The mid-range jumper, once a staple of the NBA and in particular the Timberwolves, has become a rare and vilified shot in today’s game.
Properly decried for its general inefficiency – compared, say, to a three-pointer just a couple steps back, or a two-pointer near the basket – it has been all but eradicated from the Wolves’ repertoire during this season of shot value maximization.
Only 4.3% of Wolves field goal attempts this season had come from between 16 feet and the three-point line entering play Monday, per Basketball Reference. Only the similarly analytically driven Rockets and Nets (both 3.9%) have attempted fewer long twos this season.
Compare that to four years ago, when the Wolves led the NBA by attempting a full 23.9% of their shots from between 16 feet and the three-point line, and it’s a pretty startling change.
This year, it’s so rare to see a Wolves player pull up or spot up from that distance and shoot that my face contorts and I immediately find myself saying “bad shot” when it happens.
All of this, though, makes the Wolves’ prized trade deadline acquisition all the more interesting.
The trade for D’Angelo Russell has meant the return of the mid-range jumper for the 2019-20 Wolves.
He’s attempted 13 shots from between 16 feet and the three point line in just four games with Minnesota, out of 71 total attempts – 18.3% of his total shots. Russell connected on just 1 of the first 7 of those before trying six more in Monday’s loss at Dallas – making three.
That 18.3% small sample size mark is higher than it was pre-trade with Golden State (14.3%) and his career mark (13.2%), but both those numbers would still be more than triple the Wolves’ team rate this season. All would also be far higher than the number posted with the Wolves this year by Andrew Wiggins (8.5%), the man Russell was traded for and a frequent long two hoister in previous seasons.
Asked about his shot selection a few days back leading into the Wolves’ first game post-break, Russell didn’t sound like someone who would be backing down from shooting long twos anytime soon.
“There’s a fine line of making those shots you take, trying to relieve the pressure off coach eliminating those shots from me,” Russell said. “But once you make them, and he feels confident with you making them, I think you can’t put guys in a box when that’s their thing.”
Russell has a point there because he made an absurd 54.9% of his long twos with Golden State this season. His career mark is a more down-to-earth 42.1% — still better than this year’s league average from 16 feet to the three-point line attempts (40.4%).
But 42.1% career makes on long twos would yield .842 points per shot; Russell’s 35.7% career mark on three-pointers yields 1.07 points per attempt.
How comfortable the Wolves are with Russell shooting from that distance will be an interesting push-pull between keeping him comfortable, acknowledging that he makes his share … but still understanding that’s not the way Minnesota wants to play. If they Wolves want him to evolve into their version of James Harden, a player who is attempting just one long two out of every 200 field goals this season after routinely being around the 12-13% mark earlier in his career, something will have to give.
“It’s going to take time to break some of those habits, and when guys do play open gym, it’s their time,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said during the preseason in response to a question about shot values. “We’ve noticed a number of guys have a midrange shot, but they understand that’s not the shot we’re striving to get.”