Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How to answer the question of who is the greatest shooter in NBA history...

Ever since Stephen Curry won the 2015 NBA MVP award, I have been thinking about this question a lot. Who is the greatest NBA shooter of all-time? Initially I was just trying to figure out if Curry actually deserved the MVP or not. After doing my research I concluded that James Harden was the real MVP. Twenty-one playoff games and an NBA championship later, I feel the same way. You can read about my thoughts on the NBA awards system here. But we digress...

When I was looking into Curry's numbers, I thought to myself, Holy shit! Is Curry the greatest shooter of all-time? His numbers seemed ridiculous. Then someone accused me of being a "fair weather" fan because I stopped writing my blog after the Lakers started sucking. I can assure you that is not the case. 1) My blog is about much more than just the Lakers, or sports for that matter. 2) I wrote several articles about how much the Lakers suck.  The real answer to why I stopped writing is that I got too busy with real world responsibilities. But this Curry question has got my wheels turning again and made me motivated to neglect my wife and kid so here it goes.

After doing some serious googling, I broke it down to 16 players who are candidates for the greatest shooter title. Why 16? Because a 4x4 collage was the best fit for my webpage, that's why. Deal with it.

First, I should give some honorable mentions to guys like Del Curry, Mike Miller, and Wesley Person. Also, especially with the way the NBA is played nowadays, there is no doubt youngsters like Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving will crack this list in the near future. Before I get into the list, here is a very important question.

What factors go into answering who is the greatest shooter of all-time?
Not particularly in any order...

1. Stats - This is important. However, it may be true that numbers never lie, but stats sure as hell do. So they cannot be the only factor when judging a shooter.

2. Degree of difficulty on shots - This is also known as the eye test. A lot of the players on this list mostly shot wide-open uncontested 3's from their favorite spot on the floor. Others created their own shot with their dribbling or height advantage and shot with a hand in their face. There is no way in hell you can't factor that in.

3. The clutch factor - I could probably seriously hang with one of these guys in an empty gym shooting contest IF I caught them on a bad night and I was having a hot streak. But NBA games aren't played in an empty gym.  And everything that a player does in a game matters most in big moments towards the end of a close game.

4. The fear factor - A player's reputation matters. Why? Because the defense will react to that reputation and change the way they play. Kobe Bryant may not be great statistically when it comes to game winning shots. But the Black Mamba has a fearsome reputation so I guarantee the defense will be shitting their pants if he has the ball at the end of a close game. There is a difference between this and the clutch factor.

5. 3-pointers matter more but mid-range and free throws also count. - Shooter typically means 3-point shooter but you have to account for other kinds of shooting at least a little bit. A pure shooter should be great at the mid-range game as well as free throws. Otherwise, it just makes him sort of a gimmicky player. Bruce Bowen would be on this great shooter list if it wasn't for the fact that he was a career 57% free throw shooter. He wasn't a pure shooter. He was just great at shooting wide open 3's from the corner. That's what I call a gimmick.

Using these factors, who is the best shooter of all-time?

16. Pete Maravich

"Pistol" Pete was a player who was truly ahead of his time. He was your grandfather's Stephen Curry. Although he mostly played in an era before the 3 point line, he is on this list for 2 reasons: Factors 2 and 4. He was one of the best players ever at getting off his own shot. Probably one of the first players ever to dribble between his legs in an NBA game. And he has one of the most feared reputations amongst people of his generation.

15. Drazen Petrovic

Unfortunately, Drazen died in a tragic car accident in 1993. I never saw him play but he belongs on this list for the same reasons as Pete Maravich. He was a great shooter who could get off his own shot. From watching tapes he was porbably one of the best shooters with a hand in his face. As far his reputation is concerned, anyone who saw him ball will tell you Drazen Petrovic didn't take shit from anyone. Not even Michael Jordan. He never backed down from a fight. The 6 years he did play in the NBA, he ended up shooting better than 50% from the field and 43% from the 3. Had he lived, Drazen Petrovic probably would have been one of my favorite players. And he very well might have ended up number 1 on this list. RIP.

