The midrange game has been losing its flair for years.
The 3-point line and more players learning ball-handling techniques to attack the rim instead of settling for outside looks have made that 12-to-20-foot jump shot a higher-risk, lower-reward option that fewer players are attempting.
But the Rip Hamiltons and Steve Nashs of the world need not worry. There are still players who make the midrange jump shot an important part of their offensive repertoire. And looking at film and analyzing numbers provided by Synergy, it’s Vander Blue who is doing some of the most efficient work from this spot in the country.
Pick a scoring category and it becomes evident Blue is perhaps the most improved offensive player in the Big East this season. While going from 25 minutes per game as a sophomore to 32 minutes this year, Blue’s scoring average is up from 8.4 to 15.0, and he’s shooting nearly six percentage points higher from the field (41.3 to 47.1). Just for good measure, his free throw percentage is up two points, too.
And while Blue has made significant strides in every aspect of his game — free throws, layups, jumpers, 3-pointers, you name it — the one area that has helped him make Marquette the Big East’s most efficient offense is his midrange game.
Unofficially defined (for this analysis’ purpose) as anything farther away than a floater, runner or layup, and anything closer than a 3-pointer, Blue has attempted 40 midrange jump shots this season. Of those, he has made a red-hot 59 percent of them (24-of-40). All of last year he was 4-of-19 from that area.
Here’s a look at Blue’s shot chart showing only midrange jumpers:
The first takeaway is that Blue is lethal from the middle of the floor. Our story yesterday plotted how Blue has struggled from beyond the arc in the middle of the court, which makes all the more sense that he is pulling down the ball and dribbling in for a closer look when he starts at that spot.
Blue also uses screens extremely well that push him to the middle of the area, and when taller defenders sag he makes them pay. He also loves the right side, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering he’s right-handed.
If that shot chart impresses you, it should. Blue ranks second in the country in efficiency from midrange jumpers. In 40 shot attempts — meaning 40 possessions — Blue has scored 49 points (24 2-pointers and one free throw). That’s 1.21 points per possession. Here’s how that stacks up to the other players in the top-10 in this category:
*NOTE* Synergy breaks down jump shots into two categories: 17 feet-and-beyond and inside 16 feet. The two are combined here to get a full look at what the top players do when they pull up inside the 3-point arc. All stats are per Synergy, as of Tuesday’s games.
Blue isn’t the top jump shooter on this list (he doesn’t even have the coolest name), but to have the third most possessions of players in the top-10 — only Dees and Cook have more — and to be second in points per possession is an impressive statistic. Further, Blue has done his damage against a tough non-conference schedule and Big East competition. With no disrespect to the others on the list, only Blue and Brust have played against high-major talent all year.
The important statistic thus far has been efficiency, but the last piece of evidence that pushes Blue ahead of the 6-foot-11 Akol (and others) is how each of these players use the midrange game to complement the rest of their game.
After all, if a player can only hit jumpers but isn’t contributing offensively elsewhere, how important is that sole aspect to their game, really?
Here’s each of the top-10 players’ per-game numbers, looking at who is doing more than just hitting midrange jumpers:
While Akol sits atop the chart in points per possession, his 6.8 points per game show he isn’t doing much else. For that matter, taking Fulton (9.1) and Dower (7.1) out of the equation seems fair. Blue’s 15.0 points per game on 47 percent shooting are complemented by his touch from midrange, not because of it.
It’s also worth noting that, outside of the center Akol, Blue is the worst 3-point shooter on this list statistically. Ironically, looking back at his shot chart, he’s 9-of-13 on midrange jumpers closest to the 3-point line. A vast majority of his jumpers come off the dribble after he steps in from the 3-point line, proving that he’s more comfortable doing that than spotting up for a 3 or a midrange jumper.
Putting all those factors together make it clear that Blue is one of, if not the most efficient midrange jump shooters in college basketball. Some may question why the junior shooting guard takes those aforementioned “high-risk, low-reward” shots, but it’s clearly something Blue is comfortable doing.
As Buzz Williams has mentioned numerous times, Blue’s biggest improvement this season is knowing what a good shot is and what a bad shot is. As the numbers prove, a midrange jumper for Vander Blue is a very, very good shot.