Dirk Nowitzki

Who are the best mid-range shooters in the league?

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The mid-range game is becoming a bit of a lost art in the NBA, and for good reason: according to Hoopdata.com, NBA players make 64% of their shots at the rim and 36.2% of their threes (which translates to an eFG% of 54.3%), but only make 38.4% of their shots from 10-15 feet and 39.7% of their shots from 16-23 feet.

Given how big and athletic most NBA players are nowadays, it’s almost always more efficient to get a shot at the rim or an open three-pointer than it is to settle for a mid-range jumper, but the mid-range game does serve a purpose. Mid-range jumpers are the easiest shots to get off, they don’t lead to turnovers, they keep the defense honest, and they can open up driving lanes or free up three-point shooters. If the mid-range game is used correctly, it can be just as overwhelming to a defense as a punishing interior game or a barrage of threes, and some of the NBA’s best offenses (like Miami) still rely on mid-rage jumpers to keep the defense off balance.

There you have it — the best mid-range shooters in the NBA so far this season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the NBA’s best mid-range shooters:

Dirk Nowitzki:

Dirk is the best midrange shooter in the NBA, and it’s really not even close. Dirk is known for having a seven-foot frame and a sweet stroke, but the key to his success is how good he is at making “ugly” jumpers. Dirk is never quite on balance when he shoots over a defender from the high post or the midpost, but he’s never really rushing either — he takes his time, squares his shoulders to the target, fades away just enough to keep the defender from having any chance of blocking the shot and calmly shoots over him.

There are a number of players who have had “unblockable” shots over the years, either because they shot them so quickly the defender didn’t have time to react (Antawn Jamison comes to mind), or used a ridiculously high release to keep the ball away from the defender (Rasheed Wallace), but they had to sacrifice accuracy in order to keep their signature shots away from potential shot-blockers. That’s not the case with Dirk; his shot is unblockable, but it’s the exact shot he wants. Dirk’s fadeaway is now what Kareem’s skyhook was in the 70s and 80s: a shot that the offensive player is completely comfortable taking and the defensive player has no chance of stopping. (Blasphemy, you say? At 32 years old, Kareem averaged 24.8 PPG on 63.9% True Shooting; before getting injured, Dirk was averaging 24.1 PPG on 63.2% True Shooting.)

The numbers speak to just how devastating Dirk is from mid-range. Dirk makes 3.7 shots from 16-23 feet per game, which is easily the most in the league, and he makes a 53% of his attempts from that area — only Al Horford is more accurate from that range, and almost all of his midrange shots are catch-and-shoot opportunities. Dirk is also effective from the 10-15 foot range — he makes 1.7 shots from that range per game, which is tied for the league lead, and he makes an impressive 53% of those shots. Oh, and Dirk makes 40% of his threes, 76.3% of his shots at the rim, and 88% of his free throws. Dirk Nowitzki is better at putting a basketball in a 10-foot high hoop than you are at just about anything.

Dirk is having a historically great year from mid-range, but here are some other players whose mid-range exploits have been worthy of merit:

Al Horford:

A number of big men have all but mastered the art of the open catch-and-shoot 20-footer. Kevin Garnett and David West both make 48% of their 16-23 foot jumpers, Luis Scola makes 49% of his, pick-and-pop master Chris Bosh makes 46% of his, and Brandon Bass makes an incredible 52% of his. But as good as all of them are at the pick-and-pop jumper, Al Horford is nearly automatic: according to Hoopdata, Horford has made 57% of his 16-23 foot jumpers this season. It’s not like he rarely shoots them, either, because he takes nearly five jumpers from that range each game. Over 90% of his jumpers are assisted, but 57% is absolutely insane. I mean, Dwight Howard only makes 56.4% of his free throws.

Steve Nash:

Even though he’s mostly known for his passing, Nash is one of the best pure shooters the NBA has seen in the last few decades. Like Nowitzki, Nash is comfortable with a wide variety of shots that defenders have no chance of blocking, although Nash uses odd release angles and unorthodox footwork rather than his size to get his shots off. The results are the same, though — Nash can get a shot off from anywhere, at any time, and it will have a good chance of going in. Nash is “only” making 46% of his 16-23 foot shots, but he’s a master of the 10-15 foot range that most NBA players have no idea how to operate in: Nash averages one make from that area a game, and makes 56.7% of his attempts from the 10-15 foot range. I’ll also mention Ray Allen here — Allen’s shooting prowess is well-known, but the fact that he’s making 63% of his shots from 10-15 feet seems worth mentioning.

