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NBA Greatest Shooters of All Time: Steve Nash, Larry Bird, Seth Curry, et al
The Best Outside Shooters: Jerry West, Reggie Miller,

Who were the greatest NBA shooters of all time? The all-time points rankings are not the best measuring rod, because players with extremely long careers may have been much less accurate shooters than players with fewer points. We can't consult PPG (Points Per Game) because some great scorers were not great shooters: for instance Shaquille O'Neal and Wilt Chamberlain, who both struggled to make free throws. Since stats like points and PPG stats don't tell the whole story, I have provided my subjective rankings along with reasons for each player's inclusion or exclusion. Three things I consider in my rankings are clutch shooting, scoring efficiency (career field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three-point field goal percentage) and what would probably have happened if older players had the option of the three-pointer. I also consider things like the 50-40-90 club, which is ultra-exclusive with only eight members. The 50-40-90 club is limited to players who made 50% of their field goals, 40% of their three-pointers, and 90% of their free throws for an entire season. The eight members of the 50-40-90 club are Steve Nash (4 times), Larry Bird (2 times), Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Malcolm Brogdon.

Another measuring rod is effective three-point field goal percentage, which adjusts a player's field goal percentage to account for the fact that a made three-pointer is worth more points than a made two-pointer.

NOTE: I am not going to consider part-time players and three-point specialists for my top ten. This eliminates players like Kyle Korver, Brent Barry, J. J. Reddick and Steve Kerr. A truly great shooter should be able to start, make all-star teams, compete for MVP awards, and score from all over the court. My top ten consists of all-time great players who were great shooters. And results matter more than style, although there are some very stylish shooters in my personal list. But I will make some observations about surprises I found when I studied a stat called "true shooting percentage" ...

My personal Top Ten NBA Shooters of All Time

1. Larry Bird: The gunslinger known as "Larry Legend" was the greatest clutch shooter in NBA history. And he may have been the best all-round shooter as well. Bird's field goal percentage was .509 on two-point shots and he wasn't padding that stat with a lot of dunks. Many of his two-pointers had a high degree of difficulty. Despite standing six-foot-nine, Bird was one of the best three-point shooters of his era, connecting better than .400 six times and winning the first three NBA three-point contests. And Bird made .886 of his free throws. Bird was the first NBA player to join the 50-40-90 club, and he is one of only two players to make it more than once. If he were starting over today with the modern game's focus on three-pointers, I'm sure the savvy Bird would be practicing and shooting more three-pointers. But in his era the three-pointer was a side dish rather than the main entree. In any case, to top it all off, Bird averaged 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists for his stellar career. He was a three-time MVP and made the all-star team 12 times in 13 seasons.

2. Steve Nash: I rank Nash only slightly behind Bird, giving Bird the edge because of his propensity for hitting game-winning shots in big games. Nash is the all-time leader in free throw percentage, at .9043. He was a member of the 50-40-90 club a record four times; Bird is the only other player to make the club more than once. Nash's career field goal percentage of .490 is not as good as Bird's, but it's damn good for a point guard. And Nash didn't shoot near as much as Bird, averaging 14.3 PPG for his career. Nash's .428 three-point accuracy was remarkable for his era. I give a slight edge to Bird, because he's the shooter I want taking a last-second shot to win the NBA championship, but Nash in his prime was the best overall shooter. And Nash was a legit superstar who won two MVP awards and was an all-star eight times.

3. Stephen Curry: The all-time leader in effective field goal percentage for perimeter players, at .5802, the not-so-towering Curry rates just a hair below giants like Artis Gilmore and Shaquille O'Neal. And Curry may be the purest shooter of all time, if we're handing out style points. When all is said and done, Curry may pass Nash and Bird on my list. But his career field goal percentage of .478 is not as good as Nash's or Bird's, so only time will tell. However, one thing is certain: together Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson form the best-shooting backcourt in NBA history, based on their combined effective field goal percentages.

4. Jerry West: I think the man known as "The Logo" will probably remain securely in fourth place on the all-time PPG list when all is said and done, just behind Michael Jordan and his former teammates Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. But just imagine what the sharpshooting West would have averaged per game with the three-pointer! I have no doubt that he would be challenging Chamberlain and Jordan for the top spot. West's .474 field goal percentage and his range suggest that he would have been one of the all-time best three-point marksmen. And people who saw him play say West could get his shot off quicker then Steph Curry. So I am moving West up to number four on my personal list.

