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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

DeMar DeRozan and the Art of the Midrange Game

DeMar DeRozan averaged a career-high 23.5 ppg in 2015-16, his seventh NBA season, so no one could have reasonably expected that nine games into the 2016-17 season he would be leading the league with a 34.0 ppg average. What is even more surprising is how DeRozan is scoring so many points. "Stat gurus" insist that two point jump shots are inefficient and should be eliminated from every player's repertoire, but DeRozan is feasting off of the kind of midrange jumpers that used to be a key weapon in the arsenals of almost every great scorer.

DeRozan is a poor three point shooter (.214 3FG% this season, .282 career 3FG%) who wisely rarely shoots from beyond the arc--but he is burying midrange shots at a rate that even midrange masters Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant would envy (career-high .549 2FG% this season). DeRozan has always been good at driving to the hoop to finish strongly and/or draw fouls and that remains the case as he ranks eighth in free throw attempts after finishing third in the NBA in that category last season.

"Stat gurus" are at a loss to explain DeRozan's success (Sports Illustrated's preseason player ratings, which relied heavily on "advanced basketball statistics," did not place DeRozan among the league's top 40 players) and are already insisting that DeRozan cannot maintain his lofty scoring average and two point field goal percentage for an entire season. While the latter point may be correct to some extent--much as it is the case that a premier hitter who posts a .400 batting average in April is unlikely to finish the season with such an average--DeRozan is demonstrating that there is value in mastering the midrange game not only in terms of individual statistics but also in terms of team success. DeRozan's Toronto Raptors, fresh off of the franchise's first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, currently have the second best record in the Eastern Conference.

DeRozan is playing similarly to the way that Richard Hamilton played during his prime, though Hamilton was a better three point shooter and not as good at drawing fouls. Like Hamilton, who averaged 3.1 rpg and 3.4 apg during his career, DeRozan does not have gaudy all-around statistics but DeRozan is posting solid floor numbers this season: a career-high 4.8 rpg, plus 3.2 apg (better than his career average of 2.6 apg, but lower than his averages in each of the past three seasons) and a career-high 1.4 spg.

The midrange shot is far from dead. Mastery of that aspect of the game helped Jordan and Bryant win six and five championships respectively. LeBron James owns a 3-4 career Finals record and a major reason that his winning percentage at the highest level of the sport is below .500 is that his willingness (and ability) to make midrange shots has not been consistent throughout his career; the San Antonio Spurs, who have won two of three Finals matchups against James, dared James to make that shot and this strategy could have led to a 3-0 record versus James were it not for one missed boxout in game six of the 2013 Finals.

I love the three point shot. I love players who can draw fouls without flopping (like DeRozan now and Adrian Dantley back in the day). I understand that mathematically it makes sense to try to shoot a lot of three pointers and free throws--but the midrange shot is a valuable weapon, too, and DeRozan is showing that it still can have an important place in today's NBA game.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:58 PM

21 comments

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21 Comments:

At Wednesday, November 16, 2016 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I pretty much agree with all of this. I've been hard on DeRozan for years, but he's certainly making me look dumb lately. It's reasonable to expect his efficiency to go down some, but even if his 2pt fg% drops by 5, he'll still be a killing machine.

He also reminds me a bit of Bernard King both with his midrange game and his ability to draw "real" fouls instead of flailing about like certain other All-Star guards.

He's an unremarkable defender, but more in the "roughly average, maybe slightly worse" vein than the "James Harden can't spell the word 'rotation'" vein.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 5:33:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

I also agree with the thrust of this article. A great player is great no matter when he plays, or how he plays. DeRozan is like a 90s scorer dropped in the modern day, and proof that he can play. It remains to be seen if his high percentage from the field is sustainable over 70 plus games and the playoffs, though.

However, this does not validate the implication that players like Harden, obviously a child of the analytics is an inferior player, or that their style is worse. Just different. Harden has gotten even better this season, and I anticipate a post on this in the future - hopefully one that does not continue to denigrate him for "leaving" OKC when he was a restricted free agent the following summer.

It only means there are many different approaches to the game that work.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 10:20:00 PM, Blogger ChowNoir said...

