Warriors guards Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry represent modern basketball more than any player in the league except for perhaps Rockets guard James Harden. When they have even a sliver of daylight from three-point range, sometimes less than that, they chuck it. They are the standards in this analytical wave of basketball that embraces the three-point shot and eschews most other two-pointers except those around the rim.
But over the past few seasons, the Warriors, who return to Target Center to face the Timberwolves on Friday in the midst of a tight battle with the Nuggets for the top spot in the Western Conference, have embraced the shot once considered an analytical albatross — the midrange shot — more than almost any team in the league.
According to NBA.com, the Warriors take 19.6 shots per game from midrange, defined as any area from the three-point line inward that isn’t in the paint. Only the Spurs, with midrange specialist DeMar DeRozan, take more.
“We’re always looking at league trends,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said in December. “We’re always putting our heads together to figure out if what we’re doing is the smartest way of doing things given our personnel.”
That’s what distinguishes the Warriors’ use of the midrange from others — how smart they are shooting shots from that area, Wolves interim coach Ryan Saunders said.
Saunders said he has noticed that a significant number of midrange shots Golden State takes are near the elbow and not simply one or two steps in from the three-point line.
“I’d say those are actually more quality midrange shots,” said Saunders, who has used unique scoring systems during team scrimmages, in one case taking away a point for attempting a long two-pointer. “They’re just another example of there’s [no] full, 100 percent right way of doing things. I think that you can take a lot from a lot of different teams and a lot of different cultures.”
The Warriors have some of the best shooters historically in the NBA in Thompson, Curry and Kevin Durant, so perhaps the percentage of midrange shots they hit, 47.2 percent, has something to do with that. Perhaps it also has to do with where on the floor they are taking those shots. Their volume of midrange shots may also have to do with opponents’ defensive tactics.
“A lot of teams, when they try to game plan for Golden State, they say, ‘We want to take out the threes with them,’ so therefore you’re probably forcing them into more midrange shots and actually more shots at the rim,” Saunders said.
As for the Wolves, they are less successful in their midrange game. They take 16.9 midrange shots per game, fifth in the league, and hit just 39 percent — 20th in the league. Andrew Wiggins accounts for 4.4 of those attempts per game, hitting at only a 33 percent clip. Saunders has wanted the Wolves to take more three-pointers, but the Wolves still take 28.6 per game, 25th most in the league. Three seasons ago, the Warriors led the league in that statistic with 31.6 per game.
Now they are eighth at 34.3 per game. As the three-point boom has taken hold of the game, the Warriors still take a good amount of those shots, but they are also getting value from an area previously thought to be a sinkhole for good shooting.