Where’s the Beard? It’s not in the midrange.

Where’s the Beard? It’s not in the midrange.

Jun 05

James Harden made three enormous shots last night in the 4th quarter. Unsurprisingly, these shots came from the wings beyond the arc; 2 from the left wing, 1 from the right.

James Harden is a great 3-point shooter. He shot 39% from 3-point range during the regular season, and that number has climbed to 42.3% during the postseason. The graphic below reveals where he shoots most, and how well in shoots in different zones:

As you can see he loves to shoot beyond the arc, but especially on the wings. His favorite 3-point shooting location is along the right wing, where he attempted over 80 field goals this year; however, this is not his most efficient area. In fact, of the 8 three-point areas above, Harden is more effective in 6 zones where he shoots much less frequently. In this sense his 3-point shooting isn’t aligned. Overall, Harden is about a 40% 3-point shooter, but where he shoots the most he only shoots 32.5%. Like many good shooters he is most efficient in the corners, but does not get many attempts there.
Speaking of not many attempts, the most startling thing about Harden’s shooting chart is just how inactive he is in the midrange. He only shot 72 times in the midrange during the regular season this year, or about one time per game. This accounts for only about 10% of his shooting. In short, Harden does not shoot midrange shots very often. He is very active at the rim, and very active behind the arc, but hardly every active in midrange. The following chart re-affirms that visually by showing his most common shooting locations:

The most common shooting locations of James Harden

The image reveals just how bipolar his game is; he loves close range and he loves 3-point range, but there are very few spots in the midrange where he is active. One exception is the area off the left elbow, where he takes a few pull-up jumpers. In fact, he made 1 17-foot jumper in that spot last night.

Harden’s overall heat chart reveals that he is a very efficient scorer in the places where he is active.

James Harden Heat Chart

The graphic shows a lot of orange and red, and very little blue, indicating that he is efficient in many more places than he is inefficient. The only blue areas we see are in the midrange, but as we know, he is rarely active there.

In a way Harden reminds me a bit of Chris Paul in the sense that his proficiency behind the arc requires defenders to play close there, which in turn opens up penetration opportunities. This is a trait that many of the league’s best driving players have in common. It’s not just that they are fast and incredible in traffic, it’s also that defenses have to defend them in a way that enables that first step toward the basket.


  1. Mike Love

    I think it’s really interesting how Westbrook, Durant, and Harden’s shot charts match up. Having three different players, all scorers, who operate in different spaces on the floor is clearly one of OKC’s main strengths. Watching the Thunder play I could always kind of notice this, and seeing it mapped out spatially made it even clearer. It’s a recipe for success when Westbrook brings the mid-range jumper and that freakish athleticism driving to the hoop, along with Harden stretching the floor and Kevin Durant being the glue that holds it all together. I feel like their skill sets are very complimentary, and the willingness to accept the roles they are placed in is another aspect. Harden could undoubtedly score in more ways, but his specific strengths happen to match up with what the Thunder need, and he relishes in it. It’ll be interesting to see what OKC chooses to do when it’s time to resign Harden/Ibaka, that is gonna be one tough choice.

    • Marc

      +1. I’ve always found comparisons between the Heat and Thunder interesting — particularly now with them meeting in the finals. While some may argue that the Heat’s Big 3 are better individual players, it seems obvious that they don’t compliment each other as well as Durant/Westbrook/Harden. Look at the Heat this season when Wade was injured (LBJ and Bosh together as main two) versus when Bosh was injured (LBJ and Wade as main two) — the team had much better flow.

  2. Ashwin

    Just started reading this website immediately and it’s definitely one of the best basketball sites I’ve ever found online. Do you think that in addition to understanding the spatial aspects of shooting that the type of shot may play a role in a specific player’s shooting percentage. For example a player may shoot poorly from the wing in spot up, catch and shoot situations but may have a better percentage from the same spot when coming off of a screen. I only ask because as a Knicks fan I’ve seen Landry Fields go from shooting 39 percent from behind the arc the first half of his rookie season. Since the trade for Carmelo, during which time we’ve become a slower, halfcourt team, his shooting numbers have dropped drastically. I feel that he was comfortable shooting the ball in the D’Antoni system which emphasized both constant movement and the corner 3. Any thoughts?

    • Mark H

      There is no denying that what you suggest is correct. One could therefore say that: Where a shot is taken + Context [type of shot, defender, time on shot clock, etc.] = shooting percentage. NBA assistant coaches manually track “context” statistics during games to give more insight into players’ offense strengths. A few years ago, for several NBA teams, this process became automated through the adoption of a system pioneered by SportVU that essentially records every movement on the court as a data point. That means, for example, that the Knicks could determine not only where Fields’ better shots are, but also whether he is better off a screen or as a spot up. But even more can be done with this system. It can deliver information about Fields shooting form based on the type of shot, where, etc. That information can be used by coaches to help Fields perhaps improve his shooting percentage with the types of shots that otherwise he would shoot poorly. But this might not be the most efficient use of the data. It be best just to know that he should not be forced to take certain types of shots. In any event, you might find this shot chart interesting: http://www.hickory-high.com/?attachment_id=4420

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