Luke Ridnour:

The lord of the pull-up jumper. Ridnour makes 56% of his jumpers from the 10-15 foot range, and 47% of his long twos despite the fact that only 9% of them are assisted.

Anthony Morrow:

Morrow is known for his three-point shooting, but he’s transformed himself into more of a “pure” shooter over the course of his young NBA career. Morrow is shooting 53.6% on 10-15 foot shots and 51% on 16-23 foot shots, making him one of few players who makes over half his shots from both areas. Do not leave Anthony Morrow unguarded.

There you have it — the best mid-range shooters in the NBA at this point in the season. I went with accuracy over volume for this list, which is why players like Carmelo, Kobe and Durant were left off — there’s no doubt that those guys are taking far tougher shots than most of the players listed above, but they’re also barely making more than 40% of their midrange jumpers. Besides, those guys get plenty of glory as is; let’s take a second to celebrate the guys who have been quietly knocking down the mid-range jumpers that open up those driving lanes and keep defenses from loading up on the superstars. And Dirk Nowitzki. He’s a freak. Get well soon, Dirk.

Ex-NBA player Kermit Washington arrested in Los Angeles

ASHEVILLE, NC - APRIL 16:  Assistant coach Kermit Washington of the Asheville Altitude reacts to a call during the game against the Huntsville Flight in the NBDL semifinal playoff game at the Asheville Civic Center on April 16, 2005 in Asheville, North Carolina. The Altitude won 90-86 to advance to the championship game. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2005 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kermit Washington, a former NBA player who notoriously gave a bone-breaking face punch to the Houston Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich during a 1977 Lakers game, has been arrested by federal agents.

Washington was arrested on a warrant Tuesday in Los Angeles. It’s unknown if he has a lawyer.

Officials won’t discuss the arrest, but they have set a news conference for Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri.

That’s where football Hall of Famer Ron Mix pleaded guilty Monday to filing false tax returns.

Authorities say Mix, a San Diego-area lawyer, paid someone to refer clients to him in return for donations to the charity Contact Project Africa.

Prosecutors say Mix paid $155,000, but the money went into his associate’s pocket.

Washington founded the charity, which is no longer functioning.

Dwyane Wade creates tie, sale proceeds benefit Craig Sager’s foundation

PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 13:  Assistant coach Dwyane Wade of the Rookie team is interviewed by Craig Sager during the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 13, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Sager Strong.

Despite undergoing chemotherapy to battle the acute myeloid leukemia that has returned to his body, Sager has been a sideline reporter for TNT through these playoffs and the Western Conference Finals, doing as many games as he can. He’s been an inspiration to everyone in the business, and to fans. Dwight Howard put together a blood drive in his honor.

Now, Dwyane Wade has partnered with The Tie Rack, creating a tie where the proceeds of the sale go the SAGERSTRONG Foundation, created by Sager.

From the Tie Rack page:

Proceeds from the sale of this tie will be donated directly to the SAGERSTRONG Foundation, Inc., founded in support of TNT sports personality Craig Sager. SAGERSTRONG works with various charitable partners to support the treatment of those suffering from blood cancers and AML.

“Together, we can play defense on cancer, one tie at a time.” Much love, Dwyane Wade.

The tie sells for $25 (and you can get a matching pocket square for $15). If you wear ties, you can join me in picking one up and helping out a good cause.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)

PBT’s NBA 2016 Draft Pospect Preview: Skal Labissiere

DES MOINES, IA - MARCH 17:  Skal Labissiere #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts after making a basket against the Stony Brook Seawolves in the first half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 17, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Skal Labissiere had one of the weirdest freshman seasons that I can remember seeing since I’ve been doing this job. He entered the year as arguably the best prospect in college basketball, a projected top two pick and the guy expected to anchor the front line for a national title contender in Kentucky. He played well for about a month … and then totally went in the tank. John Calipari lost confidence in him. He lost confidence in himself. His minutes evaporated.

By the middle of SEC play, he was a total non-factor for the Wildcats.