14. Dale Ellis

In the beginning of his career Dale Ellis was more of a well rounded scorer than just a shooter. Later on, as a role player, he became a deadly 3 point specialist. At first glance you would imagine a 17 year career of shooting almost 48% from the field, 40% from 3 and being an all-star caliber player at one point would land you higher on this list. But for some reason, Dale Ellis wasn't a great free throw shooter. He wasn't awful like Bruce Bowen, but he is the only player on this list to have a career free throw percentage in the 70s, at 78%.

13. Mark Price

A historically underrated player, Mark Price was Steve Nash before Steve Nash. Along with Nash and Steph Curry, Price is the only other player to have a career free throw percentage better than 90%. Nash has him beat by 0.001. A four time all-star, and career shooting percentages of 47/40/90, Mark Price probably would have ended up higher on this list had he played longer than 12 seasons.

12. Jeff Hornacek

Famous for rubbing his face as part of his free throw routine, Jeff Hornacek's name was synonymous with the word accuracy. Any time there was a dorky looking guy who could shoot on the playgrounds, he would be compared to Jeff Hornacek. No doubt playing with the likes of Stockton and Malone helped him get tons of open shots, but Hornacek was a consistent 40%'er from 3 long before he arrived in Utah. The only reason why Jeff Hornacek is not higher on this list is because he didn't quite shoot enough. With only a little more than 2000 3-point attempts, most of the other players on this list have around twice as many.

11. Glen Rice

If asthetics were a factor, Glen Rice might be number 1 or 2 on this list. He had one of the sweetest looking jump shots ever. Much like Dale Ellis, for the first half of his career, Glen Rice was more of a scorer than a shooter. Think Paul Pierce or Carmelo Anthony. As he aged, he gained a little bit of weight and became less athletic, but was nevertheless a deadly 3 point shooter. A career 40% 3 point shooter despite being his team's number one scoring option (and a target for defenses) for most of his career earns him a spot on this list. 

10. Peja Stojakovic

The most overlooked quality about Peja Stojakovic was his strength and size as a shooter. Because he was only a shooter, he never used this in any other part of his game. Towards the end of a long grueling game, most shooters begin to fall short on their shots as they rack up the minutes and get tired. But at 6'9/220 Peja had the strength to keep shooting accurately. If you asked me who could hit the most 3's out of a 1000 straight shots, my answer would Peja. Simply because some of the other guys might not be strong enough to shoot well towards the end. 

9. Kevin Durant

If this was a list about the best scorers, Kevin Durant would be much higher. Durant is such a good offensive player in every facet of the game, that his abilities as a pure shooter are often overlooked. He probably has the longest range out of anyone on this list. As a 3-point shooter, he is very streaky, resulting in a career 38%. That's pretty good, but most of the other guys on this list are at 40-plus. He is only half way through his career however, and as the legend of Kevin Durant grows, there is no doubt he will end up much higher than 9.

8. Dirk Nowizki

Like Durant, Dirk is also has a career 3-point percentage of 38%. But also like Durant, Dirk is much more than just a shooter. Unlike most players, who depend more on long-range shooting as they age, Dirk has gone away from the 3-point shot as he has gotten older. He has learned to play closer to the basket. He has also maxed out factors 2-5 mentioned above. Dirk rarely gets an open shot, and more often than not he is shooting with his back to the basket, off one leg, over the hands of multiple defenders. The degree of difficulty on Dirk's shots is unmatched in the league. He is also as clutch and fearsome as they come.

7. Steve Kerr

This seven-time NBA champion may turn out to be the next Phil Jackson or Greg Popovich. As a player, there was no one more accurate in the history of the league at shooting 3-pointers than Steve Kerr. His career 3-point percentage of 45% is unmatched and has to be respected. Why is he not higher on this list? For one, he didn't shoot enough. (1599 3-point attempts) Probably because he was a very limited role player and didn't play a lot of minutes. Kerr also played with multiple hall-of-famers his entire career who did nothing but get him great wide-open looks from the arc. You still have to give him credit for hitting those shots though, especially in the clutch.

