You’ve heard it before — the mid-range game is a lost art. But is it? The NBA’s elite teams don’t think so and the numbers back it up. Dominating at the mid-range game is one of a few keys that teams must take care of if they expect to be among the upper echelon of NBA squads.
The four best mid-range teams in the league are a combined 133-49. The Oklahoma City Thunder (43.9), Los Angeles Clippers (42.8), Miami Heat (42.6) and Portland Trail Blazers (42.5) know the value of the mid-range game. Forcing the defense to come away from the basket not only opens up passing lanes but makes it a lot more difficult to control the glass. If a team can drag Dwight Howard away from the bucket, advantage offense.
The league leader in making mid-range jumpers is J.J. Redick (50.9 percent), who is a perfect example of the importance of that aspect of the game. Blake Griffin is going to have an athletic advantage over anyone who is guarding him in the NBA. With that said, he’s not going to be able to jump over two or three defenders. With the attention that the defense has to pay to Griffin in a one-on-one situation, Redick can (and does) get a ton of good looks from the mid-range. He makes them, the defense can’t shade as much towards Griffin and the Clippers win. Oh by the way, Jared Dudley is also in the top-10, shooting 49 percent.
The Thunder have a few different guys who are proficient from the mid-range. Of course, Kevin Durant is one of the best scorers (and shooters) on the planet. When Russell Westbrook is healthy, he is a master of breaking down his defender in an effort to create space. With his man off balance, he can pull up and knock down the jumper. Both Durant and Westbrook can get to the basket, which inevitably draws defenders. Serge Ibaka shoots 46.7 percent from the mid-range.
Take a look at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s mid-range shot chart:
It’s not just about the offensive side of the ball. The four teams best at defending mid-range shots are a combined 131-51. That’s the Houston Rockets (36.4), Los Angeles Clippers (37.2), Indiana Pacers (37.5) and Oklahoma City Thunder (37.5). What do those teams have in common? A dominant and athletic big man who can challenge shots and still get back.
Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, Roy Hibbert and Serge Ibaka are the keys for these teams defensively. It’s not just them, either. The fact that the teams themselves don’t have to help as much makes average defenders look much better. It’s no coincidence that the Pacers (1st), Thunder (3rd) and Clippers (9th) rank among the league leaders in defensive rating. The Rockets are 15th, which isn’t bad either.
Here’s the Rockets defensive shot chart:
If you look hard enough, you’ll find some outliers. For example, the Spurs are simply mediocre in the mid-range game (but they’re No. 2 in the paint behind the Heat). In general, if you want to be an elite team in the NBA, you need to be dominant in the mid-range. If you can find a way to be at the top both offensively and defensively, look out.
Michael Dunlap is an NBA credentialed writer who is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief for the Sports Illustrated/Fansided NBA site HoopsHabit.com. He also covers high school sports for The Arizona Republic. Follow me on Twitter @DunlapNBA.