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30Q: Who Should Frank Mason Model His Game After?

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One fundamental change could mean a world of difference for our second year point guard.

Sacramento Kings v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Frank Mason III came into the league with the deck stacked against him. Already 23 years old on draft night and standing barely 6’0” in shoes, he knew he was going to have to work harder than most of the players around him. And while he did just that in his first year, the results suggest there is more to be done in order to prove his worth in the NBA.

Mason’s age and height can’t be improved upon, but his game can be. In fact, it probably must be if he is going to have a long and productive career. Because while he did show valuable flashes as a rookie, a troubling trend defined his season.

Frank Mason was one of the worst finishers around the bucket in the entire NBA last year. Among players who logged at least 100 attempts within 5 feet of the basket, Mason was dead last in field goal percentage at 42.2%. That’s more than 3% lower than the next guy on the list, and almost 20% lower than the league wide average of 61.3%.

Lowest FG% Inside 5 Feet (Min. 100 Attempts)

Player FGM FGA FG%
Player FGM FGA FG%
Frank Mason 57 135 0.422
Sindarius Thornwell 52 114 0.456
Lonzo Ball 81 176 0.460
Isaiah Thomas 48 101 0.475
Terry Rozier 89 184 0.484

This flaw in Frank’s game is no secret. Analysts across the league keyed into this shortcoming early, including our staff here at Sactown Royalty. You can read more on how Mason’s aggressiveness created a very ineffective driver, as detailed by Tim Maxwell in a post from April.

But his ineffectiveness was not contained just to drives or shots at the rim. Taking a look at his shooting splits by distance, we see that he struggled on the whole from inside of 20 feet. What makes these numbers even more stark is his success from outside of that range.

Frank Mason Shooting Splits

Distance FGM FGA FG% Points Generated Points Per Attempt EFG%
Distance FGM FGA FG% Points Generated Points Per Attempt EFG%
<20 ft. 98 262 0.374 196 0.748 0.374
20+ ft. 46 111 0.414 123 1.108 0.554

This presents a rather unique dichotomy in Frank’s game. Generally speaking, field goal percentage is expected to improve the closer a player is to the basket. That is the thesis of most NBA offenses to this day, despite a recent increase of focus on the 3-point shot. Even Houston’s long distance offense prefers shots at the rim if they can get them.

Efficiency is the name of the game, so when such a difference in effective field goal percentage exists from one shot type to the next, people take note. For some added context for the difference, lets focus in on that last column of the chart above. Mason’s eFG% from outside of 19 feet was equivalent to Chris Paul’s overall eFG% (.550), while his average shot from inside that range was closer to Michael Carter-Williams’ level (.362). In other words, Mason produces like an All-Star when shooting from deep, but looks more like a guy fighting for a roster spot when closer to the basket.

So then, it appears that Mason could take a big step forward just by taking more of his shots from the outside. That seems simple enough, but changing the instincts of a lifelong basketball player isn’t easy. When looking for inspiration though, there is one player in particular who could provide Mason a template for maximizing his value. It’s not a superstar. It’s not a guy who has his name on billboards all across the country, or a guy who’s name comes up in conversation every award season. But it is a player who has faced similar challenges to Frank Mason, and has succeeded at every turn. It’s San Antonio’s Patty Mills.

Mills and Mason

Player FG% 3PT% FGA >20 ft FGA 20+ ft eFG%
Player FG% 3PT% FGA >20 ft FGA 20+ ft eFG%
Frank Mason 0.379 0.36 262 111 0.42
Patty Mills 0.411 0.372 203 475 0.523

Shown in the table above, Mills and Mason aren’t that disparate in terms of their ability to convert shots. Mills is just a few percentage points higher in both field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. The gap there is small enough that it could plausibly be accounted for by experience and context, rather than raw skill.

While the first two columns of the table are rather similar, the second two columns could not be more different. Mason took twice as many shots from inside of 20 feet than outside, while Mills did the opposite. They are both undersized point guards with a nice - but not elite - set of skills. Mills just does a better job of playing within himself, and based again on that final column of eFG%, he is far more valuable for it.

Now let’s take a look at some tape in order to see how the two players act in similar situations. In this first set of clips, we see both players initiating offense high on the right wing, off the dribble. Watch for the difference in their shot selection.

They each test their defender with a couple dribbles to their right, switch to their left and dribble to the top of the key. The defenses adjust as both point guards gain the focus of help defenders. Then their paths diverge. Mason chooses to drive into the teeth of three opposing players and is blocked while going for a heavily contested layup. Mills instead passes out to the top-left of the perimeter, then floats away from his man and back to the line where he finds himself wide open for a catch-and-shoot three.

While the context for those plays aren’t completely identical, pausing each video at the 0:02 mark shows that both options were there for both players. What separates the results is pure judgement. In the next scenario, we will see each player drive baseline toward the bucket. Another decision is made at a similar point in these videos. Keep an eye out for how open Buddy Hield is in the left corner at 0:02 of the first clip.

It’s clear that Patty Mills has a great understanding of who he is as a player. That understanding has come through nine years of experience as well as guidance from a world class coaching staff in San Antonio. Mason has the potential to get there one day, but it won’t happen overnight.

If Mason were to make strides to play more like Mills, it would begin to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. The truth is that Mason has all the skills to become an extremely valuable role player. He might already be a better passer, rebounder, and defender than Mills. The only thing that’s missing is between the ears.

When watching Frank play, it seems that he wants to do it all. He wants to be a superstar. He wants to be the hero. But the inconvenient truth is that he probably can’t ever reach those heights. If he were to adjust his mindset and lower the bar for himself, however, he could be every bit the player that Mills is. That may seem to be a hard pill to swallow, but ask Patty Mills how it feels to be on a $50 million contract with a championship ring at home. He’d probably tell you that it feels alright.