5. Michael Jordan: The man known as "Air Jordan" is the number one scorer of all time, at 30.12 PPG for his stellar career. He was also famously a clutch shooter, perhaps second only to Bird when it comes to making big shots in big games. In addition to his scoring prowess, Jordan was an incredible athlete, and a great defender. And his career field goal percentage of .497 is better than that of most of the major scorers who weren't super tall. But Jordan was not as good an outside shooter as Jerry West and Pete Maravich, so an interesting question about the three-pointer becomes: "What would have happened with a level playing field?" And I find it ironic that MJ's championship rings are used to argue that he was the GOAT ("greatest of all time"). Jordan's teams didn't win anything his first six years, which included seasons in which he averaged 37.1, 35.0, 32.5 and 33.6 points per page. MJ was a great scorer who became a winner only when the Bulls assembled superior teams that included players like Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, John Paxon, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, et al. To me it makes absolutely no sense to say that MJ is the GOAT because he played on superior teams. When Wilt Chamberlain was lucky enough to play on superior teams, he won too. But his teams usually ended up playing the Boston Celtics when they had the superior team. By the "rings" logic, the best player of all time was Bill Russell, because he has the most rings (11). And his teammates would be superior to MJ because they had more rings: Sam Jones (10), K. C. Jones (8), Tom Heinsohn (8), Tom Sanders (8), John Havlicek (8), Frank Ramsey (7), and Jim Loscutoff (7). But of course it makes no sense to say Loscutoff was "greater" than MJ because he had more rings. Thus it makes no sense to say that MJ was "greater" than other great players because his teams won more rings. If we put MJ on the worst team in the NBA, would he suddenly no longer be great? No, he would still be great but his team wouldn't be winning any rings.

6. Pete Maravich: This may be my most controversial pick. But Pete Maravich had seasons in which he averaged 31.1, 27.7, 27.0, 26.1, and 25.9 points per game. He did this while being his team's primary ball-handler, with everyone knowing "Pistol Pete" was also the primary scoring threat. And he did it without the three-pointer. When the three-pointer was introduced toward the end of his career, Maravich connected on .667 of his attempts (granted, the sample size is skimpy). The mind boggles at what he might have done in the modern NBA. And his career field goal percentage of .441 is rather amazing considering his "degree of difficulty." No one ever made impossible shots look as "easy" as the Pistol. Also, when Maravich died prematurely, it turned out that he had a congenital heart defect. What if he had been perfectly healthy and had the three-pointer? Again, the mind boggles.

7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: The sky hook left defenders defenseless and helped Jabbar become the NBA's all-time points leader while maintaining a stellar .5595 effective field goal percentage. Also, Jabbar's 24.6 career average is a bit misleading. He played so long that his overall average declined with age. In his prime he was good for around 26 points and 14 rebounds, regular as clockwork. But he wouldn't have been helped by the three-pointer as much as West, Maravich and Bird.

8. Charles Barkley: While we don't think of him as one of the great pure shooters, in reality Barkly was a high volume scorer who ranks just a hair below Abdul-Jabbar with an effective field goal percentage of .5578. And Barkley was nearly a foot shorter! Furthermore, Barkley is in the top ten for career PER (Personal Efficiency Rating). So give the man his props, because he was not only a real force, but a very accurate and efficient scorer.

9. Reggie Miller: With an effective field goal percentage of .5441, Miller gets extra credit for high volume scoring and for making big shots in big games.

10. Rick Barry: One of the all-time best free throw shooters (.900) despite shooting them underhanded, Barry would have benefitted from having the three-pointer during his prime years. (He averaged 30.5 PPG during his ABA days with the three-pointer.)

