The rise in the development of the modern pace-and-space offenses in the NBA has been well documented. There are lots of reasons for the desire to push the pace and shoot from deep. Chief among them is simply that pace gets you chances at layups and layups are a high percentage shot. Three pointers are worth an extra point, allowing you to shoot a worse percentage and still be a net positive.1
That said, the argument is still one based on the talent on a team’s roster. In a vacuum, a front office should go for players that can spread the floor on offense and defend well on defense. In practice, not every team can get these players. All of that goes without saying. What doesn’t is who are the teams making efficient use of the mid-range?
The list of teams below shows the exceptions that prove the rule of how to choose which shots to take. The top five teams in percentage of points coming from mid-range two point shots are the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and Minnesota Timberwolves. Two of those offenses are below average,2 two are OK, and one is quite good. Mixed bag to say the least.
There are teams that I didn’t focus on that were very good from the mid-range, but they were either a terrible offensive team3 (I’m looking at you Brooklyn) or didn’t take very many mid-range attempts as a team. Below are three teams that had a nice mix of success and high attempt rates.
For reference to all the shot heat maps below, here is possibly the most extreme efficiency based spacing team’s heat map, the Houston Rockets’.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have the eighth ranked offense according to offensive rating at 103.5 points/100 possessions. Their placement on this list shouldn’t surprise. They already featured Tim Duncan, a mildly overrated mid-range guy, and they just signed LaMarcus Aldridge, a lover of the deep two-point shot. Despite not getting the attention of those two, David West is leading the team in the percentage of points from mid-range at 42.6%.4
Those are only a few examples of players on this team that prefer the mid-range, but overall they’re scoring 23% of their points there, good for third in the league and they’re taking the fourth-most mid-range attempts at 27.7 per game. San Antonio is one of five teams in the NBA that have scored a higher percentage of their points from the mid-range than from three.
The visual breakdown of San Antonio shots is shown below thanks to NBAsavant.com.
To go along with the fourth-most attempts, the Spurs are shooting the fourth-best percentage from mid-range at 42.6%. If you know how effectiveFG% is calculated5 then it won’t surprise you to hear that this is only good for a . . . 42.6% eFG%. That’d be the worst mark in the league, but that’s only taking the most inefficient scoring zone into an equation that is designed to discount inefficient shots.
Things could be even rosier if Aldridge were converting at a higher rate from the mid-range. The big man is currently shooting 53.7% of his total shots from that zone but is only converting 33% of those shots. Aldridge is very consistently a 42% shooter from the mid-range throughout his career, so things should regress upward in the near future.
The secret to the Spurs success is their overall competency. They have the second highest net rating with a 10.1 point differential between their offensive and defensive ratings. Their great defense allows them to take a more liberal view of an efficient offense.
Los Angeles Clippers
Coming in at sixth in FGA from the mid-range is the league’s third-best offense by offensive rating. Blake Griffin isn’t in Spurs territory, but he is leading the Clippers with 43.7% of his shots coming from the mid-range and he’s converting a healthy 44.6%. Healthy relative to a mid-range shooter anyway. As a team, the Clippers take 29.6% of their shots from the least efficient zone.
Overall, the Clippers offense scores 104.9 points/100 possessions on 46.5% shooting. This squad isn’t one of the five that gets a higher percentage of points from the mid-range than from three, but they are nearly equal at 19.8% mid-range and 20.3% from deep.
The Spurs extended their mid-range shooting from the top of the key all the way to the short corners but the Clippers hold their mid-range shooting to the top of the key and the elbows. That large green area covering the right elbow is a popular combined spot for Chris Paul and Griffin.
The Clippers are sneaking by on their offensive prowess for now, but may need to be more efficient and judicious with their shot selection to keep things headed in the right direction. However, any playtime loss for Lance Stephenson will likely be a good thing (on the offensive end of the floor), especially in the mid-range where Stephenson is just 1-of-14, with most attempts coming outside of 17 feet.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The shot chart below doesn’t look much like the others, but don’t be fooled, the Thunder are eighth in mid-range attempts per game at 23.9 and are sinking them at an even 41%. After one season with a huge increase in three-point attempts per game, Serge Ibaka is back in the mid-range, leading Oklahoma City by taking 51.6% of his shots from mid-range.
The Thunder are the second-best offense in the NBA and are scoring 107.1 points/100 possessions. Kevin Durant is unsurprisingly leading the team in FG% from the mid-range at 52.8% but is only taking 34.6% of his shots from this area. That’s for the best for the Thunder of course, but he is one of the main factors in the right elbow bright spots above.
Combine that with Russell Westbrook’s propensity to shoot from the same location and Ibaka’s love of the just above the free throw line jumper and you’ve got the third monster of the mid-range team. You can surely guess who’s holding back the overall FG% from the mid-range (and from the floor), Dion Waiters. He’s shooting just 30.6% on all-important mid-range attempts.
The Thunder may have the most to worry about of these three teams that are successfully incorporating the mid-range shot. They have an effectiveFG% of 57.1% on pull-up jumpers and are draining 44.1% of those pull-up threes. Likely unsustainable. The offense could take a sizable hit without the success of those pull-up shots.
These three teams are the exception to the modern NBA’s decision to either space the floor or get to the line. They’re finding success while integrating the mid-range game into their shot selection. Some will continue to be successful, like the Spurs, and some might see a drop off if current trends don’t hold up, namely the Thunder.
Don’t forget, three other teams that are right near the top in mid-range attempts were the Timberwolves, Knicks, and Nets. Two very average offensive teams and one terrible offense. Regardless, it’s interesting to see which teams are finding success while playing differently than the Warriors and Rockets of the world.
The Brooklyn Nets are second to only the Philadelphia 76ers for the worst offensive rating ↩
Yes, that’s probably related ↩
Admittedly this is a much smaller proportion of their overall mid-range points as West is only taking 4.3 shots per game ↩
3-point shots are weighted as 1.5 instead of 1 in order to show their increased difficulty and increased value ↩