Unless your name is Dirk or LaMarcus, you should probably stay away from the dreaded mid-range.
Demar Derozan lives off the mid-range shot — he always has and he always will. As long as Derozan is a Raptor, the offense will continue feature a steady dose of “inefficient” twos. That’s just a simple fact.
Before I go on, I’d like to state my personal stance on the mid-range shot. As a general principle, I think that offenses should try to minimize shots from the mid-range area (outside of the paint, inside of the arc). However, I’m aware that the game of basketball is a elaborate system subject to the wills of ten different players, three referees, two coaches and a whole bunch of luck, which makes reallocating possessions to more “optimal areas” — chiefly at the rim and from beyond the arc — a difficult task. Three-pointers and layups are not generated out of thin air — oftentimes they require a double-team in the post, some penetration into the paint, smart off-ball cutting — which necessitates the existence of a mid-range threat if for nothing more than to serve as a decoy. Basically, I think that the mid-range should be a means to an end, not the ends itself. In my ideal offense, there’s a LaMarcus Aldridge-type establishing his presence in the no-fly zone, soaking up the attention of the defense, thereby creating opportunities on the perimeter and interior.
Unfortunately, Derozan is no Aldridge.
I really don’t mean to pile on Demar. He’s the number one option in this offense, and his name is circled on the opposing team’s whiteboard. Demar plays a ridiculous amount of minutes (currently 6th most in total minutes played) and he’s probably over-worked most of the time, which could potentially explain his recent fourth quarter lapses. In fact, I actually feel bad for Derozan — he works his ass off to do a job we know can’t, yet we criticize him when he fails. He’s the central character in a Joseph Heller basketball novel (I would definitely read that) .
However, it’s really difficult to get past Derozan’s over-reliance on the mid-range game, especially given his athletic talents and his ability to draw fouls en route to the basket (6th in free-throw attempts per 36 minutes amongst guards). Just as a reference, here’s Demar’s shooting breakdown as compared to a fellow shooting-guard in James Harden. Guess whose eFG% is higher (hint: it’s Harden, and it’s not even close).
Perhaps that’s an unfair comparison, considering that “The Beard” is one of the league’s best offensive players, but it’s worth nothing that both players use up exactly the same percentage of their team’s possessions at 27.5%, yet Harden scores more points more efficiently, mostly by shooting two-thirds of his field goal attempts from the most optimal areas on the floor (threes and restricted area). Don’t believe me? Compare their shooting percentages across different shot locations. Derozan isn’t nearly as good at shooting the three, but his percentages from everywhere else is relatively comparable.
And here’s the thing with Derozan’s mid-range shooting — most of the shots he takes from the mid-range are of his own volition. It’s not that defenses are taking away his other options, he’s simply settling most of the time.
The large majority of Derozan’s jumpers are a product of two plays — spot-ups and curling off screens. I can’t fault Derozan for the spot-ups because they’re by design, but Casey and Nurse need to seriously rethink their strategy because Derozan is not a good spot-up shooter. He ranks 163rd in the NBA at 0.92 points scored per spot-up attempt, which is partially skewed by his below-average three-point shooting, but he’s equally as bad inside the arc where he shoots a paltry 38.3%. The play involves a big (usually Amir, who is an excellent screen-setter) setting a pin-down, thus freeing up Demar for a shot.
The remainder of Derozan’s jumpers are pull-ups where he’s the ball-handler curling around a screen. To be fair, Derozan is almost always “open” on these shots because the defense is willing to concede these looks, but there’s good reason for that — Demar is not good at shooting from the mid-range! Demar is far more successful when he chooses to attack the basket, but opposing defenses purposely have their bigs drop back to cover the drive, which makes attacking a more difficult and exhausting option. And this is not to say that that Derozan doesn’t attack, because he certainly does, he just settles for the jumper far too often.
Again, I’d like to preface that these problems aren’t entirely on Demar. For example, defenses usually ICE sideline screen-and-rolls, and given Johnson and Valanciunas’ lack of shooting ability (I’m not counting Amir’s slow-mo catapult as the ability to shoot), the Raptors are really ill-prepared for this defensive tactic.
In the play below, Bradley shades Demar, takes away the middle and forces Demar to step inside the arc. Once this happens, Demar is basically left with two options; shoot the jumper, or kick it back out to Amir and reset. The Raptors could counter this tactic with a jumpshooting big-man, but Patterson and Demar rarely converge on these types of plays.
Regardless of who’s to blame, the bottom line is that Demar simply launches too many mid-range shots. He has attempted the third most field goals from the mid-range, which is more than the likes of Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. Let that sink in — more than Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony! Only Nowitzki and Aldridge have attempted more shots from the mid-range, and as I mentioned earlier, Derozan is no Aldridge.
And here’s the rub — Derozan is no Aldridge because his mid-range game doesn’t open the floor for his teammates. When Demar curls off a pin-down, he’s not opening up lanes for cutters. When Demar pulls up off a ball-screen, he doesn’t draw double-teams. If Demar’s shots aren’t going in, and they’re also failing to create positive externalities for the rest of the offense, there’s no reason to continue with this strategy.
Is there a solution? I’d like to think so. First off, the Raptors coaching staff should probably consider reorienting the offense. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the Raptors lack a consistent post threat, and they only have three capable ball-handlers (Lowry, Derozan, Vasquez), which makes shot-creation a challenge. However, why not turn some of Derozan’s pull-ups into pick-and-rolls for Lowry and Amir, or throwing it into the post for Valanciunas? It can’t hurt to try.
At the same time, it’s also on Derozan to be more aggressive. His play-making has improved from years past, and he’s posting a career high in assists per game, but he needs to continue to work for better looks. Derozan shoots 57% at the rim, and 78.5% from the line, which translates to 1.14 points per shot or 1.57 points per two free throws. That’s far better than the 0.78 points he scores per mid-range attempt. He doesn’t have to cut out the jumper entirely, he just needs to shoot it less, and use the other weapons in his arsenal more.
Perhaps shifting around a couple possessions here and there might only result in a few of extra points, but those few points usually represent the difference between winning and losing, or in Demar’s case, potentially making or missing the All-Star team.
Statistics courtesy of NBA stats, basketball-reference and Synergy Sports. Video for gifs courtesy of NBA statsFollow @raptorsrepublic