Near Misses

Elgin Baylor: It remains to be seen whether LeBron James or Kevin Durant can pass Baylor's 27.36 PPG. It seems more likely that their PPGs will decline, especially if they elect to continue playing past their primes. So I think Baylor will remain in third place on the career PPG list, but only time can tell for sure. Baylor is just out of my top ten because he would not have benefitted as much as West, Maravich and Bird from the three-pointer. Also, Baylor's .431 field goal percentage falls short of my top three. But it's hard to argue with that brilliant 27.36 scoring average. And Baylor was the prototype of the athletically gifted, acrobatic small forwards to come: Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins, et al. The first pick in the first round of the 1958 NBA draft, Baylor averaged 24.9 points as a rookie, then racked up seasons of 29.6, 34.8, 38.3 and 34.0 in one of the hottest scoring streaks in NBA history. And he did it while grabbing close to 20 rebounds per game and averaging around five assists. His 1961-62 season, in which he averaged 38.3 points, 18.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists, is second only to Chamberlain's best years in "complete offensive domination."

Oscar Robertson: The Big O's career field goal percentage (.485) is damn good for a high-scoring guard of his era, but I don't think he would have benefitted from the three-pointer as much as some of my higher picks. But Robertson may have been the best all-round guard in NBA history, or he's right up there with Jordan, West and Magic. If I'm picking an all-time team, mine has Robertson in the backcourt.

My Revised "Level Playing Field" List

This is my projected list if everyone started out from scratch with current rules and the modern emphasis on three-pointers: Jerry West, Pete Maravich, Stephen Curry, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Rick Barry, Elgin Baylor, Reggie Miller

Up-and-Coming

Stephen Curry may end up being the greatest pure shooter in NBA history, if he isn't already.

James Harden set a record with 32 consecutive 30-point games in 2019.

Others: Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Paul George, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kemba Walker, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin

True Shooting Percentage Surprises

When I studied true shooting percentages, I found some surprises. For instance, DeAndre Jordan is the all-time leader in true shooting percentage at .6363! Well, perhaps that's not so surprising if most of his shots are dunks and layups. But what about Cedric Maxwell, who wasn't exactly a beast at 6-8 and only 205 pounds? Or how about the unlikely Dave Twardzik at just 6-1 and 175 pounds? Adrian Dantley is also in the top ten, despite being an undersized forward at 6-5 and 208 pounds. How did he get his shots off so accurately amid all the NBA's towering trees? And Dantley shot a LOT, averaging 30 points or higher four years running, and more than 26.5 points in eight different seasons. Charles Barkley was another extremely proficient undersized forward, coming in at number twelve. I was surprised by Magic Johnson at number thirteen, because I had always thought of him as more of a playmaker than an extremely efficient shooter. John Stockton was a mild surprise at number fifteen another guard better known for his playmaking abilities. Ditto for Steve Nash at number nineteen, tied with Kevin McHale. And a tip of the cap to high-volume outside shooters who made the top twenty: Stephen Curry, Reggie Miller and James Harden.

Best Three-Point Shooters

These rankings take efficiency and volume into account, and are a bit subjective ...

Stephen Curry (44.0% on super-high volume)
Kyle Korver (43.0% career, a record 53.6% in 2009-2010, high volume)
Ray Allen (super-high volume, 40.0% career)
Reggie Miller (super-high volume, 39.5% career)
Steve Kerr (45.4% career, lower volume)
Hubert Davis (44.1% career, lower volume)
Drazen Petrovic (43.7% career)
Steve Nash (42.8% career)
Klay Thompson (41.9% career)
Larry Bird (so clutch, even on fall-away three pointers)
Dale Ellis (an early three-point specialist who evolved from a post scorer)
Peja Stojakovic
Wesley Person
J. J. Redick
Jason Terry
Mike Miller
Vince Carter
Paul Pierce
Jason Kidd
Jamal Crawford

Great Scorers Who Were Not Great Pure Shooters

Wilt Chamberlain: The Big Dipper averaged 30.07 PPG with a .5397 effective field goal percentage. What's to complain about, or not to like? (Well, there is his dreadful free throw shooting.) Chamberlain has five of the top six scoring seasons in NBA history, including an unfathomable 50.36 ppg in 1961-1962.

Shaquille O'Neal: The man known as "Shaq" averaged 23.69 PPG with a .582 FGP. There's no telling how much his woeful .527 free throw percentage hurt his scoring, because opposing teams would employ the "hack a Shaq" defensive technique, preferring their odds with Shaq at the line.

George Mikan: At six-foot-ten, Mikan was the NBA's first superstar big man. He led the NBA in scoring for three consecutive seasons and finished with career averages of 23.13 PPG and .404 FGP.