6. Kyle Korver

Besides Reggie Miller and Ray Allen, there is no one better on this list at hitting jump shots coming off screens. Kyle Korver holds the record for 3-point percentage in a single season at 53% in 2009-2010. That's insane. Do you realize what that means? Kyle Korver can hit 3's more accurately than a lot of players can hit lay-ups. Over the last 4 seasons, he has been shooting 41%, 43%, 45% and 47% from the 3 with increasing attempts. With a career of 43% from 3 and 88% from the free throw line, Kyle Korver may end up a lot closer to 1 by the time he retires.

5. Larry Bird

A two time member of the 50/40/90 club, Larry Bird has the clutch and fear factors oozing out of his pores. There was no bigger trash talker and mentally tough player than Larry legend. He was so confident in his abilities as a shooter, he would tell the defender where he was going and how he was going to shoot it. Then he would swish the shot and do it all over again. The 3-point line was relatively new when he played, and it wasn't as big a part of the game as it is today. Had he played in today's league he would have had much better numbers in that department. But if you go by the eye test alone, Larry Bird might be 1 or 2.

4. Steve Nash

When you think Steve Nash you think of passing first. For that reason, when you combine his abilities to shoot from the 2, 3, and free throw line, Steve Nash might be the most underrated shooter of all-time. The man is the greatest free throw shooter in the history of the NBA at 90.4%. For 14 of his 18 total seasons in the league, he shot at least 40% from the 3-point line. 5 out of his last 6 seasons, he shot better than 90% from the free throw line. And perhaps most incredibly, he shot better than 50% overall field goals for 5 seasons. As a point guard! That's almost unheard of. He is also a four-time member of the 50/40/90 club. No other player has done that more than twice. He probably didn't deserve his 2 MVP's, but definitely deserves more credit as a shooter.

3. Ray Allen

For much of his career, Ray Allen was a scorer. After he was traded to Boston and became the third option on the Big 3, he made himself into a Reggie Miller type pure shooter. He became incredible at coming off screens and hitting crazy 3's fading away from the basket. Just ask the Spurs. When it comes to practice, there is no shooter who works harder than Ray Allen. A two-time champion, he hit clutch shot after clutch shot for his teams. As a Laker fan, I can tell you he scared the shit out of me in the two Finals we played against Boston. His accuracy stats have always varied greatly depending on his team situation, but right now Jesus Shuttlesworth is the all-time leader in 3-pointers made and it's not even close.

2. Reggie Miller

How much of the fear factor did Reggie Miller have in him? Well, enough for ESPN to make an entire 30 for 30 documentary about it. When Reggie Miller had his legendary playoff battles against the Knicks, he made the entire city of New York clench their assholes with fear every time he took a shot. He famously scored 8 points in 8 seconds to win a playoff game against the Knicks. He was so much of a Knick Killer that the word "Knicks" comes up 22 times in his Wikipedia entry. Besides Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller might be the single biggest reason the Knicks don't have a title since 1973. There was no one better at moving without the ball, coming off screens, kicking his legs up in the air while shooting to draw a foul, and pissing you off. Just ask Kobe Bryant. 

1. Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry excels at every single factor discussed earlier. As far as the stats are concerned, in his 6 seasons so far, Curry is shooting the 3-pointer at 44%. That's only 1% lower than the all-time leader, his coach Steve Kerr. But the degree of difficulty is at least 10 times higher on most of Curry's shots. Because he is the primary ball handler, distributor, AND scorer on his team, he doesn't always get wide-open looks. Besides Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki, there is no one better at creating his own jump shot. But unlike those guys, Curry is a 6-foot guard, which makes it even more impressive. There has never been anyone better at pulling up and shooting off the dribble. His quick handles help create just a tiny space, and his quick release, perhaps the quickest ever, helps him get a shot off in that tiny space. He is also great at catching and shooting off screens. We saw in these playoffs he is developing into a clutch and feared player. His accuracy is something we have never seen before when you take into account the amount and difficulty of long range shots he takes. He is also a career 90% free throw shooter so far. What more can you ask for in a shooter? Now that he has his championship, a couple more crazy clutch shots like he had against New Orleans in the 2015 playoffs, and there will be no doubt Stephen Curry will be a unanimous choice in everyone's mind, for the best shooter of all-time.

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