Market inefficiency. If the current defensive trend is to allow the mid range shot and deny 3's or layups, giving an uncontested look to a good mid range shooter could mean they would convert at a better rate than a contested 3 or a contested layup.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 11:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

If Harden's goal was to make 10 All-Star teams, possibly win a scoring title and lose in the first round of the playoffs almost every season for the rest of his career then he made a brilliant move. I have more respect for McAdoo, Aguirre, Ginobili--each of whom was no less talented than Harden and each of whom sacrificed personal glory in order to enjoy team success. McAdoo told me that it was perhaps the hardest thing that he did during his career, so I fully realize that this is not an easy choice--but I respect someone who wants to be part of a greater whole in what is, after all, a team sport. This is not chess or tennis. Aguirre turned out to be a better fit in Detroit than Dantley not purely for skill set reasons (though that was part of it) but also because Dantley was battling with Isiah to be "the man" while Aguirre was focused on winning. In Aguirre's second season with the Pistons, he actually asked Coach Daly to bring him off of the bench because the team would be better served with Rodman providing defense and rebounding as a starter. Can you picture Harden ever doing something like that? You might believe that Harden is better than Aguirre or closer to his prime now than Aguirre was at that time but the point is that Aguirre was not too far removed from being nearly a 30 ppg scorer when he accepted a much reduced role.

It is funny that the generally accepted narrative is that Kobe drove Dwight Howard out of L.A. but that Howard was the bad guy in Houston. I don't believe that Howard has undergone some kind of personality transformation but because Kobe is disliked while Harden is loved by the media the story gets twisted. Injuries and coaching instability--not anything that Kobe said or did--doomed Howard's tenure in L.A.

While Harden puts up video game numbers for a team that is struggling to hold on to the eighth seed in the West, Howard's defense and rebounding are major reasons that the Atlanta Hawks are tied for the best record in the East. The one time that Harden made it past the first round in Houston is the one time that Howard was healthy and dominant during the postseason--and that is not a coincidence.

 
At Friday, November 18, 2016 5:03:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Great comment David, the comparisons to other former players was very interesting to read.

 
At Friday, November 18, 2016 10:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, why would you have more disrespect for Harden because he decided to go somewhere to make more money, especially when he was deserving of said money? I don't get that. If these players can make this type of money, then more power to them. Why should other top players be able to make their money while others can't? Look at some of the salaries this year. Each player can make their own choice. Harden was a huge developing star that not only Morey saw but pretty much the entire nba, and he has become a MVP candidate since. I would think you would respect players for trying to become as good as possible. Harden, like Ginobili possibly in SA(though Ginobili has never been anywhere close as good as Harden has become) would've been held back as a player if he stayed in OKC. I applaud him trying and wanting to become a great player and not just a good player. I commend Ginobili for knowing his limitations while accepting being a role player for SA coming off the bench usually, but I would've also liked to see Ginobili fulfill his potential. Whether Ginobili could've been an MVP candidate on another team is a different debate, but the fact is Ginobili never approached MVP status. He shouldn't make the HOF based on his play alone, but probably will since he was in a great organization that won several titles with him as a 3rd or 4th wheel and based on his international play.

If James replaced Harden in HOU, HOU would like be first-round fodder as well, possibly make 2nd round before losing unless major injuries occurred to the top teams. This argument needs to stop. Harden's cast, while not bad, is nowhere near championship level. When HOU made the WCF, they remained an elite team during the regular season while Howard missed 41 games while Harden finished 2nd in the MVP. Why are you so quick to downplay this? Name one other player who won without help. Why do Curry, Durant, Westbrook, and James all get passes for having great teammates, and greater than Harden at that, but Harden doesn't? I don't think Kobe ever had the best cast during his second 3-peat finals run, but how many finals would he have made without Pau? Probably zero.

 
At Friday, November 18, 2016 12:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I have explained "why" clearly, repeatedly and in great detail. You just disagree and that's OK.

In a different system, prime Ginobili could have put up the numbers Harden is now. This is not a matter of "knowing limitations"; it's a matter of having different priorities. Same thing with McAdoo and Aguirre.

Harden's game has not improved since he left OKC. He just uses more possessions. His efficiency has actually declined and of course his defense is terrible (which was not the case in OKC). Harden wants to accumulate individual accolades and he has/will. He wants to win scoring titles and MVPs, not championships.

It is hard to say what Kobe or LeBron would do with Harden's cast but the reality is that Morey has the roster he wants. He believes that Harden is an MVP level player and that it is most important to surround Harden with shooters.

You are way too fascinated by Houston's record in a 40 game stretch without Howard. Let's see what the Rockets look like without Howard for 82 games. Even more to the point, look at the reality that Houston has been first round fodder with Harden, just as I predicted. Have the people who label Harden MVP caliber been able to correctly predict Houston's results or have they wrongly been calling Houston a contender since Harden arrived there?

 
At Friday, November 18, 2016 1:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Andrew:

Thank you!

