Thomas Welsh and the two-point jumper

Basketball is moving away from the mid-range shot. It’s calculated in many ways, the emergence of Synergy Sports (sponsor me??) certainly giving different context to the shot, but it’s indubitably the highest-risk, lowest reward attempt in the sport (aside from hiring a retread). It’s the Allegiant Air of jumpers, the fire-Mark-Richt of shots, the-sleeping-with-a-Kardashian of attemtps.

Much has been made of the Houston Rockets’ effective elimination of the shot, an analytical abolition to optimize the value of an offensive possession. Three points, after all, is greater than two, a two-foot attempt simpler than an eighteen-footer of the same “value” (two points). The mid-range attempt is an offense’s enemy.

Conversely, the same shot is a favorite for defenses. Considering the same value propositions, it’s the optimal shot a defense wants its opponent taking. When trying to stop a team from scoring, force your opponent to take that same high-risk, low-reward attempt you don’t want to take. It’s the driving principle behind Tony Bennett and Sean Miller’s pack-line defense and Jim Boeheim’s zone. Kentucky’s insane defense last year forced the majority of their opponents’ shots in this range, connecting on a feeble 27%.

In looking holistically across college basketball (and using hoop-math.com as our quantifier) the percentage of offense taken in the two-point range (non-layup or dunk) has steadily decreased over the past few seasons. Take a peak:

shot locations by year

sweet graph

Layups, dunks, and threes are up. The mid-range is down. The rationale behind this trend, as we noted, is seemingly obvious. It’s also worth noting that achieving shots at the rim is no easy task – there are five guys standing in front of it – and making three-pointers is also difficult – just 33.9% of NCAA three point attempts are successfully being made this season (or roughly Ted Williams’ career batting average). This percentage is incidentally the lowest of the last five years. Furthermore, there’s been a greater emphasis on freedom of movement (easier to get to the rim or foul line) and the consistent evolution of the block/charge call. The arc is bigger than ever and defenses can be less aggressive around the rim. More rim-tacking.

Yet as the game trends towards beyond the arc and under the rim, it doesn’t mean the two-point jumper isn’t available. The aforementioned defensive schemes in fact encourage the attempt. Thus, any persons skilled in the 8-to-18 foot range have a distinct advantage.

Thomas Welsh is skilled at this shot.

The UCLA power forward or center or token-tall-guy-somewhere-in-the-middle-of-the-floor has connected on 46% of his career two-point jump shot attempts. That is a very high rate.

Context: The NCAA’s average FG% on two-point jumpers has been about 35% the last five years. Welsh is making 58% of his two-point jumpers this year. We must also note that 59% of Welsh’s career shot attempts have come at the 2-point jumper range which, when contextualized with Welsh’s shooting percentage at that range, means a Welsh two-point jumper is a higher value shot than most anyone else’ anything. He has never attempted a three.

thomas welsh shots

credit: www.shotanalytics.com

Within the context of Welsh’s own skill set, he is optimizing what he does well and serving the team’s benefit. When considering this skill, you might assume Welsh is drifting away from the hoop, limiting his ability to rebound on the offensive end. Not so fast my friend. Welsh has a competitive OR% (9.8%) which is actually a higher rate than Josh Scott, Nikola Jovanovic, Dwayne Benjamin, Josh Hawkinson, and Kaleb Tarczewski.

Of course Welsh isn’t creating this shot (i.e. Thomas Welsh is not taking step back baseline Js). Welsh’s contributions are often a byproduct of the team’s effort (as team sports do). So why is this a particularly critical skill for the Bruins? Consider Bryce Alford. The oft criticized point guard is ball dominant – for better or worse – and connects on just 44% of his shots at the rim (NCAA average is about 59%). Anecdotally we know that Alford is getting into the lane but he isn’t necessarily finishing there. So what, as a defense collapses to the rim on a driving Bryce, could he do? Find his newly freed big man, of course. Nearly every single one of Thomas’ 22 two-pointers have been assisted (95.5%).

