Basketball analytics suggest that teams should shoot 3’s, free throws, and layups or dunks. If a team makes 35 out of 100 3’s, they would have to make over 50% of their 2’s to score the same number of points. Of course, you would rarely turn down a dunk to shoot a 3, just because the chances of making a dunk are pretty high. And free throws, while they are never free, are always good even if it means the other team can’t play their best players.
But the analytics aren’t telling the whole story. They are a little misleading even to the detriment of the game.
Here’s a different type of analytics.
A basketball half-court is 47’ long x 50’ wide. In reality, the scoring area includes 30’ of length. Most teams don’t have players who can consistently make shots past that distance. At the college and high school levels, the amount of space that teams have to realistically defend is around half of the half-court. If you choose to press full court or defend more than just the scoring area, you’re not doing that because teams can score from those areas. Maybe you’re doing that to keep the ball out of the scoring area. Whatever the reason, the chances of them scoring from those outside those areas is very low.
Now let’s say you’re defending a team that strictly follows analytics. They shoot 3s and dunks. Just think about how much of the scoring you have to defend. You have to defend the area around the basket and you have to defend the three-point line. What does that actually look like?
The “Analytics” Scoring Area
Let’s do some quick math. A basketball half-court is 2,350 sq ft. If we say that the scoring area is 30’ from the basket, the actual scoring is around 1500 sq ft. (30’*50’). It’s hard to calculate the area behind the basket so we’ll just round up.
Defending the 3 Point Line
The formula for arc length for the 3 point line is 2*pi*r*.5 where r is the distance from the basket to the line. The area that must be defended behind that line would be that distance times the distance behind the line. Since different levels have different three-point lines and different levels have shooters who can shoot at different ranges, this is going to vary from team to team and player to player.
Let’s just say you’re defending competent high school shooters who can shoot from 3 feet behind the line. The area outside the 3 point line on a high school court that must be defended is less around 180 sq ft. Let’s just round up to 200 sq ft for the sake of easy math.
Defending the Lane
The area to defend around the basket again is going to vary on the team and the level. If the lane is 12 feet wide and players can finish layups from around 6 feet away, that is around 75 sq ft. of the area around the basket that needs to be defended.
So out of the 1500 sq ft of court area, if a team only shoots 3s and layups, you only have to defend 275 sq ft of space.
Hypothetically, that means you don’t have to contest or defend against shots in 80% of the scoring area because teams aren’t going to take them.
Now let’s think about why analytics tell us to shoot 3s, layups or dunks and free throws.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why the “mid-range” is hated by analytics.
- Many “mid-range” shots are off the dribble.
- Most 3’s are not off the dribble.
- Many players are not skilled enough or athletic enough to shoot a high percentage off the dribble.
- Many players attempt to create their own shot but don’t have the ability to create enough space to get off a clean look.
- Even if they can create space well enough, many players can’t control their bodies well enough to shoot the ball well.
- There aren’t a lot of good shooters anyway. Even free throws can be risky business
- Many of these “mid-range” shots are rushed at the end of a shot clock situation.
How many times are players shooting catch and shoot “mid-range” shots in games? Do your players shoot those shots in practice? Does your offense create opportunities for them to take those shots?
How many times do players shoot a “mid-range” shot coming off of a screen without dribbling? Similar to the previous question, but setting and using a down screen correctly could result in wide-open 15 footers more often than not.
How many players would be more successful making a jab step jumper playing 1 on 1 from the elbow as opposed to making the same shot from the 3 point line? Can you get your best player the ball at the elbow? At many levels, this is a great 1 on 1 opportunity as opposed to them having to create a shot either off a ball screen or for themselves from the top of the key or the wing.
Are you going to tell Kawhi or KD to not shoot a “mid-range” jumper? Your response would be my players don’t have those skills. My question is why not? Teach them. If you can score from 3 levels instead of 2 levels, you become much harder to defend.
Does your offense create opportunities for players to score in the mid-range? If you follow analytics, it probably doesn’t. Maybe you should rethink your offensive strategy so that you become harder to defend.
The analytics aren’t necessarily wrong. Maybe it’s easier to create open shots that are 3’s and layups as opposed to open shots in the midrange. Just because you’re open doesn’t mean it’s a good shot. You might be open for a reason.
However, teams who can create good mid-range shots, and players who can score in these areas force defenses to defend all of the scoring area instead of just a small percentage of it.
There are a lot of bad shots taken inside the 3 point line and outside the lane. That doesn’t mean teams shouldn’t shoot mid-range shots. It just means that we need to
- Help players get good mid-range shots.
- Help players improve their abilities so that they can make them.
- Hold our players accountable for their shot selection no matter what shot it is.
In my opinion, if you only shoot 3s and layups, you become a lot easier to defend.