By: Andrew Dieckhoff | June 22, 2019
Four MWC Players Who Defy the “Bad Shot” Narrative
These shooters challenge the conventional wisdom of analytics
Which Mountain West shooters have the best mid-range game?
One of the most well-documented and controversial positions of basketball’s analytics movement is that mid-range jumpers are “bad shots”. This position came under heavy fire during the recent NBA playoffs.
Seemingly every time someone knocked down a 15-footer, Twitter came ablaze with folks – including a strong contingent of current and former players – condemning advanced stats in favor of common sense and letting players play.
None other than LeBron James delivered one the most succinct examples of this debate:
That’s exactly why I don’t wanna hear all that analytics talk! In PLAYOFF games when it usually come down to 1/2 possession games down the stretch, just get me bucket! The best shot during that possession. And if it’s a Pull-up 2 then so be it cause it was the best SHOT!
— LeBron James (@KingJames) May 12, 2019
But, as a self-proclaimed “analytics guy”, let me just say this: both camps are right.
Well, kind of.
The reason that the mid-range shot has fallen out of favor with proponents of the analytics movement is because it provides, mathematically, the worst balance of risk and reward on the floor. Shots at the rim are made at a much higher clip, while three-pointers, though slightly harder to make, are more valuable. That’s just basic math.
So, if you’re Team X and you are looking to maximize efficiency, then layups and threes are the most statistically-sound methods. And in this world of data-driven decision making, efficiency is king. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every mid-range jumper is necessarily a “bad shot”. It means that on average, it’s relatively high-risk and low-reward.
In reality, if you can find a guy who can hit mid-range jumpers with regularity, you’ve actually struck gold. Guys who can knock down those long twos and floaters in the lane help to keep the defense honest. These players create space for their teammates by pulling defenders off the three-point line and drawing bigs out from the low post. If these guys are also deep threats, a solid pump-fake can fool defenders and lead to uncontested pull-up jumpers.
For these guys, there really is no such thing as a bad shot.
With that in mind, I’ve analyzed data from Bart Torvik’s website and found four players who are returning to the Mountain West this season that shot better than 40% on over 100 mid-range attempts, while also averaging three or more attempts per game from downtown.
Lavelle Scottie, Air Force – 47.6%, 206 FGA
Scottie really makes his bones in No Man’s Land, shooting over half of his field goals from the mid-range. He was extremely effective at the rim (72%) for the Falcons, but not so much when he took that extra step or two backwards.
The returning senior shot a pretty pedestrian 29% on his 107 three-point attempts. That may have been an anomaly, though, as he shot 35.4% on 96 attempts from beyond the arc in 2018.
Alex Hobbs, Boise State – 46.2%, 119 FGA
Hobbs established himself as one of the conference’s most accurate shooters last season. While his total volume of shots is not quite as high the other guys on this list – and certainly not as high as Leonard’s share during his time at San Diego State – he is one of only three returning Mountain West players to post a 60/40/35 shooting-percentage split from the rim, mid-range, and three-point line.
Sam Merrill, Utah State – 43.8%, 137 FGA
The reigning MWC Player of the Year has earned the green light from anywhere on the court. Merrill is another MWC player with the 60/40/35 split, but he did at much higher volumes. In fact, he is one of only seven returning players nationwide to achieve these percentages with at least 100 attempts from each spot on the court.
That said, Merrill is a long-range shooter first and foremost, so while he will likely end up as a pro, he’s less likely to become another mid-range poster child.
Justinian Jessup, Boise State – 42.9%, 112 FGA
Jessup is similar to Merrill in that both players are better-known for their three-point shooting. The Broncos’ leading scorer from a year ago is also the other 60/40/35 player on this list.
Another performance like that could land him All-MWC First Team honors this season. Jessup’s 40.6% three-point percentage is by far the best on this list. But just like Merrill, if Jessup plays pro ball, he would likely be primarily a spot-up shooter.
In reality, it’s a longshot to assume that any of these players can become anything close to the next Kawhi Leonard. But if you’re searching for another Mountain West product who can provide a little mid-range ammunition in the Analytics Wars, this list might be a good place to start.
Andrew Dieckhoff covers basketball for Mountain West Wire. He also runs the Dieckhoff Power Index, a website for college basketball analytics and bracketology.
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