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How Derrick Rose Drills His Ugly Midrange Jumpers

For everything Derrick Rose has accomplished in his decorated NBA career — No. 1 overall draft pick, three-time All-Star, youngest player to ever win league MVP — no one would ever accuse him of being a good 3-point shooter. After shooting 28 percent from deep two years ago and 29 percent last year, Rose is hitting just 22 percent1 of his shots from 3-point range this season, the third-worst mark in the league among the 267 players who’ve attempted at least 50 3-pointers so far.

But for all his struggles from three, something extraordinary happens when Rose steps just inside the arc: The New York Knicks guard somehow manages to hit midrange jumpers at an above-average clip despite shooting line-drive bullets that barely make it over the rim. Sometimes the ends excuse the means.

When an average NBA player shoots from 15 feet or more, his shot arc peaks at 15.1 feet. Rose is not average. His shots from that distance peak at just 14 feet, the lowest average shot arc of any NBA guard or small forward, according to a query run by SportVU data analyst Brittni Donaldson at FiveThirtyEight’s request.

This shouldn’t work out for him. Research shows that loftier arcs improve a shot’s chances of finding the bottom of the net. “I’ve always felt you had to be even more accurate than normal to be able to make a shot when you’re using a low arc like that,” says Jeff Hornacek, Rose’s coach with the Knicks, and one of the league’s best shooters during his playing days.

Yet Rose, with almost no arc whatsoever, hits better than 45 percent of his 2-pointers from outside 15 feet, according to NBA.com. For context, the rest of the NBA has shot 40.5 percent from that range this year, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group.

“I’ve tried practicing [my shot] with more arc. But this is just more comfortable. I really can’t describe [why],” Rose told me after shooting 6-for-6 on long 2-pointers in a loss to Milwaukee Wednesday night. “I’ve been a midrange player my entire life. [I] have never really been a 3-point shooter.” The emergence of a solid midrange jumper, combined with his lengthy injury history, will make the 28-year-old an intriguing free agent this coming summer.

Still, none of this is meant to suggest that Rose — who, for a long time, was talented and athletic enough to get by without being able to shoot jumpers — is on the cusp of morphing into Steph Curry.2 His shooting form can occasionally go awry as he lunges with his upper half instead of connecting his entire body through one fluid motion. And Rose sometimes doesn’t let go of the ball until he’s on the way back down,3 limiting the arc he can get on a given shot. “With Derrick, I always emphasize finishing at 11 o’clock instead of 9 o’clock, which means releasing at the peak of his jump instead of doing it on the way down,” says trainer Rob McClanaghan, who has worked with Rose since he was 18.

To compensate for his lower delivery, Rose goes for bank shots more often than his peers do. Rose began using bank shots far more often last season, saying they helped him deal with the blurred vision and lack of depth perception he experienced after breaking his orbital bone during training camp. He ranked second in in the league in bank-shot frequency last season,4 when he took 76 shots off the glass. And while that number is down this season (24 attempts), banked shots still account for almost 6 percent of his jumpers.

Using the glass allows players to aim a bit lower than they otherwise would for a jumper. And it’s likely not a coincidence that Rose’s shot-arc numbers (14 feet this season and 14.2 last season) are nearly identical to those of ex-Spurs great Tim Duncan (13.9 feet in 2015-16 and 14.2 in 2014-15, per SportVU), who perennially took a greater share of bank shots than any other player during his time in the league, according to NBA Savant, a site tracks and compiles the specific types of shots each player takes.

So while Rose may not be a good perimeter shooter in a traditional sense, he’s actually become pretty solid in another regard. We simply don’t notice because his technique doesn’t look like it should work.

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Footnotes

  1. The league-average mark this season is 36 percent.
  2. Rose himself seems to accept this fact. Threes have accounted for just 7 percent of his shots this season, down from 14 percent last season and almost 33 percent in 2014-15.
  3. NBA 2K players likely know this problem all too well thanks to the game’s shot meter.
  4. Among players with at least 30 such attempts.

Chris Herring is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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