Best Shooter in NBA History?

After watching the NBA for a good 20 years, it’s easy to come up with a few answers based off of memory and perception. We have all seen various NBA players light up stadiums with amazing shooting displays. For instance, I used to love watching John Starks pump fake defenders, drive to the basket and finish with authority. He was able to set up his defenders because of his shooting prowess. Other players such as Dennis Scott, Craig Hodges, Allan Houston, Steve Kerr, Dan Majerle, Dell Curry and Glen Rice also come to mind when I think of players that were beyond deadly from the arc. But who is the most terrifying player in NBA history with the ball in his hands with an open shot?

I asked a few people with NBA ties to answer this question, let’s have a quick look and see their answers:

·      Alana Nguyen, director of programming of Yardbarker: “Gilbert Arenas. Duh. POW POW POW.”
·      Bob Wetsel, from Barenucks: Steve Nash
·      Alex Curtis-Slep, from NBA TipOff: Larry Bird
·      Daevone Molyneux, from Knick Of Time: John Stockon
·      Ethan Sherwood Strauss, from Warriors World and HoopSpeak: Steve Nash
·      Lee Tawil, from Purple and Blues: Larry Bird
·      Lucas Shapiro, from Dime Magazine and Lucas Shapiro’s Blog: Reggie Miller
·      Rasheed Malek, from Warriors World: Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen)
·      Rey Moralde, from The No Look Pass: Steve Kerr
·      R.J. Hives, NBA enthusiast: Steve Nash
·      Sam Holako, from Raptors Republic: Steve Kerr
·      Samira Knight, Director of Operations for Tarkanian Basketball Academy: Larry Bird

So who’s right? Clearly, if we are talking about dead eye shooters, evidently we think of players spotting up behind the three point line and make it rain. Let’s have a look at the top 10 best shooters in NBA history (listed by career three point percentage):

Rank
Player
3P%
1
Steve Kerr
.454
2
Hubert Davis
.441
3
Jason Kapono
.440
4
Drazen Petrovic
.437
5
Steve Nash
.432
6
Tim Legler
.431
7
B.J. Armstrong
.425
8
Daniel Gibson
.423
9
Wesley Person
.418
10
Anthony Parker
.415

The names of Steve Kerr and Steve Nash appeared a few times in the answers listed above, thus validating those choices. Mind you, a great shooter does not exclusively take three point shots. He maneuvers around the court to find spots where he can get open to deliver daggers. Consequently, it would be more prudent to have a look at the overall shooting percentage, three point percentage and free throw percentage as well. The higher the percentage in each category, the clearer the picture. So let’s look at some of the best shooting seasons by players in NBA history (minimum of 40 games played):

Player
Season
FG%
3P%
FT%
Larry Bird
1986-87
.525
.400
.910
Larry Bird
1987-88
.527
.414
.916
Mark Price
1988-89
.526
.441
.901
Reggie Miller
1993-94
.503
.421
.908
Steve Kerr
1995-96
.506
.515
.929
Steve Nash
2005-06
.512
.439
.921
Dirk Nowitzki
2006-07
.502
.416
.904
Jose Calderon
2007-08
.519
.429
.908
Steve Nash
2007-08
.504
.470
.906
Steve Nash
2008-09
.503
.439
.933
Steve Nash
2009-10
.507
.426
.938

The spreadsheet demonstrates what Ray Allen refers to as “the promised land of shooting” in Chris Ballard’s book The Art of a Beautiful Game: 50% from the field, 40% from three point range and 90% from the charity stripe.

The promised land of shooting makes perfect sense because a terrific shooter should be able to make a high percentage of shots from every spot on the court. Allow me this analogy: if you asked me to tell you who the worst boyfriend ever was, I would have to go back and look at the Maury tapes, see who screwed up the most questions in the lie detector test and whether he also failed the sexy decoy test. Why? Because flunking those aspects makes a man a bad boyfriend because trust is the foundation of a relationship. Well the same principle applies when discussing shooters; they are required to hit a high percentage of their shots to be called great ones.

When looking at the spreadsheet, the name that we see several times is none other than Steve Nash. Since 1979 (introduction of three point line to NBA), the promised land of shooting has occurred 11 times. Nash all by himself has managed to do it four times (Nash barely missed a chance to do it a fifth time during the 2005-2006 season as he finished with a 89.9 FT%), good for most in NBA history, while Larry Bird has successfully completed the feat twice (second most ever). This exclusive club is a great way to determine who the truly great shooters are given the fact that you cannot appear on this list by accident. Nonetheless, it’s still worth checking out how Bird and Nash match up statistically with some other big name shooters. Check out the career shooting percentages of some of the most lethal snipers in NBA history:

Player
FG%
3P%
FT%
Ray Allen
.450
.396
.894
Larry Bird
.496
.376
.886
Craid Hodges
.461
.400
.828
Steve Kerr
.479
.454
.864
Steve Nash
.489
.432
.903
Reggie Miller
.471
.395
.888
Dirk Nowitzki
.473
.380
.876
Mark Price
.472
.402
.904
Glen Rice
.456
.400
.846
Peja Stojakovic
.450
.400
.895

After checking out the graphic, Steve Nash’s name stands out once again. When looking at the shooting numbers as a whole, the British Columbia native (in case you were wondering, that’s in Canada) is clearly the best overall shooter. And yet, his shooting touch is often overlooked because of his ability to handle the ball and feed teammates. Also, as impressive as his shooting numbers are, it’s worth pointing out that Kid Canada gets few spot up shooting opportunities because he is constantly handling the ball. As a result, the Suns point guard often takes shots off the dribble with a defender in his face, and yet he still manages to connect at a ridiculously high rate.

The best shooter of all time should surprise you every time he misses a shot, and that’s exactly how I feel about Nash. The former Santa Clara player has mastered every shot in basketball: he makes shots from short range, midrange and long range regardless of the pressure that is applied on him. There isn’t another player I would want taking an open shot for my team and the numbers support this. In other words, Steve Nash is the best shooter in NBA history…..and he still has a few years left.
Image courtesy of ESPN.
Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at Shyne@Sbgorillas.com. You can also find me on Twitter with the handle name ShyneIV.

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