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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