When Stephen Curry broke Ray Allen’s 3-point record last week, the discussion was not just centered around Curry’s individual greatness as a shooter, but how he changed the game and ushered in the 3-point revolution in the NBA.
The exponential growth of the 3-point shot at all levels of the game – NBA, college, high school, AAU – has had a significant side effect: the devaluation and essential disappearance of the mid-range game.
The analytics behind this evolution make sense; if you’re going to shoot a 2-point shot, you want the highest percentage shot possible (dunks, layups and shots near the basket). If you’re going to move away outside the paint and from the basket – which generally leads to lower shooting percentages – it’s better to shoot a 3-point shot for the reward of the extra point for each make rather than a long 2-point shot.
That theory has left the mid-range – the area inside the 3-point line but outside the key – as the dead zone on the floor, the least efficient shot in the game, the lava in the basketball version of Floor is Lava.
As the chart above indicates, the percentage of all field goal attempts from the mid-range has dropped from 30.3% to just 13.1% over the past decade as more and more players try to extend their shooting range beyond the 3-point line and spread the floor.
The curve has flattened over the past three seasons as some players and teams still see value in the mid-range shot. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the top 10 mid-range shooters in the league and see which players have excelled in mastering the lost art of the mid-range jumper.
Topping the list in both mid-range field goals made (4.0 per game) and attempted (8.3 per game) is Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan, who has been one of the most prolific mid-range shooters in the league for years. DeRozan has ranked in the top five in mid-range field goals made per game eight times in the past 10 seasons and never finished lower than 11th.
In Chicago’s win over Los Angeles on Sunday, DeRozan finished with 38 points, with half of them coming in the fourth quarter – one layup, one driving runner in the lane, five free throws and five mid-range jumpers.
- DeRozan 16′ Pullup Jump Shot (21 PTS)
- DeRozan 4′ Fadeaway Jumper (23 PTS)
- DeRozan Free Throw 1 Of 1 (24 PTS)
- DeRozan 12′ Fadeaway Jumper (26 PTS)
- DeRozan 15′ Turnaround Fadeaway (28 PTS)
- DeRozan 2′ Driving Layup (30 PTS)
- DeRozan 15′ Turnaround Fadeaway (32 PTS)
- DeRozan Free Throw 1 Of 2 (33 PTS)
- DeRozan Free Throw 2 Of 2 (34 PTS)
- DeRozan 20′ Pullup Jump Shot (36 PTS)
- DeRozan Free Throw 1 Of 2 (37 PTS)
- DeRozan Free Throw 2 Of 2 (38 PTS)
DeMar DeRozan WENT OFF for 19 PTS in the 4th vs. the Lakers 🔥 pic.twitter.com/C11TO9RNFE
— NBA TV (@NBATV) December 20, 2021
Players like DeRozan, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Paul have found value in the mid-range shot over the past decade while the rest of the league moved away from the mid-range. And as more offenses started to stretch the floor and avoid the mid-range, defenses have had to adjust. In today’s game, most defenses try to force opponents to shoot from the mid-range – they don’t want to give up 3-pointers and shots at the rim.
“A lot of (opposing) teams will live with it. I look at it like, if a team will live with that, why not try to figure out how to master that?"
DeMar DeRozan's midrange mastery transforming Bulls in crunch timehttps://t.co/LxDjZcyKo2
— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) December 21, 2021
The mid-range jumper is a primary example of taking what the defense gives you. And if you can master what opposing defenses will give away, then you can thrive. And if you can do both – like Durant – then you’re unstoppable.
While DeRozan has scored at least 22% of his points from mid-range every season of his career and only scored more than 10% on 3-point shots twice in 13 seasons, Durant has found an incredible balance to his scoring as he truly does score on from all three levels – beyond the 3-point line (18.7% of his points), in the mid-range (26.2% of his points) and in the paint (33.9% of his points) – and he gets to the free throw line (21.3% of his points).
While teams know what to take away with DeRozan, there is no spot on the floor to try to force Durant to score – he can simply do it from everywhere. Durant is one of two Nets to rank in the top 10 in mid-range scoring as LaMarcus Aldridge ranks sixth with 2.7 mid-range field goals made per game.
|PLAYER||TEAM||AGE||MID-RANGE FGM||MID-RANGE FGA||MID-RANGE FG%|
Similar to DeRozan, the mid-range game has been a staple for Aldridge for years and for years he resisted trying to become the latest big man to move his game beyond the arc. He relented a few seasons ago and expanded his range, with 3-point shots accounting for 26.4% of his points last season between San Antonio and Brooklyn. So far, this season has been a throwback with 39% of his points coming from mid-range and 9.5% from three.
The Nets are one of three teams with a pair of teammates ranked in the top 10 along with Phoenix’s Chris Paul (and his deadly elbow jumpers) and Devin Booker, and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Seth Curry.
Curry is the only player in the league that is shooting at least 40% from 3-point range and 50% from mid-range. Among the 168 players that have attempted at least 20 mid-range shots so far this season, Curry has the top mid-range field goal percentage at 61.8% (68-110) so far this season. Shot location data has been collected since the 1996-97 season; since that time there has been only one player to shoot over 60% from mid-range while attempting at least 50 mid-range shots over the course of a full season: Stephen Curry in 2017-18. Can Seth join his older brother this season?
One key stat that must be noted when looking at this top 10 list is age, as six of the top 10 players in mid-range field goals made per game are in their 30s (DeRozan, Durant, Aldridge, Paul George, Curry, Paul), with two over 35. Part of the 3-point revolution is that young players entering the league are more focused on the three than they are the mid-range shot.
What will happen when the players on this list eventually exit the league? Will the mid-range shot decline further, or will these players have proven that the mid-range shot still has value and inspire younger players to embrace the lava as well?