Born to Shoot

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When Steph Curry rolled his ankle in the 3rd quarter of Tuesday night’s Game 2 against the Nuggets, the basketball world collectively held its breath. Curry’s unfortunate history of serious ankle injuries leaves everyone who appreciates great basketball a little nervous every time he makes a quick lateral move, or gets tangled up with an opponent—No Steph, not again! Thankfully he was able to come out for the fourth quarter and shake off a tweak that looked a lot worse than it was.

Curry, who is making his post-season debut, played 78 games this season, a huge jump from the 26 he managed in 2011-12. And long may the trend continue. Leaving aside the obvious giants of the game—the likes of LeBron, KD, and Kobe—there might not be a player in the NBA right now who’s more exciting to watch than Steph Curry. Sure, thunderous dunks are fun. No one would disagree with that. But watching Curry, the owner of the smoothest, most aesthetically pleasing jump shot in the game today, drain a 3 in transition, is something to behold.

Curry averaged 45% from the land beyond during the regular season, but he’s far from simply a catch-and-shoot player. The degree of difficulty on some of his shots is ridiculous. He can create off the dribble, and with his lighting-quick release, he never seems rushed—never flustered by a hand or two in his face. A 3-pointer in transition is practically a lay-up for Curry. He’s already provided us with the most memorable moment of the regular season just gone—his 54-point explosion at MSG, where he hit 11 from downtown—but that monumental performance hasn’t been anomalous. There’s been more than one occasion when he’s threatened to drop 50, and his 272 made 3s broke the record for most trifectas in a single season—surpassing Ray Allen’s previous record of 269.

Yes, Curry can shoot—he’s the best pure shooter in the game today. And with a little luck, and some cooperation from those dodgy ankles, he could eventually join the ranks of the following, as one of the greatest pure shooters ever. So in light of that, here are the 5 greatest pure shooters of all time:

Drazen Petrovic
 

Petrovic’s basketball career, and life in general, was depressingly short—he was tragically killed in a car accident at the age of 28, right in his basketball prime. But while Petrovic’s stint in the NBA was brief—he played just 5 seasons in the Association—the impact that he made was profound. Petrovic’s success in the league opened the door for subsequent European ballers looking to ply their trade in the NBA—the Dirk Nowitzki’s and Pau Gasol’s of the world.
But setting aside his legacy off the court, the guy could flat out shoot. Reggie Milller, another player on this list, claims that Petrovic is the greatest shooter of all time, and the only player with a sweeter jump shot than his own. Heady praise indeed. And like Reggie, Drazen was fearless, not afraid to talk trash and go toe-toe with the games finest, including the great Michael Jordan. In his final two seasons in the NBA he averaged 50% from the field, and 45% from 3-point land, on 16 shots per game. But his most legendary feat happened playing in Europe, when he scored 112 points in a Yugoslavian first division game—hitting 40-60 from the field, and 10-20 from downtown. An incredible performance from an incredible shooter.

Larry Bird
 
 

To appreciate Bird’s potency as a pure shooter it’s important to look at more than just statistics, and to acknowledge that timing is everything. He hit the biggest shots in the biggest games. With the game on the line there wasn’t anything that scared the opposition more than Bird taking a jump shot. He doesn’t hold any records, and only averaged 40% from beyond the arc once in his career—the 3-pointer was introduced in the 1979-80 season and it took time for players to adjust—but Bird remains one of the deadliest shooters of all time. And nevertheless, the stats are still mighty impressive. He averaged 50% from the field in 5 of his 12 NBA seasons.

Of course, Bird was much more than a great shooter—he could score down on the block, rebound, and might have been the greatest passer of all time—but among the many iconic moments in his career, two of the standouts involve his deadly shooting. Firstly, when he won the 1988 Three Point Shootout with his warm-up jacket on—Bird didn’t lack confidence—and secondly, his 60-point demolition of the Atlanta Hawks, in 1985. In that game Bird made impossible shots from all over the court. It was a performance that was so impressive it was even cheered on by the Hawk’s bench, much to coach Mike Fratello chagrin.

