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How Jamie Weisner became one of the game's most efficient scorers

Senior guard Jamie Weisner and Oregon State are 10-3, including a one-point loss at Notre Dame and a 1-1 start in the Pac-12. AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It is to Oregon State's benefit, especially now with another of its influential players sidelined by injury, that Jamie Weisner has become one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball.

Just as it was to the benefit of all involved, not least for their health, that she was similarly prudent when launching spears instead of jump shots.

The games we play are fundamentally simple. Run faster. Jump higher. Score more goals. That there is a level of complexity beneath, like the clockwork concealed beneath hour and minute hands, was clear to Weisner soon after she hefted a javelin for the first time as a high schooler.

"The first time I picked it up, I turned it, tried to throw it like a baseball and cracked myself in the back of the head," Weisner recalled.

She got better, winning two state titles. She learned to be efficient. Sprint as fast as your body allows down the runway and propel the javelin with every ounce of force your muscles can muster and you are as likely to succeed as someone is to play music like John Coltrane merely by blowing into a saxophone as hard as they can.

Effort isn't enough. In excess, it isn't even helpful.

"Technique is the biggest thing in javelin, for sure," Weisner said. "It's not even so much how much strength you throw it [with], it's getting your whole body into it and just getting the steps down. Once you conquer that, it just becomes muscle memory, and your whole body becomes a rubber band shooting the javelin out to the sky."

"Offense is like jazz [music]. It's nice and smooth. ... You never see a great player that looks like they're playing hard on offense. It looks so easy. That happened for Jamie a year ago." Oregon State coach Scott Rueck on Jamie Weisner

Defense adds a complication that separates shooting a basketball from throwing a javelin, in which taking a charge would require whole new levels of commitment, but the principle is not altogether different. The leading scorer for a basketball team still intent on defending its Pac-12 regular-season title despite now playing without Sydney Wiese, the point guard out with a hand injury, Weisner is a model of similar rhythm on the court.

"There is a time, I think, in everybody's basketball life when the game slows down," Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said. "It just becomes this beautiful -- it's like a dance almost, where you just see everything happening at once and you learn to play within that. You can stay nice and relaxed and calm through it.

"We talk about [that] defense is, in some ways, like rock music -- and offense is like jazz. It's nice and smooth. And it should be. You never see a great player that looks like they're playing hard on offense. It looks so easy. That happened for Jamie a year ago."

This, then, is the intersection of analytics and intangibles. Numbers don't make Weisner a success. That still comes from all the mornings she wakes up early and heads over to the otherwise empty team facility to put up extra shots. It comes from competitiveness and effort, those things some people fear numbers minimize.

They don't. The tangible enhances the intangible. The numbers just make it clear how little effort she wastes.

While not as familiar as points, rebounds or assists, effective field goal percentage is hardly advanced analytics. It is less a scalpel in its attempted precision than a slightly better sledgehammer. By more heavily weighting 3-pointers, otherwise no more valuable than a shot worth two points when calculating traditional field goal percentage, it accounts for the idea that someone who shoots 40 percent on 100 3-point attempts produces the same number of points (120) as someone who shoots 60 percent on the same number of two-point attempts.

"She's a genius at the midrange. It's crazy how well she scores at 12 to 15 feet. Yet when she came, she didn't have that." Coach Scott Rueck on Jamie Weisner's development

By traditional measure, Weisner shoots 50 percent from the field. For a guard who takes a lot of jump shots, that is impressive enough in its own right. But factor in that she shoots 42 percent from the 3-point line and attempts roughly five such shots per game and her effective field goal percentage was 58.8 percent through Jan. 3.

(Weisner also shoots 97 percent from the free throw line, which is not considered in effective field goal percentage but is in other analytical measures like true shooting percentage that also place her at or near the top of the Pac-12's most efficient offensive players.)

So while Weisner trailed Minnesota's Rachel Banham, Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell, South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell, Washington's Kelsey Plum and South Florida's Courtney Williams, among others, when espnW ranked the nation's top 25 players in the preseason, she began the new calendar year with a better effective field goal percentage than each of those scorers asked to play similar roles on ranked teams. And while not as prolific in total points as some of those peers, Weisner still accounts for nearly a quarter of the points Oregon State scores this season.

As much as the idea that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take makes for a nice motivational mantra, the reality is that efficient offenses work because players take the shots they are likely, or at least likelier, to make. It's as true for Oregon State as for the San Antonio Spurs.

Through a narrow lens, Weisner's efficiency helps explain Oregon State's success. But it has implications beyond Corvallis, too, because it is evidence of a learned skill. She became an efficient scorer; she didn't arrive with it hard coded. She learned to play jazz, to use Rueck's example.

While her 3-point shot was always true, she needed a lot of total shots to lead the team in scoring at 12.5 points per game as a freshman. In both her case and many cases around the country, some of that can be born of necessity. She had to take bad shots because they still offered the best odds of producing points for a team still in the early stages of a complete rebuild under Rueck. But as Wiese arrived the following season, center Ruth Hamblin developed and the program improved, Weisner still played a similar way. It wasn't selfish -- scoring points seemed the best way she could help the team and 3-pointers and all-out drives seemed the best way to score. It just wasn't efficient.

She grasped that during time away with an injury late in her sophomore season.

"My freshman year, I forced a lot [of shots], even going into my sophomore year," Weisner said. "My freshman year, we didn't have a lot of scorers on our team. We were bad, and that's kind of what I had to do. I think once I broke my hand and the team started developing and we started winning games -- that was the first thing Coach told me when I came back: 'Be efficient, you don't have to force anything. Just let the game come to you.' From there on, I really feel like I built as a player, try not to force any shots and take what the game gives me."

As a freshman and sophomore, Weisner made 41 percent of her 2-point attempts. Over the past two seasons, through Jan. 1 of this year, she made 56 percent of those same shots.

Her 17.4 points per game this season come on just 1.9 more shots per game than she averaged as a sophomore.

She is better, but so are the shots she takes.

"She is much more comfortable putting it on the floor and getting to a good shot, where it was either [try to] finish at the rim or shoot a 3 previously," Rueck said. "She has a midrange now that's so good and that she knows how to get to now, where [previously] it was hard for her to get there and she didn't believe in it.

"She's a genius at the midrange. It's crazy how well she scores at 12 to 15 feet. Yet when she came, she didn't have that."

It isn't the sort of genius that means probabilities and percentages bounce around her brain every time she comes off a screen. It is the genius of making all the clockwork seem as uncomplicated as the simple act of throwing a ball toward a goal or a spear through the sky.

"I just like the way it soared through the air," Weisner said of the appeal of the latter.

It applies equally to the former.