The Golden State Warriors are known for a high-octane offense predicated on exhilarating 3-pointers and easy baskets around the rim.
One aspect that they seem to be missing (apart from guys like Shaun Livingston and Kevin Durant) is the midrange jumper, however.
Very rarely do they deploy what was once a more prized weapon in NBA circles. Depending upon how one perceives the issue, that’s either a positive sign of the changing times or a neglectful result of a philosophical transformation.
The midrange jumper is a lost art in the NBA. With the increased reliance on analytical statistics meant to maximize the value of each offensive possession, it has become increasingly en vogue to either crash the hoop or shoot 3s at all costs.
Settling for anything in between has come to be viewed as something of a failure, or at least an ignorant waste of a shot. It will produce a maximum of 2 points, yet is a lower percentage shot than a 2-pointer a few feet from the rim.
The prevailing wisdom has become to step back from that midrange territory for the extra point that can come with sinking a 3-pointer.
From a purely theoretical perspective, it makes perfect sense. If you’re not ending a possession with a dunk or layup, a 3-pointer can be the way to optimize a possession, assuming the player shooting it is adept.
The Warriors have been one of the teams at the forefront of this 3-point revolution. Players like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Durant consistently shoot the lights out from deep and justify the team’s reliance on perimeter jumpers.
Examining Past Use of Midrange Jumpers By Championship Teams
To illustrate the changing landscape of the NBA, I wanted to look at the midrange shooting habits of the past 15 champions, concluding with the Warriors.
For the sake of this study, it’s important to define the abstract concept of a “midrange” shot. I’m going to consider it any shot between 10-16 ft. from the basket.
Looking at the Warriors’ roster, Livingston utilizes the midrange jumper by far the most, unsurprisingly. 53.2% of his shots in 2016-2017 would be defined as a midrange shot by the above definition.
Nobody else on the Warriors shot more than 17% of their shots from that distance. I wanted to see how this compared to past championship squads going back a decade and a half.
Just so there’s an adequate sample size for individual shots, I'll only consider players who appeared in at least 40 games in the season for that championship team.
Durant had the second highest percentage of midrange shots on the Warriors last season at 16.1%, and I wanted to see where he would rank on previous championship teams.
Livingston’s lofty percentage is outrageously high for any team these past few decades, so I’ll put his total aside as an outlier.
On the 2002-2003 San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan, Kevin Willis, Tony Parker, and David Robinson would all rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2003-2004 Detroit Pistons, Elden Campbell, Richard Hamilton, Mehmet Okur, and Corliss Williamson would all rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2004-2005 Spurs, Tony Massenburg, Duncan, Rasho Nesterovic, Malik Rose, and Beno Udrih would all rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2005-2006 Miami Heat, Wayne Simien, and Udonis Haslem would rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2006-2007 Spurs, Fabricio Oberto would rank ahead of Durant, while Duncan would be tied with Durant.
On the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett would rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2008-2009 Los Angeles Lakers, Josh Powell, Kobe Bryant, and Pau Gasol would rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2009-2010 Lakers, Bryant and D.J. Mbenga would rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki would rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2011-2012 Miami Heat, Haslem would rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2012-2013 Heat, Joel Anthony and Haslem would rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2013-2014 Spurs, Aron Baynes would rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2014-2015 Warriors, Livingston would rank ahead of Durant.
On the 2015-2016 Cavaliers, no player would rank ahead of Durant.
Results From Past Championship Teams
Let’s review those totals from 14 previous championship teams: 4, 4, 5, 2, 2, 1, 3, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 0. The 2008-2009 Lakers were the last champion to extensively utilize the midrange jumper, with relatively sparse usage since then.
Before that, it appeared like the decrease began after the 2004-2005 Spurs. For what it’s worth, the Lakers championship team in 2001-2002 had 4 players who would rank ahead of Durant. It seems like pre-2005 was the last strong era of teams riding the midrange jumper to a championship.
The Warriors have followed a trend of elite teams moving away from the midrange jumper. As a sentimentalist, I’m glad that Livingston is still keeping the shot alive, though. He's certainly great at it.