The NBA's Most Wasteful Career 3-Point Chuckers
Have you ever wondered who the most wasteful three-point shooters in the history of the game are? After looking at the worst single seasons, it got me wondering: Who were the most deplorable over their entire careers?
To be a truly bad three-point shooter, two elements are required: shooting bad and shooting frequently. Someone may have a bad three-point shot, but if he isn't attempting any, he isn't a bad three-point shooter because he isn't a three-point shooter at all.
For that reason, I set a minimum of 1,000 career attempts. I maintained the same standard of bad shooting (below .300) as in the previous article, which I quote from as to how I derived the “points cost per game”:
I determined which players were actually costing their team the most points by their horrendous hurling. Assuming that even a respectable three-point shooter picked up off the waiver wire could make a third of his shots, I calculated how many points a replacement player would score with the same shots, then subtracted the number of points per game a player was "costing" his team by his atrocious shooting.
The technical formula is [(3PA/3*3)-(3P*3)]/G
There were nine players who fit the model of awful. Here they are, listed in order of how much damage they did to their team by their delusions of three-point grandeur.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
9. Kendall Gill, .110 Points Cost Per Game
Kendall Gill came as close as humanly possible to missing this list as you can without actually missing it. Over the course of his career, he made 315 shots on 1,051 attempts, giving him a three-point percentage of .2997. If he had made just one more in his career, he would be over .300 and thus too good for this list.
Gill had one decent year. He made 63 of his 171 attempts, good for .368, with the Seattle Supersonics in the 1994-95 season. He was just a .286 shooter the rest of his career combined. That causes me to wonder: What on earth was happening in Seattle that season?
There was no significant change in his lineup. He was playing with the same coach. He didn’t have career highs in minutes, starts or usage.
There’s nothing to indicate why he suddenly, for one year, just made his three-point shots. Perhaps it was just a fluke year, but it does show that one season doesn’t establish a trend.
In his worst game from deep, he was effective everywhere else. On December 11, 1996, he only went 1-of-6 from three but 6-of-15 from two and 9-of-9 from the charity stripe. So overall, he had a marginally efficient evening.
8. Derrick Coleman, .163 Points Cost Per Game
Coleman is one of those players I can never quite get a handle on. Is he a bust or not? Perhaps you can argue that he is the greatest bust in NBA history, meaning that no player commonly thought to be a bust had a better NBA career.
He averaged a respectable 16.5 points and 9.3 boards but still came short of his potential. Part of that was him taking too long to develop the promising three-point range he was supposed to have had coming out of college.
He was touted as being the next great power forward—but one with range. Over the first nine years of his career, though, that didn’t show up. He shot just .272 from deep over that stretch and never made 40 three-pointers in one season.
In his 10th year, he had his first good season from deep, hitting 51 treys on .362 shooting. Over the rest of his career, he shot a passable .339, but by then the rest of his game was on the downside.
His worst game from deep came on November 4, 1994, when he came up empty on six attempts. Overall, he shot just 2-of-15 for the game. It was not a good night.
Coleman just didn’t put the work into his career. Kelly Dwyer, then with Sports Illustrated, said, “Coleman could have been the best power forward ever; instead he played just well enough to ensure his next paycheck.”
7. Isiah Thomas, .183 Points Cost Per Game
No one is going to argue that Isiah Thomas wasn’t a great player. A blind butcher could count on one hand the number of point guards who belong ahead of him on the all-time list.
He is one of only three players in NBA history with more than 18,000 points and 9,000 assists, and he is the only one of the three with a Finals MVP (1990).
Thomas was a great player.
He was not, however, a great three-point shooter. In fact, he was pretty awful, knocking down only 29 percent of his attempts from long range over his career. And he never really had a good year either. His best season was 1984, when he shot just .338 and made only 22.
He was at his worst in making just 19 of his 98 attempts in 1987.
On opening night, November 6, 1992, he had an atrocious game, firing up nine ill-aimed balls from behind the arc. Not one went in. At the time, it may have set a record for most attempts without a make, but Basketball-Reference’s Game Finder only goes back to 1985, so that’s not certain.
6. Dwyane Wade, .216 Points Cost Per Game
Dwyane Wade, like Isiah Thomas, has etched a place in history among the all-time greats. In many ways he’s arguably the most underrated player ever. He is the only one in the shot-clock era who has a top-10 career player efficiency rating without ever having finished first or second in MVP voting.
Wade, for all his talent, though, is not a sniper. But that hasn’t stopped him from trying. Only three players in history have fired up more threes and made them at a lower rate.
And they’re all on this list.
Over the last three years, he’s at least seemed to recognize that he’s not a three-point shooter, cutting down on the frequency of his attempts. Whether that’s because his Miami Heat have had better three-point shooters, it's the coaching of Erik Spoelstra or it’s just the kind of thing that comes with maturity, Wade has attempted only 145 treys in the last three seasons.
This year, he’s shooting .391, but that’s more about selection than improvement. He’s fired off just 23 attempts. Compare that to his 2008-09 season when he gunned up 279 attempts, with 190 of those being more clank than swish.
His worst game came December 28, 2010 against the New York Knicks. Despite going 1-of-7 from long distance, he was hammering it home from everywhere else, knocking down 12 of his other 21 shots and making 13 of his 16 free-throw attempts count. He scored 40 in the game.
Just because you’re not a three-point shooter, it doesn’t mean you can’t dominate the game or the league.
