In today’s PER Diem column (Insider only), John Hollinger has an interesting look at the NBA’s best shooters of all time. I was inspired to take an alternative look using my own metric to rate shooters. A classic junk stat, my “shoot” score takes three-point percentage squared times threes per minute, multiplies by 100 and adds free throw percentage. Is there anything statistically rigorous about this process? Absolutely not, but it rewards players first for three-point accuracy, second for three-point frequency and uses free-throw percentage to help distinguish among players who don’t shoot threes. The result is a component of the similarity method used by the SCHOENE projection system.
Here is this year’s shooting leaderboard:
Player Tm Shoot Kyle Korver UTA 3.51 Channing Frye PHX 2.26 Daniel Gibson CLE 2.22 Anthony Morrow GSW 2.16 Mike Miller WAS 2.13 Chauncey Billups DEN 2.12 Matt Bonner SAS 2.08 Mo Williams CLE 2.05 Nicolas Batum POR 1.96 Rashard Lewis ORL 1.91
Kyle Korver hasn’t quite yet played 500 minutes, so his impressive rating is bound to come down somewhat the rest of the way, but you’ve got to give it up for a guy making a cool 58.0 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Still, the more impressive season may belong to Channing Frye, who has a chance to surpass Brad Lohaus (2.29) for the best shooting season ever by a player 6’11” or taller (with apologies to Dirk Nowitzki, whose best season by this method was 1.61). The rest of the list is filled with shooting specialists … and Nicolas Batum, who also is just shy of 500 minutes but has been much improved from beyond the arc and is making 91.3 percent of his free throws thus far.
Anyways, one of my questions about Hollinger’s list was whether it was penalizing players like Larry Bird for playing in an era where the three-pointer was a lower-percentage shot than it is today. Also, players who were around in the mid-90s derived the benefit of a shortened three-point line that resulted in record numbers of threes being made (and also reduced the number of long two attempts, improving two-point percentages, which Hollinger factored in).
To put everyone on a level playing field, I decided to use the standardized version of the shoot rating that goes into the similarity scores, which adjusts for league average and the distribution of ratings. Doing so initially goes the opposite direction. The best standardized seasons in NBA history were all in the first couple of years of the three-point line, when anyone who could make the shot regularly stood out. So I also capped single-season ratings at 3.33, which is the best score in modern history (Ray Allen in 2005-06, when he broke the NBA record for threes in a season). If you add each player’s year-by-year standardized scores, here are the all-time leaders.
Player Yrs Shoot Reggie Miller 18 40.89 Dale Ellis 17 39.50 Dell Curry 16 33.52 Steve Kerr 15 30.39 Dana Barros 13 29.45 Ray Allen 13 28.52 Brent Barry 14 27.45 Danny Ainge 14 27.07 Terry Porter 17 26.95 Trent Tucker 11 26.69
As compared to Hollinger’s top 10, we’ve added a pair of gunners from the late ’80s and ’90s in Dell Curry and Dale Ellis. Ellis is third in league history in threes, but his 78.4 percent career shooting from the charity stripe kept him out of Hollinger’s top 20. Curry, meanwhile, was just a 47.8 percent shooter on twos, below most of his sharpshooting peers. Brent Barry and Danny Ainge also move up a little, though Ainge’s former teammate Bird doesn’t get the ’80s boost I was expecting and actually dropped to 13th. Terry Porter isn’t thought of as an elite shooter, and the length of his career helps him by this method, but the guy could shoot it. Lastly, Trent Tucker got a name ruled after him but his sharpshooting has been largely forgotten.
What if we change things to look at average standardized shooting rating per year (minimum five seasons qualifying) instead of total? The new top 10 looks like this:
Player Yrs Shoot Craig Hodges 10 2.53 Trent Tucker 11 2.43 Mark Price 11 2.40 Dennis Scott 10 2.39 Dale Ellis 17 2.32 Reggie Miller 18 2.27 Dana Barros 13 2.27 Kyle Korver 6 2.24 Hubert Davis 11 2.20 Ray Allen 13 2.19
Craig Hodges didn’t crack Hollinger’s top 20, but when we focus on three-point shooting instead of the other factors, he jumps to the top of the list. If you remember Hodges’ three-point shootout wins, there’s no question the guy could shoot it, though the rest of his game was so weak he was quickly out of the league when he faded slightly beyond the arc. (He also filed a lawsuit claiming he was blackballed due to his association with the Nation of Islam.) Tucker, like Hodges, gets the benefit of standing out in an era where there were some great three-point shooters but percentages weren’t as high as they are now. While they weren’t great players, they were great shooters, and deserve to be remembered as such.
On the other hand, while I was initially skeptical of using two-point percentage because finishing is such a distinct skill from shooting in my mind, I must say Hollinger’s method does better to credit guys like Jeff Hornacek, Chris Mullin and Steve Nash who took/take relatively few threes but are phenomenal shooters from anywhere on the court. As usual, no one measure gives the complete picture when it comes to shooting.