 
At Friday, November 18, 2016 5:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, you have continued denigrating Harden nonstop even when he's playing awesome, and treat him differently than other players. Even if what you say is 100% true about him, and the rest of the 99% of the basketball world is wrong about him, most of it is still uncalled for. Most of your criticisms of him are about not liking his style of play among other things which clearly shows bias against him, which is fine if you don't like how he plays, but that's moot because it's effective. What you say about Ginobili is purely speculation, even though you could be completely correct, though I don't see it. In reality, this is not what happened with his career. And least we forget, Ginobili wasn't even a starter for much of his career.

It's too bad you can't see it, but what are you trying to prove with this continued denigration? You're just proving my point that no matter how awesome Harden plays, you're saying stuff like he hasn't improved since OKC. While Harden is a high TO player, what other top player isn't? Regardless, I don't think you understand efficiency, which I know you know is overrated in player evaluations, given that Kobe was never a high efficiency guy and how highly you regard him. Though, other than TOs, Harden actually is a very efficient scorer in reality. You bring up some good points about the midrange game in general, but the reality is that part of the game is the least efficient. Harden is still a solid midrange player, but his team philosophy doesn't focus on that much, so he isn't required to operate in this area.

If Kobe or James did what Harden did in Howard's absence in 2015, you'd be praising them and writing articles about how expendable Howard was and/or how either of them should be a serious MVP candidate at the very least.

Of course HOU is going to lose in the 1st round of the playoffs this year probably. Look at their team compared to the top 3 teams in the West. This is pretty obvious and what does that prove? Like I said before, James or anyone else would probably fare the same with Harden's cast in the West. Look what Jordan did before Pippen? Absolutely nothing. Was he also not a big-time player then or did he possibly, just possibly, not have much help? I mean, come on, you know the game better than this. Look at how much help Curry and James have needed to win titles? Look at how much help Durant has had, and only 1 finals appearance-5 years ago. And Westbrook will be fortunate to make the 2nd round this year at best. In the 6 seasons Harden's had competent casts, his teams have won equivalent to at least 50 wins 5 of the years, made 3 WCF, and 1 Finals, while being a perennial MVP candidate the last few years. You might fool some people, but not me. I wish JVG would come across this blog-let's see what he would say.

 
At Friday, November 18, 2016 5:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

What you call "denigration" I call analysis. I have made predictions about Harden and the Rockets based on my analysis and those predictions have come true. If Harden plays 10 years in Houston and has one WCF appearance during a playoff run when he sat on the bench during many of the most critical moments will you still feel righteously indignant?

It doesn't matter what you presume I would write if LeBron played for Houston. I've covered LeBron's entire career and my analysis has been spot on, as has my analysis of Kobe. When I thought LeBron passed Kobe I said so, even though I have been accused of never criticizing Kobe.

I respect JVG very much but he is not always right. If he reads 20 Second Timeout I am sure he would be very impressed, even if he disagreed about some things. When I speak with coaches and basketball lifers they quickly realize that I am different from most media members.

I wholeheartedly stand by the quality of my analysis and by my objectivity.

 
At Friday, November 18, 2016 6:01:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

As the person who probably argues with David the most on this site, I'd like to state for the record that I don't think questioning his intent is fair, accurate, or supported by history.

Do I think David is 100% right all the time? Obviously not, but he's right more often than most.

Do I think David is 100% objective all the time? I think he tries to be, and I think he gets as close as anyone does. I'm not sure pure objectivity is possible.

I obviously disagree with a select few of David's player evaluations (Harden is not one of them, for the record), but they are evaluations based on observation, not on favoritism. I do believe that there is a type of player David values more highly than I do- the hyper-intense "I want the ball every damn time" scorer- but I would not characterize that as bias, but as opinion. Every basketball fan/analyst values elements of the game differently.

I think resorting to accusing the person you're arguing with of having some nefarious agenda absent overwhelming evidence is, at best, rude. I understand that in the heat of an argument it is possible to overstate ones' case- I've done it on this site, David probably has too- but I don't think there's much value in coming to his site and questioning his journalistic integrity. If you don't believe he means what he says, why read it, let alone argue with it?

Also, for the record, David has blasted James in the past (as well as fellow Pantheon member Shaq) for his career choices/demeanor, so pretending it's unique to Harden is similarly unfair and inaccurate.

David is one of my very favorite basketball writers specifically because he works so hard to be objective, and because he often understands things better/differently than some mainstream media reporters (including JVG's take on Harden).

I have zero doubts about David's intent, agenda, or qualifications.

