In a game against the Orlando Magic this week, Steph Curry dribbled circles around Ersan Ilyasova and then hit a ridiculous step-back three. This shot gave Curry 300 three-pointers this season and he is on pace to hit another hundred. In the wake of Curry’s last couple of seasons, we are hearing many references to how Steph Curry is the greatest shooter ever. I wanted to dig into the numbers to see what the numbers say. In the process I came up with a new shooting metric, Total Shooting Score.
In a previous article I discussed in detail the 50/40/90 club and how Curry was pacing to join that club while shooting at a volume no other member of the club had ever shot. Curry is still on pace for 50/40/90. However, for this article, I wanted to expand upon that. I wanted to take both accuracy and volume into account in determining who the greatest shooter (not just 3 point shooter) really was. So, I made a list of the players in the top 50 in NBA history in scoring average. I excluded those who played without, or a very small period of time with, the three-point line, so players like Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, and Pete Maravich (who amazingly went 10-15 for 66.7% from three in his lone season with a three-point line) were filtered out. Then I eliminated players that did not utilize the three-point shot much in the career, so most post players like Kareem (and his 8% career three-point percentage), Karl Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon were excluded. This gave me 15 players remaining: Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, Lebron James, Allen Iverson, George Gervin, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Dominique Wilkins, Larry Bird, Dwyane Wade, Steph Curry, Dirk Nowitzki, Russell Westbrook, Mitch Richmond, and James Harden.
I used the 50/40/90 standard as the gold standard and figured the greatest shooters had to excel in all three areas. I decided to add each player’s career FG%, 3-PT%, and FT% together to get what I am calling their Shooting Score (SS). A career 50/40/90 shooter would have a SS of 180. Curry topped the SS list with a Shooting Score of 182.3, the only player above the 180 mark. Curry was followed by Bird (175.8), Durant (174.5), Nowitzki (173.7) and Mitch Richmond (169.3) to round out the top 5. The worst SS of the 15 was Allen Iverson with a SS of 151.8, a whopping 30.5 points behind Curry.
I also wanted to take a player’s Points Per Game average into account because scoring volume usually affects shooting efficiency. This is what separates Larry Bird from Hubert Davis. It also acts as a weighting factor, as 3 point shots are typically shot at a lower percentage, but the player is awarded 3 points and the scoring volume tends to offset the lower efficiency of the three-point shot. So, I added the players’ PPG average to the SS to normalize for volume and arrive at a Total Shooting Score (TSS). Again, Curry led the pack with a TSS of 204.5. Durant leap-frogged Bird for 2nd place at 201.9, Bird had a TSS of 200.1, followed by Jordan at 196.0 and Nowitzki at 195.7.
Next, I broke each shooting category into thirds and ranked each shooter against the others. Only Larry Bird ranked in the top third in all shooting categories. On the other end of the spectrum only Iverson ranked in the bottom 3rd in each shooting category. Only Curry and Nowitzki placed in the top third in two shooting categories and the middle third in the last shooting category, both falling into the middle third in field goal percentage. Jordan, Bird, and Durant were the only players without a single bottom-third in any category (Curry falling into the bottom third of the group in scoring average).
Just for fun, I wanted to see how other lower volume shooters, who fall outside the Top 50 in points per game, would perform in the Shooting Score and Total Shooting Score categories. I looked at other shooters that I consider some of the greatest shooters ever: (in order of career scoring average) Klay Thompson, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, Peja Stojakovic, Drazen Petrovic, Mark Price, Steve Nash, John Stockton, Tim Legler, and Steve Kerr. Conventional wisdom suggests that as volume goes down, the percentages go up. The numbers seem to support that these specialist players tend do shoot higher percentages.
Steve Nash’s Shooting Score was only .1 behind Curry for the highest of anyone I looked at, those two distinguishing themselves as the only two with a SS above 180. Steve Kerr and Mark Price exceeded all but Curry and Nash. Reggie Miller fell right behind Bird, slightly ahead of Durant. When it came to TSS, after taking scoring volume into account, Nash’s 196.5 TSS placed him fourth, behind only Curry, Durant, and Bird. Petrovic’s 193.8, Reggie Miller’s 193.6, Allen’s 193.5, and Peja’s 191.6 placed them all behind Nowitzki and ahead of Gervin.
Ironically, Lebron, whom many have viewed as one of the most efficient scorers ever, ranks in the bottom 5 in SS of all of the players considered, largely due to having the worst free throw percentage (74.3%) of any player on the list. On the flip side of that, if it wasn’t for Westbrook’s 81.9% FT%, Westbrook would have ranked in the bottom third of all of the shooting categories. Of all of the players I looked at, Iverson, Wade, and Westbrook finished at the bottom in TSS.
According the the Total Shooting Score metric, the greatest shooters in the NBA since the advent of the 3 point line are:
Now this calculates the greatest shooters ever, not the greatest three-point shooters ever. That is why Jordan, a deadly mid-range shooter but not known for his three-point shooting, ranks so high on this list. That said, it seems that no matter how you slice it, the fact remains that Steph Curry is the greatest shooter in NBA history. Kevin Durant is not far behind and what Durant is doing from an efficiency standpoint at 27.4 points per game is remarkable. It makes the prospect of these two teaming up in Golden State this off-season that much more frightening for the rest of the league. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, it sure is fun watching the two greatest shooters ever go to work.