Honorable Mentions

Bernard King: A former New York City playground legend, Bernard King formed the "Ernie and Bernie Show" when he joined Ernie Gunfeld at the University of Tennessee and was a three-time All-American despite skipping his senior year to go pro. King was also a three-time SEC player of the year; the only other three-time winner was Pete Maravich. As an NBA rookie, King scored 24.2 PPG and set the New Jersey Nets franchise record for points in a season. He quickly developed into a high volume scorer with superior accuracy despite standing only six-foot-seven; for instance he averaged 21.9 PPG with a .588 FGP at age 24. His keys to scoring were quickness of foot and a quick release. After returning to New York to play with the Knicks, at age 27 he averaged 26.3 PPG with a glittering .572 FGP. At age 28 he averaged 32.9 with a .530 FGP. King had three 50 point games (two consecutive) and one 60 point game within a calendar year and scored 34.8 during the 1984 playoffs. But at the height of his glory, devastating knee injuries cost him two years and severely hampered the rest of his career. King never recovered his pre-injury explosiveness. At age 34 he completed his comeback by completely revamping his game, averaging 28.4 PPG despite his physical limitations. King became the oldest All-Star game starter, only to be forced to retire when his knees gave out again. For his career King averaged 22.5 PPG with a .518 FGA, but that was just a shadow of what he had done in his prime before his injuries. The only NBA players with higher season scoring averages than Bernard King's 32.9 are Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Rick Barry, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob McAdoo, Elgin Baylor, Nate "Tiny" Archibald, and George Gervin. That's how good he was, and he was still getting better when disaster struck.

Adrian Dantley: A rather amazing player, he averaged 24.3 PPG with a .540 FGP while shooting mostly inside at only six-foot-five!

J. J. Reddick: At the time I wrote this, Reddick was #24 in the effective field goal percentage rankings, at .5524.

Mike Miller: With an the effective field goal percentage of .5500, Miller is a highly accurate long-range bomber.

Klay Thompson: Another highly effective long-range bomber, with extra credit for higher volume, Thompson has a career effective field goal percentage of .5493.

John Stockton: The NBA's all-time assist leader was a helluva shooter too, with an effective field goal percentage of .5463.

Karl Malone: Someone as big and strong as the Mailman should have been able to make better than .516 percent of his field goals, but it's hard to argue with 25.2 PPG and better-than-average accuracy.

George Gervin: The "Iceman" was almost as accurate (.511) as Malone, while shooting mostly from the outside. But oddly his three-point accuracy was under .300.

Dominque Wilkins: The "Human Highlight Film" was a dominating scorer and his .461 field goal percentage is not bad for his degree of difficulty.

Kobe Bryant: Bryant's .447 career field goal percentage is not terrible but not great, and he took 4 three-pointers per game while only making .329. But his 24.99 career scoring average is hard to ignore.

Allen Iverson: His .425 career field goal percentage is not good enough to make my top ten, but he was a dynamic scorer.

Bob Pettit: He was a star of a very different game, but a .436 field goal percentage is low for a big man.

Julius Erving: The high-flying Dr. J averaged 28.7 in the ABA, but only 22.0 for his NBA career, with just one season above 25 PPG.

Bob McAdoo: In his prime, McAdoo led the NBA in scoring for three consecutive seasons with averages of 31.1, 34.5 and 30.6; he had seven seasons in which he averaged 25.8 or higher. His career averages were 22.1 PPG and .503 FGP.

Neil Johnston: A six-foot-eight center, Johnston led the NBA in scoring for three consecutive seasons and finished with career averages of 19.42 PPG and .444 FGP.

NBA All-Time PPG Leaders (Points Per Game)
* Indicates a member of the Hall of Fame

