Blake Griffin's Perimeter Shot, a Reality Check

Apr 9, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) shoots the ball during the first half against the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

A couple of different high-profile NBA scribes wrote about Blake Griffin today. Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated had a very nice feature on Griffin's ongoing development in his second season. Meanwhile, Marc Stein's Weekend Dime on ESPN.com dedicated Item 10 to Griffin as well.

The two of them seem to come away with very different impressions of Griffin's oft-criticized perimeter jump shot. Amick sees progress in that area:

His shooting has improved from 50.6 percent last season to 54.3 percent this season, with a slight uptick from mid-range (34 percent to 36 percent) and in the paint outside the restricted area (36 percent to 38 percent), according to NBA.com. If and when he becomes consistent with his outside jumper, his already-scary offensive attack could be even more dangerous.

But Stein, whose main point is to recall how much fun Blake's dunks are despite other issues, is very negative about Blake's perimeter shooting:

... entering Wednesday night's play, Blake Griffin had missed 74 of the 112 unguarded jumpers he's hoisted this season.

So which is it? Is he OK and getting better from the perimeter, or is he a disaster as implied by those 74 unguarded misses?

Here's the problem with this discussion: the mid-range jump shot, defined on hoopdata as shots between 16 and 23 feet, is the least efficient shot in the NBA, period. Not just for Blake Griffin -- for everybody. So it's super easy to make a sweeping criticism of Griffin, and throw out a number like 36% or 74 misses in 112 attempts (though honestly I have no idea what hard data is backing up this stat, which originated from a Hardwood Paroxysm tweet), but until you put it into context, it has little meaning.

So let's add that context. Focusing on the 16-23 range, with data obtained from hoopdata.com, Griffin is hitting 36% of his mid-range jump shots this season, up from 33% last season, a not insignificant 10% improvement. Still -- 36% is terrible, right? I mean, he's making 54% of his shots overall, so 36% is totally unacceptable. It must surely be among the worst mid-range percentages in the league, right?

Guess what? League-wide, NBA players make just over 38% of mid-range jump shots. So Griffin is in fact just slightly below average as a mid-range jump shooter. In fact, based on his improvement throughout this season, it seems reasonable to assume that he is in fact right around the league average at this point. He is, by pretty much any reasonable definition, not a bad mid-range shooter; just an average one.

It's interesting also that Griffin is singled out for this criticism. The constant comparison Griffin faces is to the more 'complete' Kevin Love (a reference made in Amick's article). So what does the oh-so-much-more-well-rounded Love shoot from the mid-range? 36%. Actually, to be perfectly precise, Love has made 68 of 190 mid-range jumpers (35.8%) while Griffin has made 80 of 221 (36.2%) -- so Griffin has actually been better than Love from the mid-range this season.

Here's a partial list of other players who have shot a lower percentage than Griffin from the mid-range this season: Ray Allen, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, Luol Deng, James Harden, Danny Granger and Josh Smith.

(A quick aside about that HP tweet -- as I say, I don't know where Matt Moore got his "74 misses in 112 unguarded attempts" figure. But those numbers would work out to a shooting percentage of 34%. Which is still better than Anthony's 33% or Granger's 33% or Gay's 31% on all their shots from 16-23 feet. It also implies that Griffin shoots better when 'guarded' than when 'unguarded' since his overall percentage on these shots is higher. Regardless, it makes for a fun but ultimately nonsensical tweet. Context -- a small thing, but turns out it matters.)

The bottom line is that league-wide the long two point jumper is an inefficient shot. So while Griffin's relatively average conversion percentage may not be as big an issue as some people like to imply, the fact that Griffin has taken 221 of them (24% of his 917 field goal attempts) might indeed by an issue. Is he taking too many?

Here's the thing -- NBA coaches KNOW that the long two is the worst shot in basketball, and NBA defenses are therefore designed to take away everything else and funnel shooters to the mid-range. Sometimes that's the shot you have to take. Does Griffin take too many of them? Well, let's look at it another way: Blake Griffin leads the league -- that's the entire NBA, including guys like Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, not just forwards, not just second year players, not just Clippers, not just my friends, everyone -- with 293 field goals converted at the rim. He makes better than 73% from down there, which is double his rate from the mid-range, so it's obviously a better shot. But it's a better shot for everybody -- trouble is you can't always get to the rim, and Griffin is already doing it better than any other player, so it seems strange to ask him to do more.

Can Blake Griffin improve his perimeter game? Of course. He has already, and he can get much, much better. But to imply that it is some massive achilles heel in his game that is his unique flaw is just not correct. He's already become an average mid-range shooter, not the disaster he's often implied to be.

His free throw shooting is an entirely different matter.

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