Caitlin Clark Is Breaking Analytics

Iowa’s budding star is turning a taboo shot into a formidable weapon

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Ask anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of basketball analytics what the math says about shot selection and they’ll tell you: “Stop taking midrange jumpers.”

Indeed, the two-point jump shot is widely considered to be the worst shot in basketball, and the numbers back that up. Last year, Oregon led the country in midrange efficiency at 0.94 points per non-paint two, according to CBB Analytics; in comparison, the average shot attempt in Division I women’s basketball was worth 0.97 points. In other words, even the nation’s most efficient midrange team was taking a below-average shot when pulling up from inside the arc.

This concept makes sense on the surface — the closer one is to the basket, the easier it is to score. This makes layups the most efficient two-point shot, but the extra point for threes makes them as or more efficient than layups. Midrange shots aren’t supposed to be worth it because they provide no extra reward for being further from the basket, and being further from the basket is supposed to make it more difficult to put the ball in the hoop.

Caitlin Clark didn’t get the memo, though.

Through six games, Iowa’s wonderkid is thumbing her nose at the math and scorching nets in the process. The freshman is shooting a blistering 59.1% from between 10 feet and the three-point arc, good for 1.18 points per shot. That’s basically the equivalent of an average shot by preseason national player of the year candidate Aliyah Boston in her career, and over 70% of Boston’s shots have come in the paint.

Not all jumpers are created equal, of course. A midrange attempt can be anything from a garden-variety 13-foot catch-and-shoot off a curl to a contested stepback early in the shot clock with a heel on the arc. While Clark isn’t taking a high volume of foot-on-the-line stepbacks, she isn’t exactly making a living on catch-and-shoot jumpers, either. Only one of her midrange makes this season has been assisted. Check out her shot chart:

This isn’t a case of an easy schedule allowing Clark to light up bad defenses. Iowa has already faced two Big Ten opponents in addition to an Iowa State team that was just two spots outside of the AP Top 25 at the time. And two of the Hawkeyes’ three mid-major opponents — Northern Iowa and Drake — have been top-tier teams from the Missouri Valley, arguably the most competitive mid-major league.

In her first season of college basketball following a historically difficult offseason, Clark has hung 27 points per game on one of the tougher schedules in the country. And she’s done so with a casual swag that’s made it look effortless — almost GEICO easy.

Is Clark due for some regression at some point this season? Most likely. But she’s also shooting slightly below Division I average at the rim (57.6%), a figure that can reasonably be expected to improve for the former top-five recruit. There’s little doubt that by season’s end a Caitlin Clark layup will be worth more than a Caitlin Clark jump shot. But a Caitlin Clark jump shot very well may be worth more than a non-Caitlin Clark attempt from anywhere else. So who are we to discourage it?

In theory, it’s true — the data will tell you to stop taking jumpers. But is that really the central tenet of the analytics movement? At the core, analytics is about getting the most points out of every possession and every shot; it’s about getting the most bang for your buck. Sure, Walmart will give you the best value on groceries nine times out of ten, but if you have a coupon for 50% off at Whole Foods, are you actually saving money at Walmart?

There are very few players at any level who can score efficiently in the midrange. You can probably count them on one hand.

But the Hawkeyes have found a cheat code in Caitlin Clark. So fire away, Caitlin, fire away.


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