Rank                                             PPG
1.    Michael Jordan*                    30.12
2.    Wilt Chamberlain*                 30.07
3.    Elgin Baylor*                         27.36
4.    LeBron James                       27.18
5.    Kevin Durant                         27.13
6.    Jerry West*                          27.03
7.    Allen Iverson*                      26.66
8.    Bob Pettit*                           26.36
9.    Oscar Robertson*                25.68
10.   George Gervin*                   25.09
11.   Karl Malone*                      25.02
12.   Kobe Bryant                        24.99
13.   Dominique Wilkins*             24.83
14.   Rick Barry*                         24.78
15.   Kareem Abdul-Jabbar*       24.61
16.   Larry Bird*                          24.29
17.   Adrian Dantley*                   24.27
18.   Pete Maravich*                    24.24
19.   Julius Erving*                       24.16
20.   Carmelo Anthony                 24.01
21.   Shaquille O'Neal*                23.69
22.   Anthony Davis                     23.54
23.   Damian Lillard                      23.24
24.   Stephen Curry                      23.22
25.   George Mikan*                    23.13
26.   James Harden                      23.12
27.   Russell Westbrook               22.98
28.   Paul Arizin*                         22.81
29.   David Thompson*               22.67
30.   Dan Issel*                           22.56
31.   Bernard King*                     22.49
32.   Dwyane Wade                     22.40
33.   Charles Barkley*                 22.14
34.   Bob McAdoo*                    22.05
35.   Kyrie Irving                         22.01
36.   Geoff Petrie                         21.82
37.   Hakeem Olajuwon*             21.77
38.   Blake Griffin                        21.57
39.   DeMarcus Cousins              21.53
40.   Alex English*                       21.47
41.   Dirk Nowitzki                      21.20
42.   Billy Cunningham*               21.18
43.   David Robinson*                 21.06
44.   Mitch Richmond*                 21.00
45.   Patrick Ewing*                     20.98
46.   Elvin Hayes*                        20.96
47.   John Havlicek*                    20.78
48.   Charlie Scott*                      20.69
49.   John Drew                           20.69
50.   Glenn Robinson                    20.69
51.   John Brisker                         20.69
52.   Chris Webber                      20.68
53.   Gilbert Arenas                      20.66
54.   Clyde Drexler*                     20.44
55.   Dave Bing*                          20.34
56.   Moses Malone*                   20.33
57.   Spencer Haywood*             20.27
58.   World B. Free                     20.27
59.   Bob Verga                           20.23
60.   George McGinnis*               20.20
61.   Lou Hudson                         20.16
62.   Marques Johnson                 20.10
63.   Walt Bellamy*                      20.08
64.   Bob Lanier*                         20.07
65.   Darel Carrier                        20.03
66.   Mark Aguirre                       20.00
67.   DeMar DeRozan                  19.83
68.   Mike Mitchell                       19.78
69.   Kiki Vandeweghe                 19.73
70.   Paul Pierce                           19.66
71.   Tracy McGrady*                  19.60
72.   Magic Johnson*                    19.54
73.   Neil Johnston*                      19.42
74.   Levern Tart                           19.40
75.   LaMarcus Aldridge               19.37
76.   Klay Thompson                    19.29
77.   Stephon Marbury                  19.26
78.   Kemba Walker                     19.25
79.   Chris Bosh                           19.25
80.   Jack Twyman*                     19.25
81.   Hal Greer*                           19.24
82.   Isiah Thomas*                      19.23
83.   George Yardley*                 19.20
84.   Larry Jones                         19.07
85.   Jamal Mashburn                  19.06
86.   Jeff Malone                         19.04
87.   Tim Duncan                        19.03
88.   Michael Redd                     19.03
89.   Yao Ming*                         19.03
90.   John Wall                           18.96
91.   Brad Daugherty                  18.96
92.   Derrick Rose                      18.92
93.   Amar'e Stoudemire             18.91
94.   Walter Davis                      18.90
95.   Walt Frazier*                     18.89
96.   Donnie Freeman                 18.88
97.   Isaiah Thomas                    18.86
98.   Ray Allen*                         18.85
99.   Earl Monroe*                    18.85
100.  Paul George                      18.82

Related Pages: Who is the NBA GOAT?, NBA All-Time PPG Leaders, NBA Greatest Scorers, NBA Greatest Shooters, Weird Sports Trivia, Weird Baseball Facts and Trivia, Best Baseball Nicknames, Mike Trout Nicknames, Is Mike Trout the GOAT?, Baseball Hall of Fame: The Best Candidates, Why Pete Rose Should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, Baseball's WAR 100 Team, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR per Season, Baseball's All-Time Leaders in WAR7, All-Time Cincinnati Reds Baseball Team, Big Red Machine Chronology, The Greatest Baseball Infields of All Time, Cincinnati Reds Trivia

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