficiency stats for the good
of the team as a whole.