The Houston Rockets, owners of the best record in the league, loudly detest the mid-range jumpshot.
Daryl Morey, the team’s visionary general manager, has built a team that shoots threes, scores inside the point, and gets to the free throw line. This strict diet stretches defenses and produces mathematically-pleasing shot selections.
The team is incredibly disciplined at avoiding mid-range jumpers. It’s not worth as much as a three-pointer, not as efficient as layup, and is usually well-guarded without much of a chance to get the line. Mid-range jumpers used to be staples of past NBA offenses, but most good teams have recently cut down on them.
But having such a philosophy can be exploited. In the March 9th matchup between the Toronto Raptors and Rockets, the Raptors kept their big men Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl in the paint on pick and rolls. This gave them plenty of time to contest James Harden and Chris Paul on their drives to the rim. For the most part, the strategy worked: Harden especially is not too comfortable pulling up for the open mid-range shot.
The Warriors have an almost opposite philosophy from the Rockets: they’ve found open spaces in the mid-range, and embraced scoring from that area.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Ben Cohen notes the Warriors’ efficiency from the mid-range is not only the highest in the league, it’s the best since the NBA started tracking the statistic. It’s largely a recent development: the Warriors weren’t outstanding in this department in previous seasons.
The difference between the Warriors and other teams is a bunch of mid-range artists on other teams are simply not as good at both selecting good shots and making them. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant are not only three of the best mid-range shooters in the game, but they also are more likely to get open looks there than others. David West, one of the best mid-range shooters in the game, is going to get open shots as well when the Warriors’ other stars are on the floor. The open mid-range looks are a direct result of opponents respecting the Warriors’ threes and finishing.
It’s also generally a good strategy to take mid-range jumpers in the regular season. Driving into the lane is both tiring and precarious. And come the playoffs, being dangerous from all three levels (beyond the arc, midrange, and at the rim) will likely be lethal.
We know the Warriors stars are the league’s best from three-point range (their bench is another story). Steph and KD are quietly two of the best finishers in the league. Scoring better than anybody in the league from the midrange is the final layer to a devastating offense.