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DeMar DeRozan, analytics and the art of the mid-range jumper

Will Gottlieb Avatar
March 4, 2022

In the modern NBA, the spike in three-point volume has created some misconceptions around the lost art of the mid-range jumper.

But what if I told you that it’s actually an analytics-friendly shot for the Bulls, and DeMar DeRozan especially? 

DeRozan’s mid-range jumper is the driving force behind the Bulls top-five offense and one of the most aesthetically beautiful aspects of basketball. 

But why all the dialogue about it being a “bad shot?”

To be fair, these are bad shots for almost every other player in the league. DeRozan is the exception that makes the rule. Efficiency isn’t just field goal percentage; it’s how many points a shot is worth from a given spot on the floor multiplied by what percent chance a player has to make it.

Taken out of context, it may sound as simple as 3 > 2. Factor in the degree of difficulty on a double-pump, fade-away with a hand in his face vs. an open corner three-pointer and it’s not hard to understand why the three-point volume has skyrocketed over the past few years.

A mid-range shooter who ranks in the 75th percentile averages about 45 percent on such attempts. Multiplied by two, the expected value of that shot is 0.9 points per possession.

Meanwhile, 75th percentile three-point shooters average 37 percent or 1.11 points per shot. Over the course of a 100-possession game, those extra .21 points per possession really make a difference.

But it’s more complex than that. Offense isn’t just about standing around waiting for a corner three. Someone needs to break down the defense in order to get to that reversal pass to the corner. These shots need to be created out of nothing, and that’s where DeRozan comes in. 

The fact is, most players aren’t nearly as talented at creating and making tough shots. To take this back to the value of each shot, DeRozan is averaging a scorching 50 percent on mid-range attempts or 1 point per attempt. Absolutely elite.

Few players in the history of the game do it as well as DeRozan from the mid-range. He’s operating with omnipotence. Not only as a tough shot maker but because of what it opens up for the rest of the team. The threat of his mid-range shot draws so much attention that it forces double teams and causes opponents to make mistakes because he is so damn good. Some of his peers don’t even believe he has ever missed from his go-to spot. 

And then, there’s DeRozan’s ability to draw fouls. Free throws are king when it comes to efficiency. Very few players in the league get to the line like DeMar.

The new foul drawing rules haven’t fazed him, either — he’s averaging eight free throw attempts per game, the most since the 2016-17 season.

DeRozan is an efficient shot maker as is, but getting to the free-throw line at such a high clip adds the overall picture of an efficient offense. Last year, the Bulls ranked dead last in free throw attempt rate, averaging 15.4 free throw attempts per 100 possessions. It’s no coincidence the Bulls offense is so much better this year, their free throw attempt rate is up to 19.9, good for ninth in the league.

Factoring in production coming at the free-throw line, DeRozan is in a league with the perennial MVP candidates.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the quality of shots DeRozan creates for the rest of the team. His scoring threat forces teams to double, even triple-team him and he’s kicking it out for easy threes and layups. We all know he has evolved into a playmaker, averaging over five assists per game.

While math may deter most of the league from mid-range jumpers, DeRozan is a unique case. You can see it reflected in the Bulls offensive success this year. With DeRozan on the floor, the Bulls have a 113.8 offensive rating, which is roughly comparable to the second-best offense in the league. Without him, the Bulls offense falls off to 104.7, which would be a bottom-four offensive rating.

The NBA is all about maximizing points. Dunks, threes and free throws are the easiest way to do that. Not everyone has a DeRozan whose mid-range mastery is in a league of its own. His 90’s Jordan style zags against the homogenization of the NBA and it makes the Bulls one of the top offenses in the league.

Enjoy every moment of the season DeRozan is having, because it’s one-of-a-kind.

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