 
At Saturday, November 19, 2016 3:34:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Anonymous: I briefly skimmed the article because I cannot remember the Harden bashing you are talking about. The person who brought up Harden is Awet, which David replied to. How is it that David gets accused of Harden bashing in the comments thread of an article only peripherally related to Harden? He didn't even bring Harden up, Awet did then you jumped in.

As an impartial observer it reads like:

Awet (in a comment thread about DeRozan): Why don't you respect Harden's game as much as others?

David: x, y and z reasons.

Anonymous: Why are you so obsessed with bashing Harden? (To reiterate, in the comments of a thread with nothing to do with Harden!)

 
At Saturday, November 19, 2016 2:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick and Andrew,

Thank you!

 
At Tuesday, November 29, 2016 7:34:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Posting here because Westbrook's imminent post isn't up yet:

Averaging a triple double is amazing, and puts Russ in rarified air BUT (we knew it was coming) it is having the unexpected effect of putting Oscar's achievements into perspective for me. To expand on that, Russ is playing great but I don't think he is even the best player in the NBA right now, not mentioning best player ever.

Oscar's case for best ever rests on the season triple double. Whilst I don't think higher pace discredits this achievement like some people do, doesn't the fact that Russ is emulating this in today's NBA without being the unanimous best player in the league damage Oscar's case as the best ever in some way?

I'm still mulling this thought over, but I thought it was worthwhile throwing out there.

 
At Tuesday, November 29, 2016 12:47:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

Westbrook is great because of his mindset, surely he is talented, but we've seen so many talents wasted, because of poor mindset, he becomes quite unique player.

Kyrie Irving seems to be in the same mold. And as much as LeBron James is talented, he needs constant prodding to use his full potential. Thus for me Kyrie is more of a hero of last finals, he kind of set the example for LeBron and rest of the team.

 
At Thursday, December 01, 2016 3:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oscar is interesting. He essentially averaged a triple-double each year for his first 4 years. And how did his teams do during that 4-year stretch? They missed the playoffs in year 1, lost 3-1 to a 37-win team in the 1st round in year 2, were 1 win away from finals in year 3, as a 55-win team in year 4 that barely beat a 34-win 3-2 in 1st round, and then got beaten badly in the 2nd round.

Oscar's teams only had a solid year for one of his first 4 years. They only won more than 48 games once, which was 55. And his teams only had a winning record 5 of his first 10 years in the league. Everyone needs help to win, but I'm confused why he's considered among the elite elite. This is a glaringly awful aspect of his career, which is most of his career. He missed the playoffs 4x in his first 10 years and only won 2 playoffs series during that span. Then he joins Wilt and an already very good team in year 11 and makes 2 finals in 4 years winning one as a clear sidekick and even #3 at times.

Pace doesn't discredit his stats, but we need to realize pace highly contributed to inflated for many early years in the nba. OKC's pace is 98.7 this year. 1962 CIN's pace was 124.9 when Oscar officially averaged a triple-double. Not to mention Oscar averaged 45-46mpg early in his career compared to 34mpg for someone like Westbrook. These 2 things shouldn't be ignored. This certainly led to fewer games/seasons played for Oscar.

I think Westbrook is currently the top player in the nba so far this season, but it's close among several players. But, OKC is going to struggle to make the #4/5 spot in the playoffs. If they do, they could win in the 1st round, and then likely get trounced in the 2nd round if they're lucky to make it that far.

 
At Thursday, December 01, 2016 10:52:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Andrew:

As you implied, I will indeed soon post an article about Westbrook's feats this season. In that article I will address some of the interesting points that you raised.

 
At Thursday, December 01, 2016 10:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beep:

I agree with you about Westbrook's mindset. He is in the Jordan/Bryant mold and both of those players have acknowledged this and expressed their admiration for Westbrook. It is difficult to imagine higher praise that a player could receive than respect emanating from two of the greatest players of all-time.

 
At Thursday, December 01, 2016 10:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I agree with you that Westbrook has been the best among several outstanding players in the NBA thus far this season.

I think that the Big O's career/legacy is more nuanced than the way that you presented it in your comment and I will address this subject soon.

 
At Friday, December 02, 2016 12:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe, but nothing I said was incorrect. I hold every player to the same standard. For someone almost everyone holds very highly, his teams stunk.

Correction: he joined Kareem, not Wilt.

 
At Friday, December 02, 2016 1:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I knew that you meant Kareem.

As I said, I will respond to your points soon. I did not say that you stated any facts incorrectly (other than the Wilt/Kareem fact, of course) but I do think that there are some contextual issues to consider--but I am not going to discuss/debate them here or now. You raised some interesting points and I will address them when I have time to give them full justice.

 

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