NCAA Basketball: Montana State at UCLA

It is not a lost art but perhaps a faded one. The basic jumper – unglamorous in the age of Steph Curry posterizing people 25-feet from the basket – is still worth two points.

Here’s a list of other Pac-12ers with a propensity to make this less-than-sexy-but-highly-risky shot attempt (but seriously, look at how dominant Welsh is at the shot):

Team Name FGA 2pt Jumper FGA % shots 2pt J FG% 2pt Jumpers %assisted 2pt J
UCLA Welsh Thomas 63 37 58.70% 59.50% 95.50%
Arizona Anderson Ryan 64 36 56.20% 30.60% 63.60%
Arizona St. Holder Tra 58 25 43.10% 40.00% 0.00%
Arizona Ristic Dusan 35 24 68.60% 33.30% 62.50%
Colorado Gordon Wesley 31 22 71.00% 36.40% 62.50%
California Rabb Ivan 52 22 42.30% 40.90% 66.70%
Washington St. Hawkinson Josh 40 21 52.50% 52.40% 81.80%
Washington Dickerson Noah 43 21 48.80% 33.30% 57.10%
Arizona Tollefsen Mark 46 19 41.30% 57.90% 54.50%
Washington St. Johnson Que 33 14 42.40% 42.90% 50.00%
Arizona Tarczewski Kaleb 26 13 50.00% 30.80% 75.00%

6 thoughts on “Thomas Welsh and the two-point jumper

  1. Analytics are a nice tool, but it still comes down to players executing. A team that reverses the ball on offense utilizing crisp passing and player movement that results in a missed layup failed to score, but ran its offense correctly. I believe that is more effective than a contested three point shot regardless of the outcome. The shots Welsh takes – particularly from 10-15 ft on the baseline are basically a layup for him. UCLA has struggled this year on two fronts – they are a sieve defensively and poor in transition, they are careless with the ball in the half court. Welsh and Parker typically are drawn out by smaller players on defense and forced to play in space. Jonah Bolden was supposed to be an athletic wing defender in the mold of Looney, but he’s been tentative thus far.

    All in all, the contested two point mid range shot is a “bad” shot. I would agree with you, but in the case of Welsh he rarely takes bad shots. That would explain, in large, part his make percentage. Keep up the good work.

    1. MARC IS BACK!

      And this is the beauty of being a critical thinker in this day-and-age: the marriage of analysis and understanding. The ultimate goal is an open shot – synergy sports would be of great help in understanding this. We don’t have that. What you note – and what must be most frustrating as a Bruins fan – is defense and turnovers, two components of the game that seemingly are the most controllable. I’m 4-to-8 drafts deep on a UCLA defense article in which I lament Kevon Looney and Kyle Anderson at the top of that unique 1-2-2 defense. They were a combined 14.5 feet that didn’t allow anything. Bolden – you’re right – I thought would/could be that guy. Having effectively your 4 at the top of the zone makes the zone shifty, dynamic.

      You’ve inspired me to get back on that train.

      Always appreciate your perspective.

      1. Pac-12 has compiled some nice OOC wins. Bruins played well last evening.

        I thought Bolden was a significant contributor in the victory over UK, but the enthusiastic crowd was huge factor. Good win for Coach Alford. This team gets Goloman back in few weeks – very important role player off the bench with ability to stretch defenses.

        Still a month until conference play, but it appears the Conference of Champions will be up for grabs. Interested to see how Cats do against Gonzaga on Saturday.

        1. Bruins played pretty damn terrific. Kentucky looked like what a team of freshmen and injured point guards would normally look like.

          I’m not too fascinated with that AZ-Gonzaga game. I mean, I’m pumped, dont’ get me wrong, but without Tarc to combat the greatest front court a mid-major has ever seen, I’m not optimistic. That said…the WSU backcourt put up big numbers which leads to optimism for Parker, Kadeem, Gabe and Allonzo.

          As in all things: we will see.

          Good win for the Bruins.

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