The relationship between Toronto Raptors teammates Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan goes “beyond friendship.” In a Globe and Mail feature at the start of the season, Lowry called DeRozan his “best friend” and went so far as to say their significant others and children are all just “one family really.”
As best buds, they “FaceTime together a lot late at night,” discussing topics ranging from basketball to everyday life, and it’s refreshing to find out one of the sport’s great analytics arguments — one Lowry and DeRozan bring to life on a nightly basis — appears to be a subject of great debate for them, too.
DeRozan, asked about Lowry's long 3s: "To me it's a bad shot"
Lowry: "Every shot you shoot is a bad shot, analytic-wise"
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) December 9, 2016
The subject arose after Lowry took several of his threes on a 5-for-7 night against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday from well beyond the line, including a 31-footer to beat the shot clock …
… and a four-point play in the fourth quarter that helped the Raptors pull away for a 124-110 win:
Afterwards, reporters asked DeRozan if he no longer wonders how far Lowry can pull up from three.
A video posted by Ball Don't Lie (@yahooballdontlie) on Dec 9, 2016 at 7:51am PST
“Them shots be lucky,” said DeRozan.
Lowry interrupted: “Don’t mention my name, yo.”
“I didn’t mention your name,” said DeRozan. “I have not said your name once. To me, it’s a bad shot.”
“Every shot you shoot’s a bad shot,” countered Lowry, “analytic-wise.”
As for the dunk DeRozan referenced at the end of the above video, that definitely wasn’t a bad shot:
Obviously, Lowry and DeRozan were playfully ribbing each other, but it’s a debate worth discussing. The point of contention centers around the value of three-pointers against midrange jump shots. The argument for eliminating long jumpers, or at least limiting them, by stepping back a few feet beyond the line — simplified to three points is better than two — seems like a no-brainer. Simple math, really.
This season, NBA players are shooting 39.5 percent on 13,107 midrange attempts (outside the paint and inside the three-point line), and that league-wide average has hovered around 40 percent for as long as those shots have been tracked. Meanwhile, they’re shooting 35.1 percent on 17,720 tries from three-point range, and that average has dipped no lower than 34.7 percent since the turn of the century.
Statistically, had every one of those long jumpers been attempted from three-point range instead, teams would have produced on average 460 more points already this season. That’s a lot of points.
Under GM Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets have taken this theory to the extreme, attempting a league-low 163 midrange jump shots this season — 57 fewer than the Brooklyn Nets at No. 2, 274 fewer than the league average and 436 fewer than the league-leading San Antonio Spurs. Likewise, the Rockets have attempted a league-high 814 three-pointers in 2016-17, 85 more than the Golden State Warriors at No. 2, 223 more than the league average and 368 more than the NBA-low Chicago Bulls.
Houston ranks second in the league in scoring with 112.2 points per game, only a notch ahead of the Raptors, who rank 11th in midrange attempts and just 22nd in three-point attempts. And that’s largely because nobody in the NBA takes more midrange jumpers than DeRozan’s 9.9 per game. His status as the league’s fifth-leading scorer would seem to bely the theory that midrange jumpers should be eradicated (as would the team success of San Antonio and individual success of New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis, who ranks second in midrange attempts and leads the NBA in scoring).
DeRozan is shooting 44.5 percent on his 218 midrange jumpers this season, above league average and seventh among players who have shot 100 or more in 2016-17, behind only Andrew Wiggins, Davis, Blake Griffin, C.J. McCollum, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. Yet, he’d have to shoot just 29.7 percent on an equivalent number of three-point attempts to match his midrange production. Unfortunately, he’s shooting just 28.2 percent from beyond the arc this season and 28.3 percent for his career.
So, while the midrange on average is a less efficient shot for NBA players, it hasn’t been for DeRozan. Still, that shouldn’t stop DeRozan from trying to improve his three-point percentage. Take Lowry, for example. He is shooting a scorching 42.9 percent from three-point range this season, scoring 201 points on his 156 attempts. At the same time, DeRozan has scored seven fewer points (194) on 62 more midrange attempts (218). Obviously, Lowry may not be so efficient from 31 feet, but when it comes to Toronto preferring a Lowry three-pointer or a DeRozan midrange jumper, the answer is obvious.
Whether or not that subject will be broached in their next late-night FaceTime call is up for debate.
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