Hidden NBA Gems Guaranteed to Break out Next Season
The mid-range game is nearly dead in the NBA, but but a few under-the-radar shooters are primed to exploit the league's forgotten shot on the way to surprising seasons in 2013-14.
Before we name names, a little context is necessary.
In today's NBA, when an offensive player attempts a mid-range jumper—even one that's uncontested—the defense generally views the possession as a win. As analytics have grown in popularity, the best defenses are working to limit opponents' opportunities at the rim and from beyond the arc.
It's not complicated; the most efficient scoring opportunities should be the ones that defenses spend the most energy trying to limit.
But as teams sell out in their efforts to shut down high-percentage scoring chances, there might be some room for a select few players to take advantage of the lack of attention paid to the mid-range area.
Now, "break out" is a loaded term, one typically reserved for up-and-coming studs on the way to stardom.
In this instance, we'll take a look at some of the players whose excellent mid-range games give them a real chance to make a huge impact. Even when these guys are open from 17 feet, defenses will cover up three-point shooters and sag into the middle, inviting a long two-pointer.
Unlikely as it may seem, these players are in a position to break out by attacking the weak spots in today's defensive trends.
*Note: Great mid-range shooters like LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Stephen Curry aren't included here. If you think they qualify as "hidden," I'm not sure what to tell you.
Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Lakers
No, he's not Dwight Howard.
But Chris Kaman, the Los Angeles Lakers' big offseason get, is a highly accomplished offensive center with a smooth jumper. For that reason, he's an ideal candidate to enjoy a big year.
Last season, Kaman hit 51 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet, according to Hoopdata.com. Among players who suited up for at least 20 games and averaged at least 20 minutes per contest, only mid-range maestro Chris Bosh was more accurate.
The Lakers are going to be able to create more space without Howard bogging things down in the middle this year, so expect Kaman to get ample looks from his beloved mid-range spots. Assuming he can stay healthy, there's a good chance the veteran center takes advantage of loads of open looks.
No matter how old they get, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are going to command the bulk of the defensive attention in L.A. That means opponents will work to shut down Bryant's penetration and keep Gasol off the offensive boards.
Kaman will get to hang around the elbows all by himself, content to bomb away without a defender near him.
For a center with a jumper, he's in an ideal situation.
Patrick Patterson, Sacramento Kings
It's true that much of Patrick Patterson's value comes from his ability to knock down shots from beyond the three-point line, but he's also going to be extremely useful as a mid-range shooter for the Sacramento Kings.
With DeMarcus Cousins likely to draw a ton of defensive attention as a pick-and-roll partner for point guard Greivis Vasquez, teams are always going to to be scrambling to recover as the ball swings to Patterson on the weak side.
He could certainly take advantage of those touches by hoisting threes. But as defenders hustle to run him off of the line, he'll have an open invitation to take one dribble, step in and bury easy 20-footers.
Typically, shots like that aren't efficient options. But Patterson isn't a typical shooter.
According to Hoopdata, he drilled 49 percent of his long twos in his 26 games with the Kings last season, which means he should have just as bright of a green light from inside the arc as he does beyond it.
Brandon Bass, Boston Celtics
It may not matter to the Boston Celtics, a team that isn't (or, at least, shouldn't be) particularly interested in winning games, but Brandon Bass is kind of an ideal offensive weapon against today's defenses.
Offensively, the only way he produces is on the offensive glass and as a terrific mid-range marksman.
In each of the last three seasons, Bass has hit at least 46 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet, per Hoopdata. And he's not just accurate; he's prolific. Bass shoots far more often from that range than anywhere else on the floor.
So what if you're the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets or New York Knicks and you know you're going to have to get past either the Indiana Pacers or the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs? You know that both of those teams literally beg offenses to shoot mid-range shots, oftentimes purposely leaving players open in an effort to goad what they know to be low-percentage looks.
Wouldn't Bass be an intriguing guy to snag in a trade?
He'd love nothing more than to drill long twos against the league's best defenses in the playoffs. In fact, he might even make Frank Vogel and Tom Thibodeau change their schemes a bit.
He might not do it for the Celtics, but some smart playoff team should be able to swoop in and snag Bass as a secret weapon.
Luis Scola, Indiana Pacers
The Pacers swung a deal with the Phoenix Suns for Luis Scola because they needed someone—anyone!—to provide an offensive spark off the bench. The Argentine vet will certainly do that, but more specifically, his mid-range shooting should also be a big help against some of the East's better defenses.
David West fills the role of mid-range assassin in the first unit very well. Last year, he attempted 4.1 long twos per game and made an excellent 46 percent of them, according to Hoopdata. Now, though, Scola will be able to come in as a perfectly capable relief option.
He certainly won't defend, rebound or intimidate like West does, but Scola's 45 percent accuracy rate from 16-23 feet will preserve the Pacers' offensive spacing perfectly.
As a key role player on one of the league's best teams, Scola's jumper (well, it's really more of a set shot, but you get the idea) is going to have a huge impact during the regular season and throughout what should be a deep playoff run.
Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic
Tobias Harris is a breakout candidate for a number of reasons. He's young, athletic, in a position to play heavy minutes and gifted with a surprisingly versatile scoring touch.
But for our purposes, it's his mid-range shot that deserves attention.
After coming over to the Orlando Magic as part of the deal that sent J.J. Redick to the Milwaukee Bucks, Harris blossomed. He logged 35.7 minutes per game, averaged 17.5 points and hauled in 8.4 rebounds per game.
As you've probably guessed based on the focus of this feature, he was also really good from the forgotten mid-range area. Though he attempted just 2.3 shots per game from 16-23 feet, he drilled 47 percent of them. Amazingly his field-goal percentage from that distance was actually slightly better than his overall accuracy rate.
So maybe he needs to take a few more deep twos.
Harris is a unique case in that he's the most offensively versatile player we've covered on this list. He can get to the hole, knock down a three and has shown growth in his ability to draw fouls. Defenders generally do their best to sag off of him, inviting a jumper and guarding against penetration. To his credit, Harris often took what the defense gave him.
Just over half of his long twos were assisted last season, which means he was pulling up off the dribble or from a triple-threat position pretty frequently.
Defenders aren't going to suddenly start inviting him to drive next year, which means he'll have just as much space—and possibly more—to knock down open jumpers. Expect a big impact from Harris.