There’s something special about a mid-range jumper. A sudden pull-up from the elbow, in open defiance of momentum and the natural order of things, has always been one of my favorite parts of the game. It was something I focused on as a young man in pickup games, a way to overcome the physical advantage of taller defenders. It’s almost poetic; a quick burst towards the rim, dragging defenders down towards the baseline in hopes of defending the easy layup. One step, two, then the nearly imperceptible and all-important conversion of momentum from out to up, leaving the defender to deal with gravity all on his own for a moment. That breathless second, at the apex of the jump, as the player hangs in the air and you could be convinced that the world hangs in the balance. A simple extension of the arm, and the ball finds its way to the bottom of the net, arcing gracefully through the air with the subtle backspin that is the hallmark of a shooter.
If you don’t see the mid-range game the same way that I do, I understand. You’re certainly not alone. Most people seem more interested in threes, and don’t get me wrong: a well-shot three is doubtlessly a beautiful part of the game. I’ve just always been partial to the mid-range game for the opportunities it lends a good shooter. After the defender has watched two or three 15-footers fall in a row, a well-sold up-fake can send the opposing player flying into the second row of the stands. Once the pull-up game has been established, it makes a home in the back of a defender’s mind, making him a step slower in the event of an actual drive.
The mid-range game works, and it’s not just anecdotal. In my experience, playing pickup games all over for the majority of my life, there are few things that can settle someone into the flow of a game like having a few mid-range jumpers go down. You don’t have to take my word for it, though: look at the transformation of our own Christian Keeling, who has been night and day since he began to pull up and take the mid-range game that opposing defenses would give him. The grad transfer handed Duke 13 points on 5-7 shooting, finding a comfortable home on the outskirts of the paint in the Blue Devil defense before sinking his only attempted three in the second half. In games against Florida State, Duke, Wake Forest, and Virginia, Keeling scored double digits after breaking ten points only once in the 21 preceding games. In Monday’s game against Notre Dame, he was just one point shy of extending his unprecedented stretch of double-figure scoring to five games.
I’ll always maintain that a good mid-range game has power, and Keeling’s strange and exciting lethality from no man’s land has been fun to watch in what has been a fairly bleak season.