Which Spurs shooter had the most effective three-ball?
Since the three-point line was added, long-range shooting is a vital part of a championship offense—and the San Antonio Spurs are no exception.
The long ball has grown in its importance to each successive Spurs title. This playoffs, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili have already made trés history with their treys.
The court spacing created by the triple gives the offense an edge; in addition, three-pointers offer the most reward for their risk, and therefore are often the most efficient weapons in an offensive arsenal.
We're not here to evaluate the merits of the three-ball, however. We're here to determine, of the many three-point artists who've graced the Spurs' four title rosters, who had the best shot?
I'm going to rank them from least effective to most effective...but bear in mind several things:
- EVERY shooter on this list is effective, because I am only including those shooters who averaged 33 percent or higher in the regular season of a championship year. This would rule out, for example, Stephen Jackson and Steve Smith in 2002-03. And yes, it would also rule out Sean Elliott in 1998-99 (even though he shot the lights out in the playoffs, and gave us the legendary Memorial Day Miracle).
- One exception to the above rule: if a player was on the Spurs for multiple championships, and was over 33 percent one year, but under it in another, they would be included.
- I'm only considering these guys for their performances during their tenure with the Spurs. Thus, for example, Steve Kerr's seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls where he (amazingly) hit over 50 percent of his treys do not affect his consideration in these rankings.
- I'm also only considering guys who hit 35 or more three-point attempts in the regular season. This would rule out, for example, Danny Ferry in 2002-03, who hit just 21, even though he shot 35 percent.
OK, let's spot up and fire away!
2004-05: 58-of-142, 40.8 percent
2006-07: 33-of-115, 28.7 percent
The Slovenian had a banner year from beyond the arc for the Spurs in 2004-05, but in the playoffs, his percentage slipped to a disturbing 27 percent.
The following year, he sunk just 16.7 percent of his long-range attempts, which is why he played just 6.7 minutes per playoff game.
2002-03: 0-of-0, 0 percent
2004-05: 45-of-121, 37.2 percent
In the 2002-03 season, Brown averaged a scant 3.1 minutes per appearance and didn't take a shot. He had a very healthy percentage in his next championship season, but still only averaged only 18.1 minutes per game—not enough to rank him higher.
In the playoffs, Brown didn't shoot from behind the arc often, but he did bury an impressive 43 percent of his attempts. Brown had some memorable playoff games, but not enough to rank him higher.
1998-99: 40-of-107, 37.4 percent
Mario was one of the few three-point threats for the Spurs' first championship team. His percentage was the squad's highest that year.
But the three-ball was less critical to this team than others, and Elie was only on one squad.
He did, however, hit a very memorable three to beat his former team in the regular season of that Spurs championship year.
2006-07: 36-of-94, 38.3 percent
What this stat fails to tell you are all the years Matt Bonner has been burying treys with exceptional regularity for these Spurs. The last three years alone, Bonner has hit 45, 42 and 44 percent of his three-balls.
Still and all, though, Bonner has just one ring, so he can't rank higher on this list. But the coolest super-nerd to ever suit up in the NBA sure can hit from outside.
2002-03: 82-of-243, 33.7 percent
2004-05: 43-of-156, 27.6 percent
2006-07: 15-of-38, 39.5 percent
Parker's role as a long-range shooter has declined with each subsequent championship season. This year, he buried just 24 while hitting 35 percent.
Two of his championship playoffs were woeful from long-range: Parker averaged 20 percent or lower. In their most recent championship, though, he hit 33 percent, and this year he's up to 36.
He'd be ranked higher if he were more prolific with the three. Because anyone who watched Game 1 of this year's Finals knows Parker is mega-clutch.
1998-99: 53-of-147, 36.1 percent
Jackson took the most three-point attempts on that first Spurs' first championship team. He played a mere 18 minutes a game, though.
This was his only Spurs championship, but his contributions were crucial: in Game 1, he hit four of five three-point attempts in the second half, including a stunning off-balance buzzer-beater that will never be forgotten by Spurs fans.
Jackson was the original Three-and-D player, a scrappy unknown who clawed his way onto the Spurs roster with a clutch three-ball and tenacious defense.
