Most of us have heard the noise; taking any shots besides layups or triples is inefficient. On that issue, we likely fall into four main distinct categories:
- True Disciple – Has listened to the stat guys and then tested/charted the premise for one’s self and steadfastly insists that his players refrain from any shot that falls in between. For lack of better terms, all of these shots are called “mid-range”.
- Pragmatist – Has done the math and basically adheres to the premise but maintains that it is impossible for players to turn down all mid-range shots and encourages good looks wherever they originate.
- Pragmatist II– Is satisfied with the program he has created and doesn’t see any need to change or complicate matters. Likely a successful veteran.
- Protester – Doesn’t even like the terms “analytics” or “advanced stats” for any number of reasons and is totally eye-test oriented but is aware of this particular advanced stat and others.
With those descriptions as a backdrop, let’s examine some thoughts that coaches in all four categories might consider:
- No matter what kind of game one watches from the NBA to High School, in most games there are a number of mid-range shots taken. The number will vary depending on the offensive coach’s philosophy and the types of defenses encountered.
- Watch an NBA or NCAA game tonight and chart the shots in the three areas. Draw your own conclusions.
- Very few coaches argue against the validity of Effective FG% and the rewards for made 3PT FG’s.
- Very few coaches will argue that over the long haul for MOST teams, Effective FG% will be higher if you just compute every shot but mid-range shots.
- Defining a mid-range shot isn’t as easy as it sounds. For instance, are jump hooks, turnarounds from the block, long tip-ins, some baseline inbounds buckets in the lane-mid-range shots or not.
- We all would agree that made shots from beyond the arc help to create made layups and vice-versa.
- But, would we all agree that the threat of an open mid-range shot also creates good looks from the arc and at the rim? The most obvious example would be a high post catch against a zone. Would we let that player shoot all night at will from that area to prevent kick-outs to the perimeter and high-low passes? I think not. The THREAT of open mid-range shots can be very effective.
- The art of the pull-up jumper has been on the decline but is currently on the comeback. Just as every sport has its tug-of-war between offense and defense, hoops is no different. Defenses are packing the line and protecting the rim. Common sense tells one there are openings in the middle.
- Players get fouled all the time between the arc and rim if they are threatening. Those points created are mid-range. Why wouldn’t we think they are effective?
- Not every player and every team shoots treys efficiently. Should these players and teams keep firing away?
- No two teams play alike. Coaches are constantly on the hunt for how best their current team needs to play and with what personnel. Case in point-one has two lock-down defenders who can’t make triples. They are plus players. Do they play or sit?
- Charting our own teams and our opponents will give us the answers on this issue- if we’re looking for them.
- Shooting a high Effective FG% is important If it leads to winning.
- Shooting a lower Effective FG% can also lead to winning. However, other factors probably need to be in play.
Nice job laying out all of the considerations. There’s no debating the value of having effective 3 point shooters on your team and the reasons that the wide open 3 point shot is the “best value” in all of basketball – essentially a 3 point free throw whereby the player has practiced enough and developed the muscle memory on how much to weight the shot (unlike mid range shots that involve the complexity of varying shot weight, generally more defensive pressure, all for 1/3 less points). I would say I’m a pragmatist and you can’t open up any type of shot without the threat of different shots so you need some mid range shots but you have to be VERY SELECTIVE on those.
As we are fully in the generation of “3 or Key” basketball, I’ll add another line of discussion that relates to middle school basketball (and to some degree elementary school basketball) where not all players have the strength or mechanics to be effective from the 3 point line: How do coaches go about deciding who is permitted to take a 3 pointer? Personally I tell my players I want them ALL to be able to shoot 3s AT SOME POINT, but they need to “qualify” by showing the coaches both a) sound mechanics in shooting the 3 (no chucking or rotating, maintaining balance, etc.) and b) effective proficiency (which varies by age).
Thank you for your detailed comments-especially the middle school/elementary school insights!
Protestor here. Best open shot always are the highest success rate %%%
Got 35 seconds to get that shot.
Thanks for your comment, Coach! No argument here.
