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Why the Utah Jazz still value midrange shots

Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) drives as Atlanta Hawks forward Cam Reddish (22) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, in Atlanta.
John Bazemore, Associated Press

ATLANTA — For years, we’ve been seeing the NBA change and hearing that the midrange game is disappearing, making room for more efficient and more valuable 3-point shots.

But no matter how much the league shifts to a more perimeter-based game, there’s always going to be a need for players who are skilled inside the arc.

“There’s this narrative that people don’t want the midrange,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said on Thursday ahead of the Jazz’s 116-98 win over the Atlanta Hawks. “I think the midrange is a huge part of the game, and oftentimes decides games.”

When teams are blitzing or guarding the 3-point line with more intention, or if a team is just not able to get shots to fall from outside, there aren’t many other places to go than inside.

Shortly after Snyder made those pregame comments, the Jazz were faced with a scenario in which they needed the midrange to stay in a game that could have gotten out of hand if not for a few short jumpers from the interior.

“If teams are shooting a lot of 3s, defenses are going to try to take them away and then the midrange becomes even more important,” Snyder said. “I think particularly late in the game and late in the shot clock when guys are able to get to their spots and create, those guys are weapons. Those are some of the best players in the league.”

Enter players such as Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson.

The Jazz were, as they have been through the early going of this young 2021-22 season, cold from beyond the arc. Luckily for them, so were the Hawks.

Looking for some way, any way to create scoring opportunities, the Jazz moved inward and were able to get a few more buckets to fall in the midrange and trailed by just one point at halftime.

Just look at Jazz’s first-half shooting chart from Thursday night’s game. There are a lot of misses from outside, but there were some timely and crucial makes from right around the paint.

Utah Jazz first-half shooting chart vs. Atlanta Hawks.
NBA.com

There are obviously other examples of players who have not moved away from an interior game as quickly as the rest of the league has. Take the Chicago Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan for example. He regularly burns teams with his midrange game.

Just because the Jazz don’t have a roster full of players like DeRozan, however, doesn’t mean that they don’t practice midrange jumpers or in the lane floaters and everything in between.

The way the analytics bear out, there’s proof that outside of a shot at the rim (the highest percentage shot in the game), there are very few times when it makes more sense to shoot a midrange shot versus a 3-pointer. But in those instances when it makes sense, or when a team just needs a bucket to get going, the Jazz want to be prepared and ready to strike.

“We emphasize the 3 a lot and we have a lot of guys that are good at it and we shoot a lot of 3s,” Snyder said, “but my personal feeling is that you need the ability to score at all three levels, because on any given night, teams are going to game plan to take something away, so it’s important to have that versatility.”

It’s possible that on Thursday night, if not for some critical midrange shots, the Jazz would have been at even more of a deficit than they were heading into the second half. It’s also possible that if not for seeing a couple of short shots go through the net that Clarkson wouldn’t have broken out of his recent shooting slump for 25 second half points, shouldering the Jazz to a victory in Atlanta.

“NBA players are so good that they read those situations,” Snyder said. “The game is going so fast and we sit here and say, ‘You should have done this, or should have done that.’ That’s why you practice all of it and you get in a game and don’t overthink it.”

That’s what the Jazz did on Thursday night — they didn’t overthink anything and they let the game come to them at whatever level felt right in the moment, and it worked.