With everyone donning the title of "Best shooter ever" upon Steph Curry for the recent championship run, I find it difficult to see him as the best shooter ever for two reasons. First, I cannot accept that you can truly compare people from different eras. The rules are different, the teams are different, the challenges are different, and the competition is vastly different. Second, people forget how good some of those from the past really were!
Since I feel so strongly that is should not be done, here is my attempt at doing exactly that. I started watching the NBA in the 1969-70 season with the Knicks winning that year. I never saw Bob Cousy, Lenny Wilkens in his prime, Maurice Stokes, Elgin Baylor, or Tommy Heinsohn. I have heard about what great shooters they are, and have seen some film, but I have not included them. I also wanted to give extra credit to someone that was the best of their era, even though they may not compare directly to others on the list. I wrote down all the good shooters I could think of, then pared it down to 20.
You won't agree with me, but here I go...
19. Freeman Williams - (Clippers): Okay, I only added him because he went to Portland State. I went to several games and watched him in person in college. (Students could watch the games for free.) He invented the of the "Shooters Jog" that Reggie Miller later perfected. (You shoot from 40-feet out, then start jogging back to defense, because it was definitely going in. Do not worry about rebounding.) He also gets bonus points for his performance as "Duck Phillips" in White Men Can't Jump.
18. Klay Thompson - (Warriors): The other half of the "Splash Brothers" can always be counted on for that key three. (Unless it is the NBA Playoffs!)
17. Paul Pierce - (Celtics, Wizards): He was awesome at Kansas, and each year found another element of shooting to improve. He was at his peak at the best time for him and the Celtics, a championship season.
16. Dan Majerle - (Suns, Heat): Great shooter. Killed the Blazers several times, but not as many as....
15. Jeff Hornacek - (Suns, Jazz): I hated him when he was on the floor playing against those great Adlemam/Porter teams. He was truly money and a Blazer-killer. (Note: I refuse to call it the "Drexler era.")
14. Kobe Bryant - (Lakers): During his prime, like Kareem, Magic, and Michael before him, he was the simply best player in the world. He also became a great shooter, mainly because he spent 12 hours a day in the gym. He was not in that class his last couple of years, mostly because he was walking bandage. I choose to remember the best.
13. Steve Nash (Mavericks, Suns, Lakers): Not sure how he did it but didn't it seem like he was never guarded and always open as a shooter? Not sure he'd make the list if he was ever defended by anyone.
12. Drazen Petrovic (Blazers, Nets): One of three Blazers on the list. He was truly an awesome shooter. Might have been even better had he lived longer. Loved the long bombs from just in front of the bench.
11. Dirk Nowitski (Mavericks): One of two big-men on the list. Always like watching the turn-around jumper from the corner. 15+ years in the league, he's still got it.
10. Pete "Pistol Pete" Maravich (Hawks, Jazz, Celtics): You are probably wondering where I'd put him, I put him here. You could make a good case for him at #1 and #20. I don't think you can NOT include him on the list. He was the best shooter I can remember when the game was NOT on the line. I loved watching him, but I do have one of his contemporaries ranked higher. (Gee, Blazer fan, I wonder who THAT could be.)
9. Steve Kerr (Bulls, Spurs, Blazers): The "second" Bulls had Uncle Phil, MJ, and Scottie, but "the tringle" always needed a "Banger" and a "Hit Man." Rodman was the banger and Kerr was the hit man. A great guy who won 5 rings as a player, was a successful GM, was great on TV as a color analyst, and now has a couple of rings as a coach. A phenomenal shooter.
8. Chris Mullin (Warriors, Pacers): A Perfect pure shooter, I am sure you'll agree.
7. Steph Curry (Warriors): He's only been in the league six years, and many have anointed him the best shooter ever. I always balk at "best ever" arguments and it prompted this column. All that said, where does he belong among giants? I have him at seven. He was impressive this year. He'd then have cold games and start hoisting up bad threes like Clyde used to. Once he can put the bad games behind him, he might make the top five. Still, in this company, #7 is pretty awesome.
6. Ray Allen (Sonics, Celtics, Heat): One of four players (along with Miller, Bird, and West) I want to have the ball when it's all on the line.
4. Rick Barry (Warriors, Oakland Oaks, Rockets): Best free-throw shooter ever. He definitely would be higher with the three-pointer. (Remember, he DID have a three-pointer for awhile. He spent some time in the ABA, with the Oaks and Nets, where the three point shot was already in place.)
3. Reggie Miller (Pacers): He is one of the best shooters ever, and one of the most fun to watch. He was on a team that was always competitive and played for great coaches. (Larry Brown, Larry Bird, Rick Carlisle.) I see his highlights on ESPN and they still amaze me.
One player we didn't get to see on SportsCenter was.....
2. Jerry West (Lakers): Two of his nicknames were "Mr. Clutch" and "The Logo". He IS the NBA. He was often double-teamed and still found a way to get a great shot off. He was Pistol before Pistol Pete was. Don't believe me? Ask the Celtics and Knicks. You had to see him to believe it. I would have loved to place him at Number one, except for.....
1. Larry Bird (Celtics): I was thinking of any reason NOT to make him #1. Can't think of it. Can't think of a shot he could not make. He made them by himself, under pressure, in a trap, from a corner. He was offended when he was not given the ball at the end of a game. Known to have quoted Jimmy Chitwood in a huddle stating "I'll make it, coach!"
Who's on your list?
Don't let the bastards grind you down. - dsb