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30Q: Will De’Aaron Fox master the midrange?

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Conquering the fifteen-footer is the next step in the young star’s offensive maturation.

Kimani Okearah

The Sacramento Kings were the NBA’s biggest surprise last season, and De’Aaron Fox’s transformation from rookie prospect to upper echelon point guard was the fundamental driver behind the Kings’ unexpected success. His development can be attributed to many factors: starting every night, enhanced court vision, focused aggression, and a host of other components, but Fox’s improved shooting was undoubtedly the biggest catalyst of his growth. According the Cleaning the Glass, De’Aaron managed to increase his positional shooting percentile in almost every area around the floor.

Year-to-Year Shooting Percentiles

Season eFG% At Rim 3P%
Season eFG% At Rim 3P%
2017-2018 20th 67th 26th
2018-2019 49th 81st 73rd

Sacramento’s young stud spent his first offseason focusing on extending his range while getting stronger for clashes in the paint. The one facet of Fox’s game that stagnated was the midrange area, an important, if much maligned aspect of most modern point guards’ arsenal.

As teams continue to follow Daryl Morey’s model of focusing solely on three-pointers, layups, dunks, and free throws, opposing defenses continue to evolve to combat that trend. The result of that ongoing struggle is a wide open area between the paint and the three-point line, and smart players are taking advantage of that gap. Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, and Mike Conley have all mastered that spot for a reason: it’s nearly impossible to stop a quick ball-handler who can reliably score from beyond the arc, from the midrange, and at the rim, especially in transition. De’Aaron Fox has begun to conquer the long-ball and the paint, but his overreliance and underperformance in the midrange over the last two years has left a large hole in his offensive versatility.

Among all NBA players, Fox ranked 30th in total midrange shots last year, averaging about 2.7 per game. And although he took more than most folks, De’Aaron rated far lower in his completion rate, knocking down just 37.3% of his attempts, landing him in the 23rd percentile in the league. Fox’s rookie season demonstrated a similar trend, as he ranked 35th in attempts, yet sunk only 35.7% of his shots, sitting in the 20th percentile. De’Aaron has fallen in love with the midrange over his first couple of years, but the midrange certainly hasn’t reciprocated those feelings.

Those struggles in the most open areas of the floor can be boiled down to a couple of bad habits. While Fox’s overall percentage in the midrange is rather disappointing, the real culprit of that low accuracy was his quirk of pulling up from just inside the three-point line.

During the 2018-2019 season, De’Aaron took 42 shots from 20+ feet that were still worth only two points, the least efficient shot in basketball. He made nine. Eradicating those ill-advised attempts would have increased his midrange field goal percentage from 37.3% to 43.1% last year, similarly boosting his league-wide position from the 23rd to the 66th percentile.

In addition to decreasing those difficult shots, Fox must also show better discernment as to when to utilize the midrange. He was deadly in fast break situations, as opponents gave him plenty of room to operate when he was sprinting full speed down the court, and that freedom allowed Fox to sink 50.9% of his 15-footers in transition.

The same cannot be said for the half-court, as De’Aaron’s percentage dipped to just 32.9% of those same shots when faced with a set defense. Sacramento’s offense is at its most potent when Fox is aggressively probing and attacking the paint, as well as setting up his teammates, and there’s no doubt that opposing teams count it as a win when he jacks up a difficult, through-the-legs, fade-away jumper early in the shot clock. One of a point guard’s critical duties is deciphering the difference between a good shot and a great one, and De’Aaron accepted what the defense gave him much too frequently in his sophomore season.

Taking a shot from the free throw line area isn’t an inherently terrible idea in and of itself, but it becomes what most analysts fear it to be when taken at a high frequency with a low completion rate – the exact formula De’Aaron Fox has used to this point. Coming into his third season, Fox must recognize that the midrange jumper is a unique tool reserved for specialty situations, a tool that he can harness to vastly improve his offensive effectiveness or a burden that will drag down his efficiency. Eliminating those long distance two-pointers, as well as staying aggressive in the half-court rather than settling for quick jump shots, will play a key role in De’Aaron Fox becoming a master of the midrange.