John Wooden taught that an open uncontested 15 footer was better than a closely guarded contested layup
Thanks, Coach! Great point. The conclusion that is inherent in Coach Wooden’s observation and your quoting it is ” closely guarded contested layups are only occasionally successful when the shooter successfully “changes” the shot at the rim or the defender or ref bails him out.”
Not sure if I am a “Pragmatist” or a “Protester” or some combination of both. Consider the following:
1. The three-point shot was introduced first and primarily, to reverse the steady decline in scoring that had become the norm by the mid-1980’s, and secondarily, to create the possibility of an exciting late-game changer. Yet, since its inception in 1986-87, scoring has declined at an average rate of 0.23 per season. Despite adding a point to long- range field goals, overall scoring today is still lower than its high forty-seven years ago. The game-changing impact of three-pointer, dramatically reinforced by incessant highlight playbacks on ESPN, masks this simple reality. http://betterthanalayup.com/decline-fall/
2. The most telling trend of all – one largely ignored by the media – is not the decline in the total number of points scored but in the number of field goals attempted and made. If you watched a typical college game last season you saw about the same number of baskets as your father or grandfather saw back in 1951-52, an era when many players were still shooting one and two-handed set shots. The fact that some field goals today count for three rather than two is irrelevant.
3. Many popular analytic sites use “play-by-play” game logs as their fundamental source of information. Unfortunately, play-by-play logs compress all shot attempts into three locations starting with the two extremes: at the rim and three-pointers. Everything in between is considered a midrange jump shot. A 12’ baby jumper is statistically treated the same as a shot attempt just inside the three-point arc. In other words, today’s definition of a midrange jumper is totally different than earlier eras.
4. Most teams today have a no midrange game. In fact, several generations of players have come and gone without ever mastering a 12’ jumper or simple bank shot from the wing. The vast majority of today’s young coaches never played in the midrange themselves, have no knowledge of how to coach it, and are ignorant of the sets and schemes that produce it. Once today’s guards get into an area 10’- 15’ feet from the basket, they force their way to the rim and if denied, attempt to pitch the ball to the corner in hopes of a three-pointer. It’s all predetermined because they lack the confidence to pull up in traffic and hit the short jumper. There’s no third option. Defenses, of course, are not stupid. They invite the midrange pull-up by taking away the either/or game, forcing the attacker to take the one shot he is coached to avoid, he seldom practices, and has no confidence in making. http://betterthanalayup.com/consequences/
5. The emergence of the jump shot in the late 1940’s followed by its rapid adoption across the country in the 1950’s liberated the offensive player to maneuver on his own. The jump shooter’s quick release combined with the height attained made it necessary for the defensive player to play much tighter than what was previously needed. The defender’s aggressiveness made him vulnerable to the fake and drive and, in particular, to a brand, new maneuver — the lethal pull-up jumper. No longer would teams have to rely on intricate passing and patterned movement to free a shooter long enough to attempt a two-handed or one-handed set shot. Now players could catch and shoot while moving. Quickness became a player’s greatest asset. The pull-up jumper IS modern basketball. With the exception of traditional big men like Jabbar, Chamberlain, and their kind, all great players master the pull-up. If you can’t take it and make it with some regularity, you can’t really play basketball.
6. I finally turned off the Gonzaga – UNC game the other night, when having cut the lead from 16 to 9 with plenty of time to go, a Zag passed up a simple 4-footer to pitch the ball to the corner for a three that was missed. Instead of cutting the lead to 7, they went for broke and their comeback effort crashed and burned in the process.
Tremendous additions to the forum, Coach! Feedback and discussions like this are really the intention of the site and soundboard.
Great article Don! Lot of insights in your article about mid-range shots. A lot of work and the right mindset . Footwork plays a big role in these shots.
I slowly progressed to only 3’s and layups. We play with a shot clock in Canada, so sometimes it is not practical to pass up an open midrange. But we are “not looking for the midrange”. We also do not want hook shots etc. in the 6 to 8 foot range. That shot usually not requires a lot of skill, but often is shot with a defender making contact as referees allow contact in the post.
It also means that a lot of practice and development time has to be devoted to 3 point shooting and drills that refine finishing at the rim.
We had a lot of success with this philosophy and by showing the players the stats from our games they really bought in.
A must read book is Sprawl Ball.
Thanks, Coach. Your insights are very meaningful. This topic has drawn a lot of interest, passion and intelligent dialogue.
