The Correlation between the Ratio of Threes to Midrange Jumpers and Its Effect on Team Offense.

There has been a lot of discussion this year about the efficiency of a three-point shot compared to a long midrange jumper. It’s been said that the two most efficient shots in basketball are shots at the rim and three-pointers, and it seems to be agreed that clearly teams should shoot a higher amount of threes than midrange jumpers because the league-average percentages of making each shot is similar (37.9 for 16-23 foot jumpers compared to 35.7 for three pointers), and obviously you get an extra point for making a three. I decided to take a look at the ratio of threes a team takes compared to shots from 16-23 feet, and looked at their offense to see if there seems to be an effect on it. Here’s what I found:

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-Of the top 14 pace-adjusted offenses in the league, 12 had a ratio higher than league average.

-Specifically, seven of the top eight scores via the ratio given above are in the top 10 in pace-adjusted offense.

-Also, near the bottom, nine out of the bottom 10 scores rank lower than league average in offense.

-Specifically here, 7 out of the bottom 10 rank 20th or lower.

There is definitely a strong correlation towards shooting more threes than long midrange jumpers and having an effective, efficient offense. This works both for teams that tend to get out in transition (teams such as Houston and Denver) and for teams that play mostly in a half-court setting (like Brooklyn and New York). This means that teams should probably start reducing the amount of 16-23 footers they take and increasing their three-point attempts. Here’s a breakdown of some teams by this metric:

The upper echelon:

Houston:  The Rockets are pretty much the prototype for the new age of abandoning the midrange shot. Playing exactly as general manager Daryl Morey intends them to, this team ranks first by far in threes per 16-23 footer at 2.386 and seventh in pace-adjusted offense. They will continue to play this way the rest of the year.

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers also grade out well here, at second by this metric and sixth by pace adjusted offense even though it hasn’t really helped their season. Their high score in this ratio really isn’t a surprise due to Mike D’Antoni’s presence, however I was surprised to find that their ratio of threes per 16-23 footer only took a slight dip during the five games Mike Brown coached at 1.533. They were even at an above average pace during the five games that Bernie Bickerstaff coached this season at 1.31. As long as D’Antoni’s there, look for the threes to continue to fly.

New York Knicks: I expected the Knicks to be second by this metric before calculating the numbers because of their propensity to shoot from beyond the three point arc. They have been the team that has best utilized the strategy of shooting a heavy amount of threes and low amounts of 16-23 footers. Ranking in at 1.599, they’re at third in this metric and second in total offense. They’ve been the most prolific team shooting threes this season, and for them to compete I don’t expect that to stop.

Brooklyn Nets: I was extremely  surprised that the Nets rated out so highly in both their ratio of threes to 16-23 footers and in their pace-adjusted offense, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. With both Joe Johnson and Deron Williams in the top 15 of three-pointers attempted per game, this team does tend to chuck it from long range. I think I was more surprised that they are tenth in pace-adjusted offense right now. Having seen quite a few of their games this year while they were under the tutelage of Avery Johnson, I was using the term clogged toilet to describe the lack of movement in their offense. A lack of movement does tend to lead to more chucked up shots from distance, however normally it leads to those shots being contested meaning a lower ranking in offensive categories. I think the Nets are a very good example of how a team shooting threes compared to twos can keep a high offensive ranking despite not actually being a good team offensively.

Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets are the only team who can say they take more shots at the rim than from beyond 16 feet. In fact, they shoot the least shots from beyond 16 feet at only 31.8 per game and the most shots at the rim at 34.2 per game. Not a surprise coming from the team who nearly went a full game without making a shot from outside the paint earlier this season. However, despite that they do still come in at fifth in this metric at 1.427. They are known as one of the most efficient offenses in the league and this seems to echo that.

Miami Heat: I was surprised to find the Heat only coming in at eighth with three-point shooters such as Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller. In fact, those four shooters alone combine to have a ratio of 5.762 threes per 16-23 foot jumper! What brings this ratio down is Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade’s strong midrange games and general inability to shoot threes. This team also doesn’t get a high amount of looks at the rim surprisingly (only 24th in the league). But overall this offense is very efficient because of their shooters (especially adept at corner threes) and because of their ability in transition.

The Middle of the Pack: 

The correlation of these ratios to offensive efficiency tends to break down a little bit in the middle of the pack. Within the middle 10 teams based on the ratio, we see offensive efficiency ratings anywhere from first to 29th. There are a couple surprises here, especially at the top end of the offensive efficiency rankings.

Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers are one of the best offensive teams in the league ranking in at 4th, but only have a slightly above-average ratio of threes to long midrange shots. Their efficiency comes around the rim. They take the 10th most shots at the rim in the league, connecting on 68.3% of those shots which is good for third in the league. Obviously, this high percentage has a lot to do with being able to dunk all over everything and everyone.

Oklahoma City Thunder: This is the result I was most surprised by. With high percentage three-point shooters such as Kevin Durant, Kevin Martin, and Thabo Sefolosha (along with Russell Westbrook), I figured that they would rank much higher in this study. However, Durant and Westbrook tend to bring their ratio more towards the league average. This offense, first overall in the league in pace-adjusted offense, could be even better if Durant starting taking more threes in comparison to long midrange jumpers. Durant is actually shooting a higher percentage beyond the three point arc than from 16-23 feet (41.4% to 40%). It’s really scary to realize that this offense could be better.

Golden State Warriors: This was also surprising. The Warriors, replete with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, among others, bomb from deep with reckless abandon. However, they also bomb from midrange with the same aplomb. They have taken the fifth most shots this season from 16 feet or beyond. They shoot the third fewest shots around the rim, which is offset by their shooting the fourth highest percentage from beyond the arc in the league, with an eFG% of 58.6, and 42.3% from 16-23 feet.

The lower end: 

Washington Wizards: This team is quite a study in ineptitude of offensive efficiency. They are 30th in pace-adjusted offense, have taken the most shots from beyond 16 feet, shooting second-worst in the league from beyond the arc and worst in the league from 16-23 feet. They’re 25th in this ratio. Along with that, they have taken the least shots at the rim in the league, meaning they aren’t even adjusting by trying to shoot closer. I imagine their field goal percentage will improve as John Wall returns and creates easier looks for the rest of his teammates. They are pretty much the perfectly inefficient offense in every way.

Utah Jazz: The Jazz are the team that most debunk this method of looking at offensive efficiency. They are 26th in their ratio of threes-to-16-23-footers taken, but they are 11th in pace-adjusted offense. Why? They’re ninth in three-point percentage, and fifth in field goal percentage at the rim. This is a team that can easily improve upon their offensive efficiency. They should start replacing some of their 16-23 footers (where they’re 20th in the NBA percentage-wise) with three-pointers in order to improve their offense. This has been a maddening team so far this season, and I think that shooting more threes compared to midrange shots should help improve.

Boston Celtics: This is a team that should rank higher. With adept three-point shooters such as Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee (before this season), and Avery Bradley (should help this), this team should shoot more threes (they’ve had the third fewest attempts in the NBA so far).  This ratio will never be super-high due to the hyper-efficient midrange game of Kevin Garnett, but with Bradley back this ratio should rise along with their overall offense.

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls have a lot of above-average-to-strong midrange players (Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton, Carlos Boozer particularly) and very few good three-point shooters (why Marco Belinelli has been getting minutes this season for a good team). This is an offense out of necessity that has to shoot midrange jumpers instead of threes. It’s not an efficient offense, but I’m not sure the pieces are there for there to be.

So, all told, it seems there is quite a correlation between shooting more threes than 16-23 footers and having an efficient offense. The higher this ratio, the more likely the team is to have a strong offense. The lower the ratio, the less likely there is a chance of having a strong offense. Teams should start adopting the Rockets model, eschew the midrange game in order to shoot more threes, and in that way they will create a more efficient offense. There are differing team situations of course, but mostly this is something that can work for a lot of teams. What do you think of this? Stupid? Obvious? Waste of time?

(all shot location stats taken from HoopData, offensive efficiencies are Hollinger’s)

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With that, I’ll introduce myself. My name’s Sam Vecenie and I write over at Fear The Sword, SBNation’s Cleveland Cavaliers blog. I’m 22, in graduate school at Carnegie Mellon for an entertainment-based degree, and moving to Los Angeles in a year. If anyone has something specific they want me to write about, or if you simply care to correspond with me for some reason, do so via my Twitter account, @Sam_Vecenie. I’m planning on writing a decent amount about collegiate prospects while I’m writing on this site, so also if anyone has someone specific they want me to break down for them, I’m all ears.

Good to be here.

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