He would rank higher on this list were we to include his head-shake celebration after hitting from long distance. The move sometimes resembled a pedestrian looking both ways before he crossed the street, and sometimes looked like he was trying to give his neck a quick chiropractic adjustment.
2006-07: 104-of-286, 36.4 percent
For three years and change, Finley was simply outstanding from long range for the Spurs.
And in his lone championship season, Finley hit an astonishing 42 percent of his attempts, including a first-round game against the Denver Nuggets where Finley set a Spurs record for three-pointers made in a playoff game.
He sank eight of them—and he was in fact 8-of-9 in the game, eliminating Denver from the playoffs.
Finley was clutch more than once for the Spurs in the playoffs. In 2008, he sent a game against the Phoenix Suns to overtime with a trey.
2004-05: 100-of-280, 35.7 percent
2006-07: 128-of-287, 44.6 percent
Barry was a big part of the Spurs' three-point attack in their last two championships. He hit with dependable regularity and was an exciting player to root for.
But no clutch Barry three-pointers float immediately to mind. In fact, what I remember Barry for most in the playoffs is the no-call after he was clearly fouled by Derek Fisher in the 2008 playoffs.
For that simple dearth of ready playoff highlights, I rank him fifth, even though his contributions were huge.
1998-99: 25-of-80, 31.3 percent
2002-03: 49-of-124, 39.5 percent
Kerr had already established his playoff reputation when he joined the Spurs in 1998. He came up biggest in his second Spurs championship run, nailing four fourth-quarter triples during an unbelievable 23-0 Spurs run that eliminated the Dallas Mavericks and sent San Antonio to the Finals.
At the time, Kerr was 37 years old, and had only played 13 minutes in the entire postseason. But his long-range assault vaults him high on this list.
2002-03: 51-of-148, 34.5 percent
2004-05: 97-of-258, 37.6 percent
2006-07: 128-of-323, 39.6 percent
If this year results in a championship, Ginobili's clutch three to win Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals will go down as one of the most memorable in Spurs history.
Ginobili almost defines the word clutch. And once playoff time rolls around, his three-point percentages generally go up dramatically:
Year Season Playoffs
2007 .396 .384
2005 .376 .438
2003 .345 .384
Moreover, his threes are often hit in the clutch. But when you think of his greatest clutch playoff shots, his threes aren't usually what comes to mind.
For that reason, I'll rank him third. But he ranks ahead of superior three-ball shooters like Steve Kerr and Michael Finley because of the threat he brings, his penchant for hitting when the game's on the line and his longevity with the Spurs.
2004-05: 51-of-138, 37 percent
2006-07: 50-of-149, 33.6 percent
Anyone who watched the 2004-05 NBA Finals remembers Robert Horry's jaw-dropping three-pointer in Game 5, which sent the Detroit Pistons to a tragic defeat of Shakespearean proportions and lifted Horry's already-lofty playoff reputation into a whole 'nother stratosphere.
But you might not remember that Horry also scored the Spurs' final five points in that contest, and 15 of their final 20 points.
His biggest contribution to the Spurs' 2007 championship was likely his hip check of Steve Nash; it had the unintended side effect of getting the Phoenix Suns' Amar’e Stoudemire and backup forward Boris Diaw suspended for leaving their bench. Without them, San Antonio barely squeaked out a three-point victory.
Speaking of which...
2002-03: 101-of-229, 44.1 percent
2004-05: 102-of-253, 40.3 percent
2006-07: 89-of-232, 38.4 percent
Horry's shot was bigger than any Bowen ever made, but the latter was a bigger part of the Spurs' three-point attack and was there for three championships. I'll give Bruce the nod over Big Shot Bob by a nose.
So that three-point squeaker I referred to on the previous slide, the semifinals Game 5 against the Suns? It was Bowen's trey that won that game. And it was just one of many clutch shots he buried for this Spurs team.
I admired Bowen for his tenacious, though sometimes dangerous and "dirty," defense. But Bowen was one of the best ever from behind the arc. He led the league in three-point shooting percentage during 2002-03, and when he retired, he was second on the all-time list for three pointers made by a Spur in the playoffs, with 161.