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Let’s Talk About the Mid-Range

A dive into the in-between game, and when/how the Timberwolves can weaponize it

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Discussing the mid-range (10-16ft) has become agonizingly impossible in online discussions. It feels often times that people are so dead set in their beliefs that they’re unable to consider how context could influence different actions and results.

For those who were in love with the 90’s style of basketball, they cannot fathom why players would want to avoid the mid-range. You can show them all the data in the world, but they’ll just respond with some sort of phrase meant to imply that you’re a nerd who doesn’t know basketball.

On the other end of the spectrum are the people who want to avoid that area of the floor at all costs. They want every player in the league to play exactly as James Harden does, only shooting at the rim, beyond the arc, or at the free throw line.

In reality, these two subsets of people who are so far on one end of the spectrum or the other is not nearly as large as the people who understand how important context is. Unfortunately, these smaller groups are very vocal, often much louder than those who are willing to, you know, actually take a second to think about it.

Anyways, news is slow and this is a topic I feel pretty strongly about, so now seems to be as good of a time as any to put pen to paper on it. Truthfully, it was this tweet from Jamal Crawford that really inspired to me write about this.

In a sense, the quote isn’t really incorrect. When Kevin Durant, Lebron James, or Kawhi Leonard are drilling contested mid-range jumpers consistently, there’s really nothing a defense can do. You tip your cap and you move on. Kawhi mostly cooked the Bucks and Sixers using that shot last postseason, Lebron used it to massacre the Raptors in 2018, and Kevin Durant has long been one of the best in the game in that range.

What people like Crawford fail to see is that nobody is arguing that those guys shouldn’t take those shots. In fact, it would be harmful to their offense for them not to, especially when preparing for postseason action.

The issue is that most players are not Leonard, James, or Durant. If you shoot it as well as someone like Chris Paul, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking those pull-ups.

The obvious theme here is that if you’re one of the best players in the league, there’s nothing wrong with those shots. In fact, I’d argue you should take them, albeit in moderation. I believe it should be a club in your bag as a team, but more of a specialty club like an escape wood you only pull out to get yourself out of the rough. In basketball terms, you want guys who can generate points from that area at the end of the shot clock and at the end of a quarter.

The numbers are still going to favor launching from deep, but what people who vehemently argue for only threes and layups often miss is that a core piece of that strategy is capitalizing on the huge amounts of variance that that strategy provides over an 82-game regular season.

Yes, over an extended period of time, excluding mid-range shots generally leads to better offense provided you have the personnel to hit from deep. Harden and Luka Doncic have proved this theory to be true, with the Mavs using Doncic’s brilliance paired with Rick Carlisle to own the most efficient offense in NBA history (115.8 ORTG).

The problem with this, of course, is that the playoffs are not an 82-game experiment. They’re short mini-seasons that run a maximum of 7 games. In short time spans like this, a short dip in variance kills you. Just ask the 2018 Houston Rockets.

That Rockets team is actually a hilariously perfect example of what I’m getting at. Everybody knows that in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets missed 27 straight three-pointers. In a sense, the numbers would predict that they were due to make a few of those. They didn’t, though, and without Chris Paul in the lineup to generate offense around the free throw line, they ultimately fell victim to a quick and sudden valley on their variance chart.

How does this all lead back to the Wolves? Well, Minnesota has sort of turned themselves in Houston North, with the obvious caveat that the Wolves’ best player is an uber-versatile 7-footer whereas Houston’s is a 6’5” wing.

There is great value in bombing away from three for Minnesota, and that will only become more obvious during the 2020-21 season when we get to see a full year of D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley paired with Karl-Anthony Towns. That trio is capable of going nuclear on offense on any given night.

Are they proficient enough in the mid-range, though, to adjust to a cold shooting night and still generate offense, especially since Russell doesn’t get to the rim very often?

Chris Paul is kind of the gold standard in that area, especially for guards. He has hit roughly 49% of his shots from what most of us would consider the mid-range (10-16 feet). If you hit around 50% of those shots, absolutely take them.

Russell has hit only 43% of his shots from the same range, but his two seasons in Brooklyn and his brief time in Minnesota show numbers much closer to Chris Paul’s range. If he can shoot reliably from there, that’ll be huge for Minnesota whenever they ultimately find themselves in the postseason.

Beasley is even better in that area, at least efficiency wise. He’s made 48% of those shots over his career, with the big caveat being he doesn’t take very many of them. If we learned anything about MB5 during his brief stint here, it’s that his shooting is for real. He’s an elite scorer from pretty much every spot on the floor.

Somewhat surprisingly, Karl-Anthony Towns isn’t a truly great mid-range shooter despite how good he is from behind the arc. This is kind of a moot point, though, because of how consistently good he is from three as well as punishing opponents on the block.

The point? If the Wolves so choose, they theoretically have the talent to generate offense in a variety of ways, which is immensely valuable in the postseason. Threes are always going to be the backbone of the offense, but being able (and willing) to adjust is still vital.

Ultimately, how willing they are to capitalize on that could dictate the team’s ceiling.