5. Reggie Williams, .224 Points Cost Per Game
Reggie Williams had a 10-year, six-team career. He spent time with the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, New Jersey Nets and Indiana Pacers. The only place he shot a halfway decent three was in San Antonio, where the best thing he had going for him was that the 31 shots he took there never had to experience a regression to the mean.
His worst three-point season came in 1993-94 with the Denver Nuggets. Of the 230 shots he attempted, a meager 64 ended up in the basket.
While we don’t have shot charts from back then, I recall Williams as being mostly a mid-range shooter. This is interesting because he shot .468 from two for his career compared to a .446 effective field-goal percentage from deep.
That could mean, if we were able to view the data, that Williams would be one of those rare breeds of player who is actually more efficient from mid-range than deep.
He had his least impressive three-point performance on November 7, 1995, when he notched just one trey in seven tries. Overall, he scored only three points on 15 attempts. He did have eight assists, though.
4. Ron Harper, .240 Points Cost Per Game
Ron Harper wasn’t just bad, he was consistently bad. Only one player in NBA history had more seasons with at least 50 three-point attempts while making less than 30 percent of them, and he is No. 1 on this list.
Harper had one exceptional season—1996-97 with the Chicago Bulls—but even that comes with the qualifier that it was the final year of the short-lived 22-foot three-point line. It also didn't hurt that he was playing on the reigning world champions, which were led by Michael Jordan.
This shows that having the right team around a player can have a big impact on his three-point shooting.
Harper’s worst game ever came on Saint Patrick’s Day 1994, while he was a Los Angeles Clipper. He attempted 12 deep shots, making just three of them. He still scored 27 points on 23 attempts, though, so as bad shooting nights go, it was limited to behind the arc.
3. Jamaal Tinsley, .247 Points Cost Per Game
Probably, no one on this list is more surprising than Jamaal Tinsley, chiefly because one wonders how he managed to hurl off enough shots to meet the minimum standard. His career is best described as a mixture of sporadic play and disappointment with a dash of irony.
He first broke into the league in the 2001-02 season with the Indiana Pacers. During that year, he had one of the most amazing triple-doubles in NBA history, notching 19 points, 23 assists and 11 rebounds. His promising rookie season never quite panned out into a great career, though.
Due to a litany of injuries and off-court legal problems, he missed the 2008-09 season, while the Pacers tried to trade him, and then he was out of the league entirely in 2010-11. Then, he was picked up by the Jazz, where he’s played through a series of contracts, coming and going since 2011-12.
And that’s where the irony comes in. He actually managed to hurl up his thousand three-point attempts before his problems drove him out of the league, but his career resurgence is what qualifies him for this list.
In fact, before this year’s atrocious 1-of-15 three-point barrage, he was over 30 percent from deep for his career. It was nice of him to fight so hard just to miss enough shots to find a way onto this list.
His worst night from deep came on December 26, 2007, when he came up empty despite eight attempts. Otherwise, he had a decent night, going 6-of-13 from two, scoring 16 points and dealing 12 assists.
2. Josh Smith, .274 Points Cost Per Game
Aim higher, Mr. Smith. Or else, just try aiming better.
His notorious three-point shooting coming in an age when such things are evaluated, charted and discussed via the Internet and blogs is just awesome. You can find out everything you would possibly want to know about his horrible long ball, including which position doesn’t impact it—be it power forward or small forward—thanks to canadiangirlfriend of SB Nation. Or you can learn about his ratio of threes to long twos from Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk.
But here’s my favorite number that says everything you can possibly want to know about Smith’s awfulness.
When he has attempted at least three from deep over the course of his career, his team has won 81 games and lost 101. When he has attempted two or fewer, his teams have won 258 games and lost 271. That’s a difference between a winning percentage of .445 and .487, meaning that over the course of his career, his teams are 10 percent less likely to win when he attempts just three treys.
Smith literally shoots his team out of games, by barely even shooting. That’s how bad he is.
His worst game ever came earlier this season when he fired up 11 deep balls, sinking just three of them. Ironically, his Detroit Pistons lost to the Memphis Grizzlies by exactly three points.
1. Charles Barkley, .378 Points Cost Per Game
When it comes to the worst three-point shooter ever, it’s not even a contest. Charles Barkley is so bad he lost a three-point contest to Shaquille O’Neal, who can’t even make a free throw.
Barkley laps the world on this. He not only has the lowest three-point percentage (.266) of anyone with at least one thousand attempts, he also has the most attempts (2,020) of anyone with a three-point percentage below .300.
He is without question the worst three-point shooter in history. You would have figured after the 1,000th missed three that he would have realized that, but his willingness to continue to lob up bad shot after bad shot makes this one of those records that will never be broken.
What I find remarkable about him is that despite his eagerness to give away possessions by attempting three-point shots, he was still an efficient scorer. Of the 39 players with at least 20,000 points in their careers, only Adrian Dantley and Reggie Miller had a better true shooting percentage than Barkley’s .612.
Because he was such an otherwise efficient scorer, it allowed him to have a long career of jacking up threes. So, I’m not actually joking when I say this “record” will never be broken.
It’s hard to be that efficient and inefficient at the same time. Being good enough to hurl up 2,000 bad three-point attempts is impressive in a vulgar sort of way.
His worst game from deep came on December 2, 1996, when he was a Houston Rocket and went just 2-of-11. In typical fashion, he made up for it elsewhere, going 9-of-12 from two and 6-of-7 from the stripe. He added 12 rebounds and four assists.
If Barkley had been even a respectable three-point shooter and just made 35 percent of his deep balls, it would have added almost half a point to his game over the course of his career. How much further up the totem pole of the greatest players would he have climbed?