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Stat Takeaways: deuces and treys

The long two is the enemy of good offense.

Dean Oliver, the author of Basketball on Paper and leading basketball statistician, wrote hundreds of pages that can be distilled to "basketball is about the efficient use of possessions." Since the advent of the three-point line, teams have needed to be cognizant of the tradeoff between the desire for the traditional old-school game of mid-range jump shots and the extra point of the trey - along with the value and art of drawing foul shot attempts.

With that in mind, here is St. John's shot distribution, broken down via the boxscores. (If you are charting at home, you may categorize some "jumpers" as "shots at the rim", but the 50/50 shots are fairly few.)

St. John's
%Shots at Rim
FG% at Rim
%Shots 2pt Jumpers
FG% 2pt Jumpers
%Shots 3pt

St. John's jump shots are splashing down with solid frequency. The squad is shooting a very good 45% from the mid-range, with a few players excelling - more on that later.

But excellence in the mid range comes with a price. In the battle to be more efficient, the battle to score more points than the other team in a shared and finite number of possessions within a game, jump shooting can be the enemy.

First, a baseline for shot ratios. Big East teams shot 37% of their shots at the rim (dunks/ layups/ offensive putbacks), 32% of their field goal attempts were characterized as jump shots, and 31% were three-point attempts in league play - not far off of St. John's scoring identity last season.

This season trends differently over the first six games. St. John's is taking well over half of their shots in the "jump shot"/ mid-range area of the floor (58%), and far fewer shots at the rim (22%) or from beyond the arc (20%).

This year's three main scorers are JaKarr Sampson, who leans toward the pull-up jumper on each possession, Phil Greene IV, who took 51% of his shots in Big East play from the mid-range last season, and D`Angelo Harrison, who took 79% of his shots from the mid-range or beyond the arc last year.

So what does it matter, if the shots are falling?

Jump shots don't draw fouls - in other words, extra points (and foul trouble for the opponent).

And jump shots are less accurate than shots at the rim.

Maybe it doesn't matter. Or maybe it'll matter when those shots won't fall. Or on the day an opponent will be just as hot (such as Baylor was, or Murray State in the second half) with the jump shot. In those games, free throws and three-pointers are the equalizers that would help a team keep pace.

Strong caveats apply!

1) The season is in its early stages.

2) Lower-echelon teams have thrown many zone looks at the Red Storm. To their credit, the Johnnies have the skill to shoot through them. Sampson's hitting 50% of his jumpers and Phil Greene is nailing 53% of his jump shots against early-season competition.

3) The trio of players are generating the offense, often playing from behind the opponent and playing with teammates less able to generate shots. The scorers have been looking to speed up the pace, create chaos, and generate more possessions for the team that has generally had more talent on the floor.

A lot can change as the team develops.

As players get comfortable with their shooting - and opponents play them for the jump shot - the Red Storm should see fewer zones and find man-to-man defenses they can feast on.

With respect to the three-point shot, both Sampson and Greene took multiple shots that were a step away from being a three-pointer against Florida Gulf Coast; in the case of Phil Greene, one of those shots was about a quarter of a shoe over the line.

Those are points that could mean the difference later in the season,between a close loss and a close win. If those players can hit over 50% from inside the arc, even while drawing no fouls, this issue is mostly moot. But the extra pass, the aggressive drive - both cause good things to happen, given superior athletes.

The tendencies of the team could change once Orlando Sanchez will (one day) fits himself into the offense. We don't know how Jamal Branch's slashing and dishing game will affect the shot choices. Both players (and Christian Jones) are solid passers. Better passers benefit players who finish at the rim, and also benefit players who are better three-point shooters off of the catch.

It's important to note that as defenses get stiffer, it'll be harder to find open windows for jump shots. For a team that is shooting 69% at the rim, getting dangerous athletes to the basket could be the more efficient play.

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