Steve Nash
  
 

When we look back on Nash’s career, first and foremost we’ll remember the 2-time MVP for his transcendent playmaking skills—his ability to create shots for teammates with his exceptional vision and breathtaking passing. Play with Nash and you put up stats, simple as that. Just ask Marcin Gortat—a season playing with Nash and he was a 15-point per game centre in the NBA. But Nash will also be remembered as one of the greatest pure shooters in the game, a guy who you couldn’t afford to leave open from anywhere on the court.

Nash’s shooting abilities meant that his now legendary pick-n-roll with Amar’e Stoudemire was one of the deadliest offensive plays in the NBA. When defenses decided to prevent Amar’e from rolling to the rim, which he was pretty good at, they often had to deal with Nash getting an open look, and that could prove very costly. Nash has averaged 50% from the field in 7 of his NBA seasons and is the only member of the 50-40-90 club (50% from the field, 40% from downtown, and 90% from the line) to achieve the impressive feat on two separate occasions.

Reggie Miller
 
 

Another member of the exclusive 50-40-90 club, Miller’s name was synonymous with deadly shooting during his 17-year career in the NBA. No player was feared more in the latter stages of a game, no man was more deadly in the clutch. While Jordan would go 1-on-1 with his adversaries, and Hakeem went to work down on the block, Miller would work his ass off running off screens to get open. It wasn’t quite as glamorous, but it was brutally effective, and Miller became a 90s basketball icon because of it.

Owner of one of the sweetest jump shots of all time, Reggie finished his career as the all-time leader in made 3s. An underrated but equally important part of his legacy was his accuracy at the free-throw line—Miller led the league in free-throw accuracy 5 times and was a designated closer late in the games. But, as everyone knows, Miller’s most famous for his shooting exploits against the New York Knicks.

In the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals Miller scored 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game 5, which included 6-11 from downtown, to lead the Pacers to victory. And in 1995, against the same opposition, Miller scored an incredible 8 points in 9 seconds. The Pacers trailed 105-99, before Miller cut the deficit with a 3-pointer, then stole the ball on the next inbounds pass, backed up beyond the arc and tied the game. Free throws in the final seconds would cap off an improbable win for the Pacers and cement Miller’s status as a shooting legend. Sorry Spike.

Ray Allen 
 
 

Even though Jesus Shuttlesworth used his superior physical gifts to beat his estranged father (Denzel) in that iconic one-on-one battle in Spike Lee’s He Got Game, away from the fiction Ray Allen will be remembered as the greatest 3-point shooter of all time. He’s Miller’s successor in that regard, breaking the all-time record for made 3s—he now has over 2800 of them!—in a 2011 game against the Los Angeles Lakers. He also owned the record for most 3s in a season until it was recently surpassed by Steph Curry. And like Miller, Allen is a closer down the stretch—it’s absolutely pointless to put him on the line when you’re trying to stop the clock and salvage a game. Foul anyone, but Ray—he’s averaged over 90% from the line in 11 of his NBA seasons.

But while Allen was as deadly as Miller from beyond the arc—he’s averaged 40% from downtown in 8 of his NBA seasons—in his prime he was a far more dynamic offensive player. Allen could create off the dribble, taking advantage of his reputation as a deadly shooter to blow by his defender when he was restricted for space. It was pick your poison with Ray Allen. Among his many career highlights, his 51-point game (9-18 from downtown) against the Bulls in 2009—an all-time great playoff series—stand outs, as does his Finals shooting performances against the Lakers. In 2010 he broke the record for most made 3s in a Finals game—8 in the Game 2 Celtics victory, but more satisfying would’ve been his 7 made 3-pointers (which tied the record at the time) in the Game 6 blowout win that sealed the 2008 championship for Boston.

Don’t bet against one of the greatest shooters ever making some big shots if his Miami Heat make the Finals again this year.

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