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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.