On midrange, Phil Jackson, and the Chicago Bulls

Some interesting thoughts have been popping up in the forum and on Twitter in reference to our dialogue on these pages regarding Carmelo Anthony.  First, the most common reasoning I’ve seen espoused in opposition to an Anthony pursuit involves the “no midrange” philosophy with the thinking being that because Anthony shoots too many midrange shots, he’s inefficient and thus, not a good fit on this team.  It’s important to address this.

For some time now, I have been of a minority opinion regarding the philosophy in that its not that I don’t see its merits but rather, I don’t wholeheartedly buy in.  My theory, which unfortunately I do not have the math skills to be able to quantify, is that the soundest way to build a system–and thus, at a micro level, a player–is by focus upon rimshots and 3’s, with mere avoidance of midrange shots rather than complete and total abandonment of the area.  The philosophy is a great way to lift a 37 win team to 45 wins or an All-Star to superstar status; but I don’t think, if using it, a 56 win team can win a title, nor do I think an All-Star can lift his play to ‘all-time great’ status.

The primary example I point to as evidence is Lebron James’ Game 7 against the Spurs.  The focus Lebron James has put into his efficiency through the use of analytics has been well documented.  Look at this shot charts through the years and you see less midrange shots with each passing season.  But he essentially won the title solely because of the work he put in on his midrange shot.  Had that shot not been falling in Game 7 of last year’s Finals, with the Spurs having completely shut down the paint, the Heat go home as losers.  In essence, I think that as a team, and by extension as a player (or I guess maybe just for your best players), you want to put your focus upon 3’s and the rim, but you also have to be able to shoot from the midrange because the great teams are able to take the first two away by packing the paint and quickly closing out on shooters.  Now, to be clear, I want to underscore this distinction.  I’m not saying midrange shots should be taken in bunches.  That would be inefficient and the math has already proven that out.  What I’m saying is that they shouldn’t be totally abandoned.

Anthony as your best player presents problems inherent to this logic.  But as your third best player?  It’s pretty much a no-brainer.  You can still attack the paint and shoot 3’s all night with Howard/Harden and your role players, but late in the fourth, you have another option who can squeeze off shots in tight spaces.

A lot of you said that the Phil Jackson hiring shut down any chance of Anthony bolting.  While that development certainly exponentially increased the odds of ‘Melo staying in New York, I think its foolish to think that makes it a lock.  What Jackson’s arrival does is give Anthony a convenient ‘out’.  Had the Knicks kept the status quo and had Anthony stayed, he would have appeared greedy and only in it for the money.  Now, he can stay, keep the extra $30million and just say at the press conference that he has trust that Jackson can right the ship.  But this is assuming ‘Melo doesn’t care for winning.  One point lost in this whole discussion is the crucial distinction between the situations in New York and Miami.  The Jackson hiring is often analogized with Pat Riley’s presence in the Heat front office with the thinking being that as it was Riley’s influence which swayed Lebron to join the Heat, Jackson can similarly persuade Anthony.  The discrepancy here is that the proper analogy should be ‘Melo with Dwyane Wade (not Lebron), and with the Knicks, there is no second superstar or prospect of acquisition.  I don’t care how charismatic Riley is/was, had the Heat not had the cap space to sign James, Wade would have bolted.  Similarly, Jackson may be the best personality in the league, but what exactly is he going to sell to Anthony?  The forward is already closing in on 30.  I’ll say this: Anthony either really doesn’t care for winning and/or Jackson is really charismatic if the former agrees to waste yet another year of his prime waiting for ’15 free agency and promised Knicks revival.

And that brings us to Anthony and his motives.  If he cares about winning in the very least, he’s out of New York.  No amount of mental gymnastics can change that.  But what of Chicago vs. Houston?  We are in strange territory these past two years in that during the Yao years, especially during the Chris Bosh pursuit, it was the Rockets with the “if healthy” cloud hanging over their superstar and franchise.  Derrick Rose and ‘Melo would make for a deadly combo, but who knows what direction Rose’s career will take?  In Houston, the Rockets boast two healthy superstars in the primes of their careers (well, for Howard, sort of, but he’s healthy at least…).  If Rose truly were healthy, Chicago would make the most sense.  Plug Anthony into that lineup, with Thibs’ scheme at the other end, and the Bulls probably win the title.  But in reality, Houston is clearly the best choice.

And that’s why I think Anthony chooses the Bulls.  It’s not about winning, for Anthony.  And that’s fine.  I can never fault a man for pursuit of fame and fortune.  As in all things in life, career success is not some binary black/white designation.  Leaving New York isn’t about “winning at all costs.”  It’s about at least having a chance to win.  Houston presents Anthony the best chance to win a title, but Chicago presents him a chance while also allowing him to hang onto the glitz of the big city lifestyle.  That latter perk is something he can sell his wife for letting him bolt the Big Apple.  But hey, the Rockets are in this thing.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.Red94.net.

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