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.

PBT Podcast: Conference Finals now best of three; plus Metta World Peace

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Both NBA Conference Finals are tied 2-2 in both the East and West — and breaking that down is not even the best part of this podcast.

That’s because NBA champion Metta World Peace joins us to talk about his new book, “No Malice: My Life in Basketball or: How a Kid from Queensbridge Survived the Streets, the Brawls, and Himself to Become an NBA Champion.” World Peace discusses the time he cracked Michael Jordan’s ribs in a summer game, how he was nervous before Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2010, and how he was a pioneer in NBA players talking about mental health. (Metta’s portion of the podcast starts at 30:17, if you want to skip ahead).

Prior to that, Dan Feldman and Kurt Helin of NBC Sports dive into a discussion of the two conference finals series. LeBron James brought Cleveland back, but with the Celtics going home will the young players wearing green respond and change the momentum around again?

Do the Warriors have another gear and the ability to win another game on the road in Houston? How are both of those teams going to deal with fatigue from their tight rotations and intense games?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Clippers extend contract of coach Doc Rivers

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While not many people were noticing, Doc Rivers did arguably his best coaching job since coming to Los Angeles this season. Chris Paul forced his way to Houston before the season, then during it Blake Griffin was shipped off to Detroit. Then there were the injuries to Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari, two players expected to be key contributors who played a combined 32 games. The offense too often felt like Lou Williams vs. The World, yet the Clippers finished above .500 (42-40) and pushed for a playoff spot until the final days of the regular season.

The Clippers noticed what a good job he did, and how well he handled things after losing his GM powers to Lawrence Frank. That’s why they have rewarded him with a contract extension (the details of which are not yet public).

“I am proud of the success we have had here over the last five seasons, but there is more work to be done,” said Rivers in a statement released by the team. “We are coming off a year where our team battled through many challenges and much adversity, proving deep talent and even greater potential. I am looking forward to getting back to work on the court to develop our players and compete with the NBA’s elite.”

“Doc is one of the top coaches in the NBA, coming off one of his finest seasons since joining the Clippers,” Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer said in a statement. “We trust Doc to lead a competitive, tough, hard-working team while upholding a culture of accountability expected to resonate throughout the organization.”

Rivers was entering the final year of his contract, and neither side wanted him to be in a lame duck status.

For a Clippers franchise in transition, this is a stabilizing move. CP3 and Griffin are gone, DeAndre Jordan can be a free agent this summer, and Los Angeles has some big-picture questions about the direction to take the team it needs to answer. Unlike in Boston, Rivers is going to stick around for this restructuring.

Plus, this is good for Rivers, who makes no secret of the fact he likes living in Los Angeles. He has a comfort level with the city and the organization. Rivers likely took a healthy pay cut from the more than $10 million a year he was getting to be coach and GM, but it’s still good money and an organization he likes. So he is sticking around.

Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis headline NBA All-Defensive teams

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It can be one of the most challenging selections to make on the ballot — NBA All-Defensive Teams.

The reason is all the variables: What kind of system was the player in? What were they asked to do within that system? Were they asked to cover a lot for lesser defenders on the court with them?

The votes are in, and it is Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Anthony Davis at the top with the most points. Just as interestingly, six players made All-Defense for the first time.

Here is the voting breakdown. Voters had to choose one center, two forwards, and two guards for each team.

FIRST TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Rudy Gobert, Utah, 192 (94)
Anthony Davis, New Orleans, 163 (73)
Robert Covington, Philadelphia, 90 (27)
Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 136 (58)
Jrue Holiday, New Orleans, 105 (39)

SECOND TEAM (player, team, total points, first team votes)

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia, 90 (4)
Draymond Green, Golden State, 86 (26)
Al Horford, Boston, 85 (24)
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio, 80 (32)
Jimmy Butler, Minnesota, 79 (20)

Just missing the cut were:
Chris Paul, Houston, 74 (20); Paul George, Oklahoma City, 69 (22); Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 43 (15); Kevin Durant, Golden State, 31 (7); Klay Thompson, Golden State, 24 (8); Josh Richardson, Miami, 22 (3); Marcus Smart, Boston, 18 (5); Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City, 17 (3).

The six first-timers on the All-Defensive Teams are Covington, Oladipo, Holiday, Embiid, Murray, and Butler.

