If there's one takeaway from this year's NBA playoffs, it would be the increased use of the midrange shot. Despised in the world of analytics as an outdated shot, it's important value was evident this postseason. Players such as Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Khris Middleton took and made these shots.
When the Golden State Warriors were at their peak, they showed how valuable the three point shot can be, prompting everyone from guards to centers to add that shot to their arsenal. As a result midrange shots became a shot that players were advised not to shoot. During Mike D'Antoni's tenure in Houston, any player on the Rockets that didn't shoot a layup or three pointer on a possession would be called out during film sessions. The only player that still took these shots was Carmelo Anthony and while he still made those shots, teams despised it so much that he went a year unsigned. However, the Portland Trail Blazers picked him up in November, 2019 and he is once again proving how valuable it is to have a midrange shot.
In this year's playoffs, Anthony wasn't the only player knocking down midrange jumpers. The teams that won the most in the playoffs had guys that could knock down crucial midrange shots. The Brooklyn Nets had Kevin Durant who despite being the only healthy player out of their big three, literally knocked down midrange shots at will. Durant gave the Celtics nightmares in the first round and nearly eliminated the Bucks single handedly. Overall, he shot an incredible 59% on all midrange shots during the playoffs.
Devin Booker and Chris Paul feasted on midrange shots throughout the postseason while guiding the Suns to their first Finals appearance since 1993. Paul always had the ability to knock down midrange shots, connecting on 52% off those jumpers. But it was Booker who's midrange game took a jump. In his three best games of the playoffs (game 6 WCQF, game 1 WCF, and game 4 Finals), Booker shot an efficent 24/44 off midrange jump shots.
Although he missed the end of the semifinals and all of the conference finals due to an injury, Kawhi Leonard still had a terrific postseason. He helped the Clippers rally from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 against the Mavericks before putting them in a position to beat Utah. In the eleven games before the injury, Leonard was efficent from the midrange shooting 62%.
The Milwaukee Bucks won the championship mainly because of Giannis Antetokounmpo's heroics, but Khris Middleton also played an important role in their run. He established himself as one of the more clutch players of the playoffs hitting big shots on many occasions: his game winner against the Heat, a turnaround putting Milwaukee ahead for good in game 7 against Brooklyn, shots down the stretch to cap a 40 point Finals performance, and a fallaway to dash any hopes of a Suns comeback in game six.
In the regular season, teams never play defense as intense compared to the postseason where a midrange shot can be a useful weapon against tight defense. People who watched the NBA playoffs were reintroduced to the midrange shot. While the heavy use of analytics diminished its value, this shot was reborn during the playoffs. Expect an increased usage of these types of shots next season.
It has been over a week into the NBA transaction period and the offseason has already been wild. Many teams have already been active in the market whether it's through trades or free agent signings. And while there are still high profile moves that might take place, here are my four teams that improved this offseason.
After an offseason that backfired in their quest to repeat as champions, the Lakers decided to go in a different direction: trade Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and a first round pick to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has been one of the top point guards in the league for a long time thanks to his athleticism and playmaking ability. He's the all time leader in career triple doubles. His decision making is another story. He has the tendency to force shots or passes in the closing moments. These flaws can be avoided if Westbrook would be willing to defer to a guy like LeBron James or even Anthony Davis in crucial moments down the stretch. If he does this, he could finally win his first championship In addition, they signed another future hall of famer in Carmelo Anthony. While Anthony might not be the dominating scorer he once was, he's still a reliable asset who remains dependable in clutch situations. The only question about this team will be their age. They have a record five players 35 or older on an NBA roster, which could catch up later in the season. Nonetheless, any team led by LeBron has a chance to win it all and this is one of the more talented rosters he's been a part of.
The Heat went into the 2020-2021 with high hopes after a surprising run to the Finals in the previous year. However, they had a down year and were swept in the first round by the eventual champion Bucks. Going into this offseason, they wasted no time taking advantage of the available cap room they had. They signed P.J. Tucker who's a rugged defender and solid three point shooter for only $17 million, but their big move was signing all star point guard Kyle Lowry from the Raptors via a sign and trade. While he lost a step last season Lowry is still a stellar floor general who can create his own shots and set up his teammates. On the defensive end, Lowry's a scrappy defender who puts his body on the line and should form a tough defensive backcourt with Jimmy Butler. Speaking of Butler, Miami awarded him with a $184 million contract extension along with a five year $90 million extension to Duncan Robinson. While both were key contributors in their run to the Finals, Butler will be 32 years old going into next season and Robinson, while an excellent 3-point shooter, isn't a great defender or passer so it will be interesting to see how both deals work out.
Following a season in which the Knicks made their first playoff appearance in eight years, many wondered if they would be able to re-sign some of the upcoming free agents who got them in that position. When free agency began, they wasted no timing re-signing Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, and Derrick Rose. Bringing back Rose in particular was a smart move since there were other teams who recognized his value and wanted to sign him. While they did lose Reggie Bullock, their short term replacement is Evan Fournier who can score in off the dribble and from three. He's not as good a defender as Bullock is but that could be improved under Tom Thibodeau. They also acquired Kemba Walker after he reached a buyout with the Thunder. Although Walker was clearly not 100% last season, he's usually one of the more crafty point guards in the league and is a good fit for the Knicks since he stabilizes their point guard rotation going into this season. Finally, they extended their best player Julius Randle for four years and $117 million. Although Randle had a subpar postseason, he helped get them there and he's worth every penny. In fact, Randle actually took less money to allow the team to improve other areas of the roster.
The Bulls entered the offseason with money to spend on improving their roster and wasted no time in doing so. They added two skilled perimeter players in DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball via sign and trade. While they already have a talented scorer in shooting guard Zach LaVine, Ball and DeRozan both bring useful skillsets to the table. Ball is a strong defender who's averaged over one steal each year of his career. On offense, he brings playmaking to the Bulls. His scoring has slowly progressed, but his passing will most likely be the difference. Since entering the league, Ball has had 40 games with 10 or more assists; thirteen more games than anyone on the Bulls roster combined throughout that span. DeRozan might not be the player he was with the Raptors, but he's still a solid player. He converted 49.5% of his shots and averaged a career high seven assists. How he'll fit next to LaVine is going to be interesting given that they play the same position and still need time to develop chemistry.
These are the moves that I believe will pay the most dividends this upcoming season. As mentioned earlier, the offseason isn't over yet and there might be major moves in the making as we speak. However, these teams that I mentioned have had the best off-seasons and fans should feel good about their situation.