In late 2017, Miles Bridges was recovering from an ankle injury that left him without an explosive first step and turned him into a jump shooter. Cassius Winston was picking apart opposing defenses and Nick Ward was imposing his will down low. Jaren Jackson was anchoring an absurd defense and trying to figure out how to play within the offense while Joshua Langford was looking like a real problem for opposing defenses and an X-Factor for Michigan State.
In the two big early season wins, against UNC and Notre Dame Langford scored 23 and 17 points. Langford lit up the Tar Heels for 23 points on 11 shots, making five of his seven three’s while only taking one mid-range shot. He followed that up by tearing up Notre Dame for 17 points on 13 shots, ten of which he took from mid-range. He came out of the gate looking like MSU’s most improved player, and someone who could take what the opponent gave him and make them pay for it.
Per Synergy stats in the first fifteen games, Langford was shooting 47.17% from three while attempting 3.53 per game. He was at 42.62% from mid-range on 4.06 shots per game. Topping it off making 56.6% of his 3.53 shots per game at the rim.
Most of his shots coming from mid-range made it tough to be an effective scorer but he was finding a way. He was able to knock down enough from mid-range while hitting a huge percentage of his three’s and shots at the rim. Langford scored double-figure points in eleven of the first fifteen games. Averaging about 14 points per game on 11 shots. With Bridges coming back healthy and Langford shooting the lights out, he seemed poised to have a breakout Big Ten season. Unfortunately, 2018 started and Langford’s shot stopped falling as much.
He started taking more mid-range shots, jumping from 4.07 per game to 4.87 in games since the new year. His field goal percentage from mid-range took a dip, dropping from 42.62% to 36.99%.
Langford has actually been pretty effective on mid-range shots from 8 to 17 feet. The sample size isn’t huge with him only taking 1.53 per game but, he is scoring .96 Points per shot on these. The main issue with his mid-range game is that the vast majority of his shots are coming from greater than 17 feet where he struggles badly.
Before the new year, he was taking 2.4 mid-range shots from greater than 17 feet per game making 30.56% which was good for scoring a dreadful .61 points per shot. This was clearly his most inefficient shot, but you can live with it when he is shooting as well as he did from three and at the rim. With his shooting from three and at the rim cooling off, Langford has been doubling down on these inefficient shots. Since the New Year he is taking 3.33 shots from 17 feet and out per game making only 32% and scoring a rough .64 points per shot.
Shooting from three has still been Langford’s best option, scoring 1.24 points per shot. This is quite a bit lower than the 1.42 points per shot he was able to score before January, but that was always going to be a hard number to sustain. He is taking less three’s than he was before, from 3.53 three-point attempts per game down to 2.73 but making a very good 41.63% of them.
Since January, Langford has been unable to keep up the pace he set while shooting at the rim. He has gone from taking 3.53 shots at the rim down to 2.27 per game with his field goal percentage on these falling from 56.60% to 41.18%. Some of this can be attributed to fewer transition opportunities. Early on this year Langford was getting more run-out opportunities and benefiting from easy buckets.
Per Synergy, the first fifteen games this year, Langford converted 18 of 31 shots at the rim in transition. In the following fifteen , he only attempted 13 of these shots total and converted 7. He still does a good job while in transition, scoring 1.23 points per shot but is getting transition shots at the rim .8 times less per game. Despite thriving in transition, Langford has struggled badly at the rim only scoring .82 points per shot since the new year.
The change in shot demographic and drop in field goal percentage has hurt Langford’s scoring as a whole. He went from scoring 1.12 points per shot to .90 PPS after the new year. He has scored in double figures only seven times in the last fifteen games with his scoring average dropping to 10.5 points per game from 14.1 before. He is currently taking his least efficient shot, the long two-pointer more than any other shot, and if he continues down this route it is going to be hard to get any kind of consistency scoring. It would be nice to see him put himself in a better position to succeed with some more efficient shots.
The other Spartans have been able to cover up for Langford’s struggles for the most part. A 13-2 record since the new year has MSU in prime position to win the Big Ten outright. Being ranked either 1st or 2nd in the country comes with heightened expectations. Anything short of a Final Four run will be met with disappointment from many Michigan State fans. For that to happen, MSU could use for Langford to morph back into the guy from the first half of the season and that begins with him taking better shots.