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The Evolving Mid-Range Game of Xavier Johnson

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been awhile since I sat down and took a deeper dive with a video breakdown. For those interested in seeing more, I post quite a bit on Twitter. But for those of you who appreciate a more thorough analysis than what 280 characters can provide, I haven’t forgotten about you.

I could honestly do an entire series on Xavier Johnson. The sophomore point guard just does so much that is worth writing about for the purposes of a video breakdown, good and not so good. Here I want to focus on a wrinkle that he’s added to his game this season - the mid-range jumper.

For those that have been watching him this season, his mid-range jumpers have primarily been step backs or stop-and-pop pull-ups.

This article does not advocate taking long two-point shots over shooting three-pointers. After all, Johnson is shooting just 28.6% on two-point shots which comprises 38.7% of his total shots. On the other hand he’s shooting 37.5% on shots from beyond the arc with only 28.1% of those shots coming from long distance. In summary, Johnson’s numbers support the theory about long two’s.

But it’s still an important shot for Johnson to take (in moderation) and make (at a 45-50% rate). Why?

Forcing Johnson left has largely produced results similar to the above and the first two clips below. Granted, if he has an outlet around the basket he’s much more effective (last two clips below).

The mid-range jumper is a tool he can go to just to keep the defense honest. But we’re not talking about morphing into DeMar DeRozan here.

In November, he debuted the step back but was still feeling out his mid-range game in general.

Here’s another attempt a game later.

In December, it was strictly the step back.

But once ACC play started (not counting the Florida State game), we saw the return of the pull-up jumper along with the step back.

Johnson’s shooting mechanics change based on the depth in which he’s attempting from. On three-pointers his release is generally slower, he sometimes bends in his right knee, and there’s equal parts push as there are shot sometimes.

In general, his mid-range jumpers have quite a bit more elevation to them. This is magnified on his step backs because his pre-shot footwork varies. Of course there are times when you need to create more separation than others, but with Johnson there are times when it seems that he steps back because he probably was working on it in practice.

At the collegiate level, he’s so hard to stay in front of that the pull-up jumper naturally creates some separation as the defender is usually trailing. Often times this unfolds like the scene in Top Gun where Maverick hits the brakes and the fighter jet behind him just zooms on by. Or they have to lunge heavily to contest (less fun than Top Gun, I know), which doesn’t deter Johnson’s vision.

I may have missed one of these against the Boston College Golden Eagles, but since Johnson has gone strictly to the pull-up, mid-range jumper at the North Carolina Tar Heels, he is 5 of 10 and a very efficient 5 of 8 going to or working back to his left. At 60 field goal attempts over that span (six games), it represents 16% of his attempts. Keep in mind that other shots away from the rim aggregate into the 38.7% of his two-point shots, so it’s the other attempts that are dragging his shooting percentage down.

While I think the step back will continue to be a part of Johnson’s evolving mid-range game, it seems he’s found something with the pull-up jumper going to his left. That’s an important development as more teams continue to force him left and into help.

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