The death of the mid-range jump shot is one of the most overwrought storylines in college hoops. Purists seem to think that it left us for good at some point and is never coming back. That’s not the case at all. It just turns out that it’s pretty inefficient to take one.
Your average college basketball player probably shouldn’t be taking that many mid-range jumpers. It’ll hurt not only his statistics, but the team’s overall ability to score. In general teams attempt an even distribution of shots at the rim (layups, dunks), two-point jumpers and three-point jumpers. (See intro here.) The expected points per shot of each of those? 1.2 points per shot on twos at the rim, 0.7 points per shot on two-point jumpers and 1.02 points per shot on three-point attempts. One of these is not like the other. Still, there are some players around New York City that have turned the mid-range jump shot into an art. Let’s look at a few of them thanks to the always excellent data at Hoop-Math.
Columbia’s Mark Cisco: As a 6’9” center in the Ivy League, Cisco certainly has an interesting offensive game. A lot of the shot attempts he gets inside of Kyle Smith’s offense are on pick-and-roll opportunities with Brian Barbour and the Lions’ other guards. It turns out this is often a good place for Cisco to be. While he’s making only 38% of his two-point jump shots this season, that number has been 40% or above in each of the past two seasons.
Most importantly for any big man that is going to shoot a lot of these types of shots, his coach trusts him. Even as Cisco struggled against Colgate earlier this week, Smith gave him a vote of confidence. “Mark usually picks it up the second half of the year,” Smith said. “I’ll take those shots he was getting. It’s funny, when he makes those jumpers he’ll go on a roll.”
Cisco is certainly a streaky shooter, but when he gets hot from the field Columbia’s offense is almost impossible to stop. His shot-making early against Bucknell was one of the reasons the Lions looked like they might run away with a game they ultimately lost. Some big nights for Cisco in Ivy League play will help the Lions spring an upset or two.
Stony Brook’s Dave Coley: Coley is a gunner without much of a conscience and it shows in the number of two-point jump shots he takes. The junior guard takes more than 25% of SBU’s shots when he’s on the court. The issue? 55% of them come on two-point jumpers. This isn’t something new though. Coley’s done it for each of the past three seasons. He’s shooting just 37% on them, which is above average, but not great.
From watching Coley’s game a few things stand out. One is that he really seems to be confident in his mid-range jumper. He’ll take them in transition, which he did with deadly efficiency against Seton Hall, but he’ll also force some in halfcourt sets. It’s those jumpers that he could pass on more. Finishing those drives with moves to the rim or passing back out to the perimeter might help. Coley’s free throw rate of 45.0 is actually pretty good and he’s a talented slasher who could see that number rise if he committed to getting to the rim more.
If Coley can make some small gains in his choices of when to shoot two-point jump shots, his efficiency – and SBU’s overall efficiency – would get a big lift.
Fordham’s Chris Gaston: Here’s why Siena’s defensive strategy in the first half against the Rams last week was so crazy. Gaston wants to be shooting the shots they were giving him. The Saints gave Gaston open two-point jump shots in the middle of their 2-3 zone and he calmly knocked them down. It’s not that shocking, considering 63% of Gaston’s shots this season have been two-point jumpers and he’s shooting 40% on them. Unlike some other players, a lot of Gaston’s two-point jumpers come on post ups, so they are a little closer to the rim. While a five-foot shot is harder than a lay-up, it’s also easier than a 15-foot jumper. This gives Gaston an extra advantage.
Much like Cisco, another big man shooting mid-range shots, Gaston is a volume shooter. He’s attempted 15 or more shots in each of his last three games, but he’s also scored 25, 16 and 19 points in those outings. His two-point jumpers, in contrast to someone like Branden Frazier (25% on two-point jumpers, most of his bad shots), are good shots.
The question moving forward is if Gaston can really continue hitting 40%-plus of his mid-range jumpers. The past two seasons he’s been much more of an average shooter from that distance (33% and 32%). Because he’s certainly not going to step out beyond the three-point line, Gaston needs these jump shots to diversify his offensive game and convince defenders to come out him. Then he’s able to get to the rim on drives, get easy putbacks and find other ways to score. Fordham could really use him to continue shooting as well as he has, because it gives the Rams a versatile offensive big man.
The one thing Tom Pecora needs to be careful about though is trying to use all of his big men in the same manner. While Travion Leonard doesn’t use nearly as many possessions as Gaston, he has a similar shot profile. The problem? Leonard is making just 27% of his two-point jumpers. (It’s worth noting that in a super small sample Ryan Rhoomes is making 50%.)
Finally, no discussion of two-point jump shots would be complete without looking at two teams in the New York City area that are using them in two very different ways – Iona and St. John’s. The Red Storm’s shot selection has been well chronicled by Norman over at Rumble In the Garden. I recommend you go check it out. In summary, having long, athletic big men take jumpers seems counterintuitive when they could be relentlessly attacking the rim. On the other hand, this seems to be a schematic thing for Iona – and it is working.
The Gaels are shooting 45% on two-point jump shots, which is the fourth best rate in the country. While two-point jumpers make up just 25% of their overall attempts (Iona takes a lot of threes instead), they’re good shots. It’s Iona’s big men that are getting the two-point attempts too. Taaj Ridley and Shawn Jackson both take more than 40% of their shots on two-point jumpers. Ridley’s particularly proficient at it too, hitting 55%. There’s probably a bit of noise in the data considering he hit just 39% last season, but it’s not unfathomable that he’s improved a bit this season.
Iona is trying to get those two shots like that too. A lot of their two-point makes come off assists. This is how Ridley played well with Mike Glover last season and the same is going to be true with David Laury. Having an athletic rim rocker like Glover last season and Laury this year makes it easier for the stretch big to get even more open two-point jump shots. If Ridley can stay around 40%-plus this season the Iona attack is going to be even more difficult to stop.
There are good ways to utilize the two-point jump shot as each of these cases show. It’s not a lost art, it’s just one that requires caution when deciding to employ.