From the day he arrived at UNM, Jamal Mashburn Jr. has been locked in. He’s worked, prepared and set an example for a rebuilding program on the rise.
It’s a work ethic ingrained in him from a very young age and has helped establish him as one of the nation’s best midrange shooters in an era in which it’s a lost art form.
So, when the Journal recently asked the second-year Lobo how his consistent high-teens scoring most of the season had elevated into a red-hot stretch of scoring 20 or more in seven of the past eight games heading into Friday’s showdown in the Pit with Air Force, Mashburn gave a rare short answer.
“Nothing changed,” Mashburn said. “That’s pretty much all I have to say on that one. Nothing changed.”
The proud shooting guard, who has been nothing but open, accommodating and affable with the media since transferring from Minnesota, clearly didn’t care for the question. It pointed out he had been playing so well of late, but at its core in his mind was the suggestion that he hadn’t been working hard enough earlier in the season.
“No,” Pitino said Thursday after a moment of thought, echoing his star shooting guard’s answer on if a change could explain the scoring explosion that included a career-high 33 points on Monday in Reno against Nevada.
“Honestly, his approach is the same. I think he is as meticulous with his work on a daily basis and that provides great confidence for him. … (If he has an off game), he’s got the confidence to just go right back to it because he believes so much in his preparation. So I don’t think anything’s changed. (And) I think that he is an assassin with that midrange.”
Pitino isn’t the only one who feels that way.
Opposing coach after opposing coach have commented on Mashburn’s ability to time and again rise up above defenders – often from the exact spot they expected – and hit a shot that, in large part, has disappeared from the game.
With apologies to the old-school crowd, the modern thinking – and the numbers bear this out – is that the best shots, due to a combination of their value and likelihood of going in, are: free throws, 2-pointers at the rim, and catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
Anything else doesn’t give teams the point value worth risking their low-percentage outcomes.
But Mashburn has made his coach a believer in one simple counterargument to all that: The true best shot is always the one that goes in.
“The midrange is a lost art in today’s game,” Mashburn said. “It’s a forgotten art. I mean, it’s an open shot if you can perfect it because defenders are kind of at your mercy. They’ve got to (try) to run it to the help (defenders) and then I’m stopping on a dime so quickly, that it’s just hard to guard.
“That’s how it’s pretty much been my whole career … ever since I started – training in that area (of the court).”
Thanks to that work, “Midrange Mash” averages a league-best 19.3 points and 22.5 in league play – nearly three points more than the second- leading scorer, Omari Moore of San Jose State (19.6).
According to CBBAnalytics.com short chart data analyzed by the Journal, Mashburn has shot 156 midrange 2s (defined as any shot outside of the lane but inside the 3-point arc). The second highest number of attempts among the top 25 scorers in the Mountain West is Nevada’s Jarod Lucas at 70,.
As for making those midrange 2s, which have a national average of 35.2%, Mashburn is shooting 43.6% and has made 68 of them – 38 more than anyone else in the league.
“If he’s shooting a high percentage, I’m not going to be stubborn with it,” said Pitino. “Analytically, a lot of people, especially in the NBA, say the 3-point shot (is so important) because you get a lot of offensive rebounds. It just depends on the guy. With Mash, he has got the freedom to go do that. … I’ve not seen a guy that good at it.”
Midrange in context
Jamal Mashburn Jr. has shot 86 more midrange 2s — defined by field goal attempts outside of the lane but inside of the 3-point arc — than any of the other top 25 scorers in the Mountain West. He’s made 30 more than the next closest player on that list. His 43.6% shooting clip on midrange 2s is among the best in the nation for any player shooting such a high volume of such shots.
Among the Mountain West’s Top 25 scorers:
• Midrange 2s attempts
1. Jamal Mashburn, Jr., UNM – 156
2. Jarod Lucas, Nevada – 70
3. Elijah Harkless, UNLV – 58
4. Isaiah Stevens, CSU – 57
5. Matt Bradley, SDSU – 52
• Midrange 2s made
1. Jamal Mashburn, Jr., UNM – 68
2. Jarod Lucas, Nevada – 30
3. Kenan Blackshear, Nevada – 25
4. Elijah Harkless, UNLV – 24
5. Isaiah Stevens, CSU – 20
• Midrange 2s FG% (min 2.0 attempts/game)
1. Kenan Blackshear, Nevada – 53.2%
2. Jamal Mashburn, Jr., UNM – 43.6%
3. Jarod Lucas, Nevada – 42.9%
4. Elijah Harkless, UNLV – 41.4%
5. Marcus Shaver, Jr., Boise State – 36.6%
* Division I average – 35.2%