Always best open shot If everything equal would of course take a 3 But that’s the deal Not everything is ever equal. I’ll take an open looking 2 vs contested 3. Plus in high school you can’t choose your kids Some kids are just great mid range kids and can’t shoot 3s
Also warriors were one of the best mid range teams in the last decade. Even long 2s Klay. KD Livingston. Etc. Nobody seems to know that.
Thanks Coach! High school and Warriors’ observations very important.
I am a “True Disciple.” These are all great comments about the offensive side of the equation but what many coaches don’t realize is what shooting 3s with multiple players does to a defense.
The SPACING is amazing! As a coach, If you add a BIG with a 3-Point shot that pulls his defender out to the 3-point line for a “contest,” the amount of space an offense has to run ANYTHING and/or DO ANYTHING is unbelievable. I would also argue because of the “long shots, long rebounds” that some of the layups come even easier because many defensive players have no idea where the ball is going to go and have a hard time rebounding it.
If you read “SprawlBall” like the coach mentioned above you will notice there are numerous pages about the spacing and what it does to a defense. The author Kirk Goldsberry specifically points out what Ryan Anderson meant to the Houston Rockets for being able to shoot even further out from the 3-point arc to mess with Kawhi Leanard’s defensive spacing. I believe Mr. Goldsberry suggested that it messed up with Kawhi’s defense enough to “make a difference.” There is a quote out on the web from Steve Kerr, ““The 3-point line and the range that players are showing with their 3-point shooting, it’s changing the way defenses have to think.” That’s the key to the whole thing. How are you going to “defend” SprawlBall?
From the coaches perspective, If you “man up” and lock down your man on the perimeter, good luck with that. Don’t get me wrong. Some teams can and do this effectively. It is really dependent on how good the shooting team is from the perimeter.
On the other hand, If you “zone up,” the shooting team will kill you. You can see it in the offensive players eyes as they go out on the court. They basically come out drooling knowing they get to come out and fire away as long as they move the ball. You see example after example of this in college and high school.
Midrange is easy to DEFEND. Midrange is dead.
My 1 cent. Thanks for a great conversation. – Coach Jean-Claude
Thank you, Coach! Far more than 1 cent. Within the last year, I read somewhere that for every foot a defender has to step out the contest a shooter (a good one, I’m guessing), it makes 22 sq ft of space elsewhere harder to defend.
Robert M Knight once described the perfect offence as “only take open shots within your range.” I think that still applies to this debate. It takes into account the ability of your individual players. And you can scheme your offence accordingly.
Thanks Coach! Very succinct. Coach Knight quote reminds us of the many simple insights he had that shaped our game.
First coach thanks for invoking these great discussions with all of the fantastic and well thought out responses. I am just getting caught up on your articles over the last couple of years so please forgive this late response.
However, I can think of one example in recent history that shows the mid-range is on its way back. Given, it was an extraordinary individual performance, it still clearly shows that not always going for the three can still win you BIG games. If any of you saw game three of the 2020 NBA finals, Jimmy Butler showed that the midrange is not going away. Against one of the best Laker teams put together recently, in game three, for me he elevated the necessity of the midrange and the layup. Remember he did it without BAM or Gorin on the court. Further, one might argue his performance in game five was even better.
Let me leave you with an excerpt from an article by sportswriter Shaun Powell. Writing for the NBA he said of Butler’s performance. “This was Butler: 35 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, five steals. He scored nine of the Heat’s last 11 points. He feasted on mid-range shots and layups, further damaging his reputation among the analytics crowd. He was 12-for-12 from the free throw line. He took command in most of the crucial moments and possessions, saving a few for the undrafted Duncan Robinson, who blistered from deep by making 7-of-13. And he took the task of guarding LeBron, burning calories on the other end of the court as well.”
To me the midrange makes for great basketball as well, and the pendulum is starting its swing back to a balanced approach of three pointers, midrange and low post shots. At least it’s what I hope. All the best Coach …….
Thanks again, Bob! Of all the Hoop Coach articles I’ve contributed, none has received as much feedback as the “mid-range” debate. The Jimmie Butler reference is a perfect example of mid-range efficiency. Best regards!