The fact that two Pelicans — Holiday and Davis — made All-Defense but the team was just average defensively speaks to what they were trying to cover up on that roster much of the season.

Forward was particularly deep and difficult to choose this season. On my final (official) ballot I had Antetokounmpo on the squad, but that meant leaving off Green (who is unquestionably an elite defender when he wants to be, but was up and down during the regular season with his focus on that end). The injuries to Andre Roberson and Kawhi Leonard took some of the pressure off at forward and let a deserving Horford in the club, but it was still a deep field.

Guard was a challenge as well, with CP3 being deserving (he was on my ballot) and Klay Thompson being the perennial “I wanted to put him on the team but…” guy.

Clint Capela with the Rockets had a fantastic defensive season, but with Gobert and Embiid filling the center spot that’s a tough field to crack.

Celtics hope return home can slow LeBron, Cavs in Game 5

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BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics expected to see a different LeBron James in Cleveland after the Cavaliers fell into a 2-0 hole to open the Eastern Conference finals

Two games and back-to-back wins later, James has reminded everyone exactly why he’s been to seven straight NBA finals.

Boston will be back in the embrace of its raucous fans at TD Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday. But a team that has thrived on youth this postseason suddenly looks disoriented without a go-to player and opposite a more veteran squad that has found a new attitude thanks to the fuel being provided by its biggest star.

“My teammates are putting me in position and wanting me to be in attack mode and trusting me to put our guys in position to be successful,” James said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the collective group, and I’m one of the byproducts of that.”

While the Cavs are certainly feeling rejuvenated, coach Tyronn Lue said it hasn’t changed their sense of urgency.

“We still gotta play,” Lue said. “We have veteran guys who have been there and know what it takes, but this is a young team, a good team that’s playing at home so experience is not going to be a factor. We have to come in there and have the same mentality that we had in Game 3 and 4.”

Two games ago, the numbers seemed all on the Celtics’ side.

They had moved to 9-0 at home during these playoffs and taken 2-0 series lead, which has been a magic number for a franchise yet to surrender such an advantage during its storied history (37-0). Over the last 96 minutes, Boston has been outscored by 39 points, has dropped to 1-6 on the road and is suddenly facing a must-win game to maintain home-court advantage.

Coach Brad Stevens said at the start of the playoffs that he believed there was value in the greenness of a young group that had several players getting their first taste of postseason basketball. He was proven right with Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum all thriving as first-time postseason starters.

Their success had the cumulative effect of masking the absences of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Now, the lack of an alpha like Irving capable of creating his own shot is sticking out with every 40-point game James produces.

Al Horford, Boston’s only healthy All-Star, was never a dominant scorer, but more of a facilitator who worked well in a finely tuned system.

Horford started off the series strong but his scoring and assist numbers have declined over the last two games.

Lue’s move to reinsert Tristan Thompson back into the starting lineup in Game 2 is a huge reason.

Thompson has not only helped things move better on the offensive end for Cleveland, he’s combined with Larry Nance to make things difficult on Horford. Horford had just four shots and seven points in 30 minutes in Game 3. He scored 15 points in Game 4 but was just 5-of-13 from the field with one assist.

If the Celtics are going to get back to the by-committee style that got them here, it must begin with his leadership. To that end, Horford said they’ll focus on correcting their issues, but also won’t dwell on them.

“As a group, we’re excited to be back, going back home,” he said. “Obviously we understand the challenge of it. We can’t think about the past. We just have to worry about this opportunity. We have a Game 5 at home, and we have to make the most of it.”

Cleveland is hoping James’ once quiet supporting cast continues its surge in Boston.

Kevin Love just missed his third straight double-double in Game 4 and sharpshooters JR Smith and Kyle Korver were 12 of 19 from the 3-point line in Games 3 and 4.

Korver’s efforts have stood out.

At 37 years old he was all over the court scoring in Game 4, diving for loose balls and collecting three blocks. While he anticipated being sore from all the activity, Korver said playing “fun basketball” is still propelling a guy looking for his first ring after appearing in 124 playoff games for five different teams during his 15-year career.

“There’s not many of us `03 class guys still around,” James said of Korver. “I feel like we’re just cut from a different cloth because we’ve been around for so long. We have this work ethic and you see him every day putting in the work, putting his mind, his body into it. It’s not about his age.”