Mid-range game critical to evolution of Caris LeVert

Dylan Burkhardt
on

Everybody hates the mid-range jumper.

Iowa State has nearly eliminated it from its offense. Daryl Morey has tried to do something similar in the NBA D-League with Rio Grande Valley.

John Gasaway recently tweeted that “’developing a mid-range game’ is like hitting well from the rough. Need to do it sometimes, but the best solution is don’t go there.”

But while everyone wants to exterminate the mid-range jumper, I’m here to tell you that it might be the most important area for Caris LeVert to improve his game this season.

Expectations couldn’t be higher for LeVert entering his junior season. Two summers ago he was a 6-foot-5, 170 pound guard without a home after former Ohio head coach John Groce took the head coaching job at Illinois. Now he’s a 6-foot-7, 200 pound NBA prospect ready to lead Michigan’s offense.

Being the focal point of John Beilein’s offense comes with plenty of responsibility, but it has also been a fast-track to the NBA. Over the last four seasons, Michigan’s No. 1 and No. 2 offensive options – Trey Burke, Nik Stauskas, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III — have all heard their names on draft night before their eligibility expired. LeVert appears to have next up.

For all of LeVert’s achievement as a sophomore, he still has a few holes in his game. He needs to continue to add weight, distribute in the half-court and will have an increased rebounding burden in 2015, but the mid-range is his biggest weak spot. 111 of LeVert’s 369 field goal attempts last season were outside of five feet, but inside the three-point line and he made just 29.7% of those attempts.

Step back to three-point range and LeVert made 41% of 147 attempts. Move closer to the basket LeVert made an impressive 62% of his 113 attempts.  He was terrific inside despite his slender frame and very effective outside – especially down the stretch – but for whatever reason he couldn’t find consistency in the mid-range.

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The theory behind eliminating the mid-range shot makes plenty of sense – Why shoot 35% from 18 feet when you can shoot 35% from 22 feet and earn an extra point? – but a successful mid-range attack is still critical to a balanced offense. At least some scoring production needs to come from the middle of the floor to keep opposing defenses honest.

Sure it would be ideal if half of LeVert’s shot attempts were at the rim and the other half were open threes. But as the presumed focal point of Michigan’s offense, LeVert is going to be under pressure to make plays in less than ideal situations. He’s going to have to knock in mid-range jumpers because somebody on Michigan’s roster is going to have to.

As a team, Michigan shot 37.4% on mid-range jumpers last season and the Wolverines lost two players that excelled in the mid-range to the NBA Draft. Glenn Robinson III was Michigan’s mid-range specialist, making 41.1% of a team-high 124 attempts, and it’s no secret that Nik Stauskas (39% on 80 attempts) was a pretty good shooter from any spot on the floor. LeVert actually had more mid-range attempts than Stauskas, but his effectiveness lagged behind.

Last year the threat of Robinson knocking down pin-down jumpers from the elbow, or Stauskas pulling up from 16-feet off of a ball screen, helped open up space for players like LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton. This year, the onus will be on LeVert to be Michigan’s primary creator in 2014-15. The majority of mid-range jumpers are created shots off the dribble, unlike many three-pointers which are of the catch-and-shoot variety.

LeVert is the best creator on Michigan’s roster and the Wolverines don’t have a lot of proven mid-range threats. The Wolverines’ three returning rotation players — Walton, Irvin and Spike Albrecht – were just 24 of 79 (30%) from the mid-range last season. Irvin is another natural candidate to improve his mid-range production and incoming freshman, and likely starter, Kameron Chatman is another player with a prototypical size and skillset to impress in the mid-range.

LeVert has a full collection of hesitation moves, crossover dribbles and a silky smooth outside shot. He can get wherever he wants on the floor, but the next step is to finish from all areas.. If he’s able to increase his productivity in the middle of the court, he could very well be on the same fast track as Michigan’s previous offensive leaders.

  • Vince

    Thanks Dylan and great article. Excellent insight to the importance of the mid-range shot in the grand scheme of things for the team to be successfully! With the departure of Stauskas and GR3 I was also worried about production in this area.

    However my take is that this would likely not be coming from Caris but more from Irvin and Chatman as you also pointed out. Based on the progression we saw from the Italy tour, it seemed Irvin and Chatman are both more comfortable in the mid-range J than Caris, and as long as someone knock down I believe Caris is going to be just fine being “himself” taking it to the basket or stepping back for the 3-ball. I was hoping to see one of the bigs being about to contribute in this area but seems both of them are not yet ready as a dependable mid range scorer.

    I guess I do agree and also hope Caris will vastly improve and be the all rounded offensive threat. I think the higher priority remains his ability to get his teammates involved and breakdown the defense for others to help him shoulder the load.

    • eddieben

      My only hesitation with Irvin and Chatman’s mid range opportunities revolve around their lack of creation off of the dribble. Seems like the offense allows for midrange shots from the primary ball handlers–think Stauskus, THJr, and Burke coming around high ball screens. So by this thinking, I could see Walton’s midrange game increase, while Irvin and Chatman settling into the corners for dumpoffs if the elbow jumpers aren’t available for Levert and Walton.

      However….with Irvin’s high percentage from beyond the arc, I would love to see him pump fake, take two dribbles inside and then pull-up for a 15 foot baseline jumper.

      • guestavo

        Chatman can create off the dribble…not sure about Irvin.

  • blueroc

    LeVert will have to step up big time this year. But I think that it is fairly safe to assume the Irvin will also have an improved mid-range game, which isn’t a huge assumption since he didn’t have much of one at all last year, and will help to spread the floor as well

  • UMHoopsFan

    Good offenses and players want lay-ups and open 3s, but good defenses know this and will try to prevent it. Having a good range-game can also open up the other areas.
    This is more of a feeling than anything concrete, but it seemed to me that Caris didn’t always have great recognition about when to take the mid-range jumper, and would pick up his dribble and get himself in trouble. I think this year he’ll show better and quicker decision-making.
    Also, shooting off the bounce will be key. I would guess that more of his 3s than Nik’s, for instance, were of the catch and shoot variety.

  • guestavo

    Caris was knocking that mid range jumper down at a good clip towards the end of the season, its just about reps. The midrange jumper would make him unstoppable but even without it, he would be All B1G. Not even sure a “leap” is a big issue. If you take all those scoreless games from OOC when he was adjusting to heavy minutes as a starter and replace them with “average” individual stats, hi statline would be pushing Stauskas’.

  • Quick Darshan

    If Donnal and Doyle prove to defenses they can hit those shots in a way that JMo couldn’t, that will help Levert get to the basket.

    • mikey_mac

      I agree with this, especially Donnal. I think a two-man game with pick-and-pop possibility will be very hard for a lot of opponents to guard, just because it’s rare in college for both the screener and the ball-handler to have the ability to score inside and out.

  • mikey_mac

    I think LeVert’s bigger priorities are ball-handling in the PNR (too many drives last season with no exit strategy that resulted in turnovers) and rebounding. Would love to see a big jump in his A:TO ratio. Clean rebounds leading to fast breaks will be a nice head start on this.