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March 18, 2014 - Dylan Burkhardt

How Iowa State eliminated the mid-range jumper

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It’s no secret that the long two-point jumper is the least efficient shot in basketball.

Mid-range jumpers are only worth two points, but feature almost the same degree of difficulty as most three-point shots. NCAA tournament teams are shooting 34.9% on all two-point jump shots outside of the paint this season. That’s only a half a percentage point better than the average three-point shooting percentage. 

For an extra point, why not step back and shoot the three? Circumstances play a large part in the perceived ineffectiveness of long twos. Shooting percentages are generally lower because mid-range jumpers are created shots, jumpers off the dribble or other various one-on-one action. They are rarely wide open catch and shoot shots like many threes.

A basketball offense is a complicated thing. Eliminating one type of shot from the mix can make another easier to defend. The threat of a mid-range jumper can stretch the defense to open up space down low. Or having a post-up threat can collapse the defense to open up the three-point shot.

But NBA teams have been steadily reducing the importance of mid-range jumpers to their offenses, focusing on more efficient shots like the corner three. There’s no better example of this than the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s NBDL team. The Vipers play at a record setting pace and shoot fewer mid-range shots than any other team in the league.

The closest imitation of Rio Grande Valley in the NCAA tournament is Iowa State. 

Just 8.5% of Iowa State’s field goal attempts this season have been mid-range jump shots. That’s less than half of the Division I average of logged shots, 17% of FGA in the mid-range. Villanova is the next closest tournament team to the Iowa State model, attempting 10.6% of its shots from the mid-range. North Carolina attempts more than any other tournament team with 25.9% of its attempts in the mid-range.

Iowa State’s unique personnel group has allowed head coach Fred Hoiberg to accomplish this feat. He has a collection of players that don’t necessarily fit traditional positional standards. His point guard is big and powerful, his bigs are small and versatile, and his wings are athletic rebounders. Here’s how Iowa State’s offensive shot distribution breaks down.

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No Iowa State rotation player attempts more than 12% of his field goal attempts in the mid-range.

In the paint

DeAndre Kane is the type of player that makes it possible to avoid taking mid-range jumpers because he’s nearly impossible to keep out of the paint. Kane attempts 67% of his field goals in the paint and is able to use his size (6-foot-4) and strength (200 pounds) to muscle his way to the basket.

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He’s not the most efficient scorer, but he never settles for long twos at the top of the key. He bullies his way into the lane where he can shoot, pass or get fouled. The fact that Kane, a point guard, leads the Cyclones in percentage of field goal attempts in the paint helps illustrate just how different Iowa State’s offense is.

Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue both attack the rim as well. Ejim scored 48 points earlier this season in a game where he only attempted five shots outside the paint. He’ll attempt baseline jumper from time-to-time, and he loves the right-wing three, but he is by far most effective around the basket.

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Hogue is another player that knows how to play his role. He stands just 6-foot-6, but is a great rebounder on both ends of the floor. He finishes at the rim and attempts just enough threes to maintain spacing in Iowa State’s offense. Hogue actually shows the potential to knock down the mid-range jumper, but rarely attempts them.

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Inside-outside threat

Georges Niang is one of the most unorthodox players in the country, but he’s also the piece that makes Iowa State’s offense work. If you’ve watched Iowa State play at all this season, you’ve seen him firing up threes, going to work on the low block, or even distributing the ball. He’s not having an efficient season from 3-point range, shooting just 31%, but he has an array of different moves to finish around the basket.

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Because of Niang’s versatility, he can play anywhere on the floor. He’s the tallest Cyclone, so he often draws the opposition’s five man, but has the talent to shoot over him, drive past him, or post him up. By pulling opposing big men away from the basket, Niang creates space for other Cyclones to attack the rim. He also shows incredible discipline to avoid taking mid-range shots given his high usage rate.

Three-point snipers

Naz Long and Matt Thomas are the resident three-point threats for the Cyclones and they are vital to spacing the offense. Long and Thomas attempt well over 70% of their field goals from long range and, similar to Niang, they are critical to spreading the defense to Kane to attack. Thomas connects at a 33% rate and Long connects at a 41% rate, but both players are the lowest usage cogs in the Iowa State offense.

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Does it work?

Most of the time. Iowa State is ranked 15th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency (14th among tournament teams). That’s good, but it isn’t revolutionary.

Gonzaga, Villanova, Creighton, UMass, Florida and Duke are some other schools that do a great job of minimizing the mid-range jumper in their offense. Creighton and Duke are the two best offenses in the country, but limiting mid-range attempts hasn’t done much for Gonzaga or UMass.

Deemphasizing the mid-range has resulted in a more effective two-point offense. The Cyclones make their two-point shots at a higher rate than every major-conference team other than Kansas, a clear indicator that they are getting good looks. Considering their size disadvantages – there’s no Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid in Ames and and the Cyclones rank 325th in effective height – that’s an impressive feat. 

The downside is that the Cyclones appear to have replaced many of those would be mid-range jumpers with questionable threes. Iowa State ranks 60th in 3PA/FGA, but only made them at a 35.1% clip – 136th in the country. The question is whether Iowa State’s average three-point shooting numbers are due to its average shooting ability, or caused by forcing up more attempts than it needs to.

The good news for the Cyclones is that, like any perimeter-oriented team, they are dangerous when three-point shots are falling. Iowa State won’t beat itself by taking long two-point jumpers or turning the ball over. If the Cyclones get hot from three-point range – like they did at the Big 12 tournament, shooting 27-of-52 (52%) en route to the championship – they will be a tough out in March.

Shot Charts / Teams DeAndre Kane / Georges Niang / Iowa State / Melvin Ejim /