All the latest trends and stats point players and coaches to focusing on 3 pointers and layups. To the point where midrange shots are frowned upon and seen as detrimental to the offense. As it so happens, defenses are starting to adjust and focus on taking those shots away.
Which brings us to Jared Sullinger. The big fella has been working on expanding his range for the last couple of years. He's best around the basket but on some level it made sense within the offense for him to be able to stretch the floor by taking shots outside the paint. In particular in pick-and-pop situations.
The problem is, he has never really shot with a high percentage from 3 point land and he's not getting any better at it. The (very boiled down) statistical theory behind shooting 3's is that you get more points per shot attempt, provided you shoot at a decent rate. If you can hit 35% of your 3's, that's worth just over a point per shot. If you hit 45% of your midrange shots, that's only worth 0.9 points per shot.
So far this season Sullinger is shooting just 27.7% which is good for 0.8 points per shot. Not ideal.
The problem has been doubly bad in that teams have done their homework and are letting him take that shot. So the offense isn't even benefiting from any extra spacing.
At some point, you just have to throw your hands up and say "this isn't working, let's try something else." That seems to be what Jared Sullinger has done. In the last 3 games, he hasn't attempted a single 3 pointer. Instead, he's finding open space and taking largely uncontested midrange shots.
"I think that was my biggest thing is that I was worried about where I was popping at," he said before Wednesday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers at TD Garden. "I didn’t want to shoot a long 2. Analytics say to shoot the 3. "I just threw the analytics out the door. Wherever you pop, just shoot it. If you’re not (open), move the ball."
A lot of those shots are falling and Sullinger helped fuel the failed comeback attempt against New York.
Personally I'm excited to see how this plays out. I've been tired of watching him shoot from long range for a while now. Shooting is all about confidence and you never want to tell a player "don't shoot, you just aren't good at it." But getting him to shoot more in his range is a much better option.
There's still room in this game for midrange jumpers and if anything, you can sometimes take advantage of zigging when the rest of the league is zagging. The midrange game worked very well for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett throughout their careers and it could still be of use in this day and age.
Of course the best thing is for Sully to get his posterior down on the post where he can do the most damage, but giving him another weapon within the Celtics system that actually helps the team win basketball games is a good thing.