It’s a standard lament of old-school coaches and scouts — “the midrange game has died in basketball.”
Statistically, that’s a good thing.
It’s more complicated than that — there are good midrange and bad midrange shots, and those can change player-to-player — but by and large what you want your team to do is take shots right at the rim and from three point range, because that is where you shoot the highest percentage and where you get the most value for the shots.
Over at SBNation today the brilliant Tom Ziller put the results of a stat from a personal favorite site Hoopdata.com — expected effective field goal percentage — on a graph that roughly plots the quality of shots teams take. What the system likes is Denver’s style of play, followed by the Stan Van Gundy Magic — threes and shots at the rim. The graph does not corralate to good teams — the Heat, Lakers, Celtics Bulls and other teams took more mid-range shots than you might like but they have the players that can make them. It goes back to the comlications mentioned above, you’d like to reduce the number of midrange shots overall but if Kobe Bryant can get to the elbow area that’s a good shot he hits at a high percentage.
Oh, and the Bobcats take bad shots and miss them. Not sure we needed the graph for that.
You should read the entire thing, but Ziller sums up his findings this way:
If you look at the correlation between shot rate at each of Hoopdata’s specific ranges, we’ll see that the two efficient zones are not created equal. The percentage of a team’s field goals taken at the rim has a small positive (0.06) correlation with actual eFG. That’s essentially negligible. But the percentage of a team’s field goals taken from beyond the arc has a 0.48 correlation coefficient with eFG. Assuming a linear relationship, that indicates that about 23 percent of a team’s actual shooting percentage is explained solely by how frequently the team takes three-pointers.
Three-pointers rule the land. It’s also worth nothing the biggest problem with long-two pointers: that they are not three-pointers. The share of FGAs taken as long two-pointers has a -0.44 relationship with actual eFG. Shot shares at the two other inefficient ranges — short and mid — also have negative relationships with actual eFG, but with much, much smaller correlation coefficients. Why are long two-pointers such a problem? Check out the correlation between rate of long twos and rate of threes: -0.57. In other words, very few teams take lots of long twos and lots of three-pointers. So every long two is basically a three-pointer not taken. And three-pointers are important.
For those of you that don’t like math, let me sum up — threes and shots at the rim, that is the future. That is where teams have success, and threes matter a lot. Take a lot of long two pointers and your offense will struggle.