One of the most significant changes in the NBA recently has been the increased scrutiny on analytics by basketball coaches, front offices and experts. This attention has influenced the way offense is played, as the long two-pointer and midrange shots have been deemed less valuable shots. These shot attempts typically provide less value on a point-per-shot basis than three-pointers or two-point shots in the paint. No team has embraced this mindset more than the Houston Rockets, who set the NBA record for the most three-point shots last regular season, en route to the best record in the league. An increased focus on analytics has helped teams in the regular season by gearing them towards shots that have higher pay-offs. However, it has also resulted in more predictable offensive schemes that have plagued teams like the Rockets in long playoff series. Consequently, it may not be in the best interests of NBA teams to completely disregard shots that analytics deems less favorable, especially the midrange two.

When looking at a list of the NBA greats, one characteristic many of the guards and wings share is an effective midrange shot. Players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and to a slightly lesser extent, LeBron James have relied heavily on their midrange shot as part of their offensive arsenal, especially in the clutch. In a long playoff series, especially late in games, having the ability to have a player take and make these shots has a value that goes beyond a points-per-shot metric. For one, getting a midrange shot late in games, where defenses are less focused, is appealing as it is markedly closer and easier to make than a contested three. The midrange jumper is also safer than driving to hoop because officials are more likely to swallow their whistles and allow for more physicality. Consequently, later in games, teams like the Warriors will often run a play to get Durant a midrange jumper, even though it may have less points-per-attempt than a Durant three or a Durant shot from the paint.

In addition, shooting these shots adds a layer of unpredictability to an offense. This problem has especially plagued the Rockets, who have almost completely abandoned their midrange games in key playoff series over the last few years. The team notoriously missed 27 three-pointers in a row in a decisive Game 7 against the Warriors last year, while shooting just 31.2 percent from beyond the arc over the course of the series — a mark which was lower than all 30 NBA teams’ percentages during regular season. While the Rockets stood by their offensive model and offensive system and marked Game 7’s shooting drought as an aberration, perhaps instead they should have considered it a warning of the perils of relying too heavily on analytics.

An NBA playoff series between two top-tier teams often stretches to six or seven games. This means teams can more comprehensively plan for opponents than they can over the course of the regular season, where teams face a different opponent almost every night. The Warriors saw the Rockets’ desire to shoot threes and schemed defensively to chase them off the line. Despite having capable midrange shooters in Chris Paul, James Harden and Eric Gordon, the Rockets shied away from shooting such shots. This tactic created a situation where the threes that provided more value over the course of the regular season became increasingly inefficient and less valuable as they became more contested. Similarly, paint twos become less effective as officials tend to call less fouls on drives in the playoffs. Had the Rockets showed a willingness to shoot more midrange shots over the course of the series, perhaps the Warriors’ defense would have had to adjust. Consequently, the threes and paint twos they shot would have been more open and efficient overall.

While analytics can be a valuable tool in improving an offense’s efficiency, there is still a value in shooting shots that analytics may discourage, especially in key moments in the playoffs.

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