But then Labissiere started to put the pieces together. There was an 11-point, 8-rebound performance at Florida that seemed to wake him up. He followed that up with 18 points, nine boards and six blocks in a dominating win over LSU and Ben Simmons, the other guy that thought to be the No. 1 recruit in his class. His numbers down the stretch weren’t all that impressive, but anyone watching him play could see the difference.

And that’s where things get interesting for Skal. Because he had a season that would make you believe he had no chance of ever playing in the NBA. Yet there’s a good chance that he’ll end up getting picked in the lottery. How is that possible?

Height: 6′ 11.75″
Weight: 216
Wingspan: 7′ 2.5″
2015-16 Stats: 6.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 15.8 mpg

STRENGTHS: Have you seen his shooting stroke?

Seriously, have you? Look at this:

This dude measured in a quarter-inch short of seven-feet, and he’s out here shooting like that. I’m not really concerned about what his shooting numbers were this season  — he shot 41.5 percent on jumpers, which isn’t good considering he shot just one three — because I think what happened to Skal at Kentucky had a whole lot more to do with confidence than ability — we’ll get to all that — but anyone with even a minor sense of basketball intellect can watch him shoot and see a guy that can make NBA threes at a very good clip.

Now think about where the NBA is heading these days. They call it small-ball, right? But it’s less about “small-ball” than it is about spacing the floor with shooters, and it just so happens that most of the guys that can shoot are small. Put another way, big dudes that can shoot have real value. Channing Frye has a four-year, $32-million contract with Cleveland right now. Marreese Speights might win his second straight NBA title with the Warriors. What do those guys have in common? They’re big and they can shoot.

And not only that, but Skal is fluid and agile, meaning he doesn’t just project as a pick-and-pop threat. He’s got a post game. He’s got a face-up game. He could, one day, be a really, really good offensive weapon. He’s also a much better shot-blocker than he gets credit for, averaging over four blocks per-40 minutes as a freshman. He’s got issues defensively — again, we’ll get to that — but they don’t include length, athleticism and a sense of timing as a shot-blocker.

There’s a reason that scouts have loved his potential for a long time.

WEAKNESSES: There are many, which is the reason why people are fairly shocked to see where he stands in mock drafts.

Physically, the biggest weakness for Skal right now is, simply, that he’s too weak. He weighs all of 216 pounds, according to the measurements at the NBA Combine. He needs to add a good 20-30 pounds of muscle if he’s going to have a prayer of holding his own in the post in the NBA. And as he gets stronger physically he’s going to get stronger with the ball. Not only did he get beaten up in the paint last season but he had trouble corralling rebounds and holding onto the ball in traffic.

Toughness was also a problem for him. Some bigs love going bow-for-bow in the post. Some don’t. Skal may be the latter. He’s got no ‘dog’ to him. He’s never going to be Draymond Green or Steven Adams. And while that will likely improve as he gets stronger, he may just be a kid that’s too nice for his own good. Given the role he’s projected to play, that may not end up being too much of a problem if he’s at least strong enough to hold position on the block; his long-term value is as a guy that can guard fives while pulling them away from the rim at the other end of the floor.

His mental toughness, or lack thereof, will be, but I’ll get to that in a second.

For me, the single biggest issue Skal is facing is that he lacks feel and basketball IQ because he just hasn’t played all that much basketball in his life. He didn’t play his junior season in high school because of a stress fracture in his back. His senior season he spent at something called Reach Your Dream Prep, which was a prep school team created out of thin air after his guardian totally mishandled a transfer of high schools. In other words, prior to Kentucky, he had never really been coached before.

And you can see that in the way that he played. I think the best way to describe it is that he was robotic. He didn’t react to plays. He didn’t read what was happening around him. He had to think it through, and as the adage goes, ‘when you think, you stink’. He strikes me as a kid that was spent far too much of his basketball life working through drills and has no idea has to translate what he’s been working on into an actual game.

He was slow to react offensively. He was even slower to react defensively, where his quick feet and knack for shot-blocking helped hide the fact that he was more or less clueless on positional defending for the majority of the season. That’s part of the reason he was seemingly always in foul trouble. Being too weak was a major cause as well, and after every mistake he made he got an earful from head coach John Calipari back on the bench.

And when you put all of that together, what you got was a player whose confidence was totally shattered by the middle of the season.

