The NBA’s mid-range game is a lost art because it’s an inefficient one.
Remember in years past when analysts would bemoan a player’s lack of jump-shooting prowess from 15-22 feet? Those days are over – the people who cover the league have finally adapted to its sea-change with regard to offensive and defensive philosophies.
What are they? Basically, that a good offense is made by a majority of shot attempts coming near or beyond the three-point line and a good defense is marked my limiting them. It’s simple logic; the closer a shot is the easier it becomes for the most part, and three-pointers, after all, are called that for a reason.
In terms of efficiency, a jumper outside the paint but inside the arc pales in comparison to shots closer and farther. The team-wide league average on shots from 16-23 feet is a paltry 38%, while even attempts from 3-9 feet fall short of close to adequacy at 40%. Meanwhile, the average team hits 64.6% of its shots at the rim and three-pointers yield an effective field goal percentage – a measure that takes that extra point into account when factoring efficiency – of 53.8%.
Attempts at the rim and from three-point range. Shoot them. Limit them. Success.
The San Antonio Spurs, unsurprisingly, do both on both ends of the floor. They ranked 10th in the league in shots from the restricted area and third in hyper-efficient corner three-point attempts during the regular season. Conversely, they forced opponents into the second-most shots from mid-range, the fifth-most from inside the paint (non-restricted) and were among the top-nine teams in limiting three-point shots from both the corner and above-the-break.
Taking that into consideration, it hardly shocks that San Antonio was one of three teams – along with Miami and Oklahoma City, of course – to rank in the NBA’s top-seven of offensive and defensive rating. Basically, they’re near elite at both ends of the floor. Ho-hum. This is Spurs basketball, the sports paragon of consistent dominance.
None of this bodes well for the Warriors offensively. Golden State subsists on proficient shooting from beyond the arc more than ever these days without David Lee, and it’s the main reason optimists saw that potential upset in the first round against Denver coming – the Nuggets were arguably the league’s worst team at defending the three-point line in the regular season.
San Antonio is one of its best and most disciplined. Good looks from long-range simply won’t come easy or often for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson against the Spurs brand of defense. Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green could potentially feast when Gregg Popovich is playing two traditional big men, however, though that’s a strategy Golden State is best served not relying on.
The Warriors safest bet to score against San Antonio, then, might be a regularly counter-intuitive one: those inefficient mid-range jumpers.
Golden State took the sixth-most shots from that area during the regular season, a logical number considering the team’s wealth of good jump-shooters and general lack of penetration. Such a reliance on those shots should spell doom for an offense normally – the five teams ahead of them all ranked 20th or below in efficiency – but the Warriors have the pieces necessary to beat that measured assertion. They shot 41% from mid-range in the regular season, a mark that ranks them less than a point behind, ironically, second-place San Antonio.
Golden State is an elite jump-shooting team. The NBA world knows that, but it’s mostly based off familiar images of Curry and Thompson effortlessly flicking three after three. The Warriors have a stable of good shooters behind them on all levels, though, in players like Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Barnes and even the suddenly competent Green.
San Antonio’s ability to coax the opponent into long two-point jumpers is a strength, but Golden State has the personnel necessary to turn it into a weakness. It’s a less than ideal strategy and one best not applied, but in the playoffs, when the competition is toughest, such a game within the games looms especially large. And when you’re the underdog, that often means having to play and try to take advantage of one you’d rather avoid to pull off the upset.
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