That’s where the issue of mental toughness comes into play. Coach Cal has a philosophy with these perimeter-oriented bigs: he’s going to play them in the post. It worked for Karl-Anthony Towns. It didn’t work quite as well with Skal, but you could see him start to put the pieces together by the end of the season.

Put another way, Skal’s flaws were exacerbated and magnified because he was broken mentally. He didn’t believe in himself, partly because he wasn’t ready to handle what he had to handle at Kentucky. The question NBA teams have to answer: Will that change once he learns how to play the game?

NBA COMPARISON: Channing Frye.

I really like Skal’s potential, but I’m not sure he quite reaches his ceiling. The role I see him playing in the NBA for the next 10-12 years is as a center that thrives in a pace-and-space offense. That’s Channing Frye. He’s never averaged more than 12.7 points or 6.7 boards in a season, but he’s now been in the league for 11 years and just signed a contract with $32 million over four years because he’s 6-foot-11 and shoots 38.6 percent from three.

And this isn’t a perfect comparison, either, because Frye has never been a shot-blocker. There have only been 14 players in NBA history that have shot better than 35 percent from three (attempting at least one three per game) and averaged 1.5 blocks in a season. Donyell Marshall in 2003-04 is the only player that did so and shot better than 40 percent from three.

OUTLOOK: Skal is something of a lottery ticket. His size, his fluidity and his shooting ability gives him a ceiling close to LaMarcus Aldridge, but it’s inarguable that he has a long, long way to go to get there. The issues surrounding his in-game experience is something that people seem to gloss over when discussing him.

The fact that he’s still quite raw is good and bad. Whatever organization picks him is going to have to come to terms with the fact that he won’t be an impact NBA player for a year or two. But they’re also not going to have to erase any bad habits. He’s more or less a blank canvas that can be molded into whatever that coach wants him to be. He’s also a hard-worker — a jump-shot like that doesn’t just come naturally — and I think that, eventually, he’ll add the strength that will allow him to handle the rigors of playing this level of basketball.

The question is whether or not he’ll ever develop that feel or those basketball instincts that he lacks. I don’t have an answer for that, but in a draft that is this week, a guy with his potential in a role that has extreme value in this iteration of the NBA, I think he’s absolutely worth a first round pick, maybe even a late lottery pick. Just hope that he ends up in a good situation.

Tyronn Lue says Cavaliers have “seen what we need to do;” expect more Channing Frye

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 19:  Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts during the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 19, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Coming into the Eastern Conference Finals, when Kevin Love and Channing Frye shared the court and the Cavaliers played small it was a devastating lineup for opponents. Other teams struggled to match up with the shooting and spacing.

Against the Raptors, it hasn’t worked that way. Love and Fry have played only 12 minutes together and are +4.8 points per 100 possessions in that very small sample size (below the team average of +6.8 for the series). The last couple games Love has sat the fourth and Frye has played — because Frye is making his shots, which starts to pull Bismack Biyombo out of the post. Tyronn Lue ran plays for Love early on in Game 4, he was aggressive and he got good looks, he just missed them.

After watching the tape from Game 4, Lue said he has a plan — expect more Frye and more small ball from Cleveland. Via Chris Fedor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“We had a great film session today and we’ve seen what we need to do,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’re ready and prepared for it…

They have used a “take what the defense gives” approach, which will continue to be the plan, even after it led to 82 3-pointers in the last two games despite dominating the paint in the first two games.

“I think when you penetrate and they collapse the floor, you’ve got to make the right play, and if the play’s a kick out, the guy’s got an open shot, he has to take it and he has to knock it down,” Lue said. “We’re not really coming down, looking and saying we want to force 3-point shots. That’s not what we’re trying to do. You could see that in the first two games. We just took what the defense gave us and now the defense gives us a three-point shot, so we got to step up and make them….

“I liked it a lot,” Lue said of the (small ball) lineup before admitting it would be used more moving forward.

That’s part of the equation. But as our own Dan Feldman pointed out today, the Cavaliers are generating open looks, they just aren’t knocking them down. The offense works, and going small could create even more opportunities.

However, if you can generate looks, well, it’s still a make or miss league (to use the coaching cliché). Cleveland just needs those looks to fall.

On the other side, will Lowry and Biyombo continue their hot play once they leave Toronto? They have a lot to prove as well, and likely against a Cavs team playing much better ball.