The Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry and the Atlanta Hawks' Kyle Korver are largely considered the NBA's best three-point shooters. You could also make the case they're the most unique long-range marksmen in the league.
One is the best in the world at creating chances from the perimeter while controlling the ball. The other is a spot-up assassin so deadly he pulls entire defensive schemes toward him whenever he's on the floor.
Both are three-point specialists, but that's where the comparisons really end. The pair serve as diametric opposites in the realm of perimeter shooters.
|The League's Best Distance Shooters|
|Player||3PM in 2014-15 (Rank)||3PM per Game (Rank)||3P% (Rank)|
|Stephen Curry||286 (1)||3.6 (1)||44.3 (3)|
|Kyle Korver||221 (3)||2.9 (3)||49.2 (1)|
|Only qualified players count toward the league-wide ranks.|
Curry is the better player, to be sure. That much should be blindingly obvious after he won MVP and steered the Golden State Warriors to a title behind his shooting precision, elite distributing ability and vastly improved defensive skills.
But if we isolate their impact from downtown, the competition becomes a lot closer. After all, Korver made the first All-Star team of his career last year even though—whether fairly or unfairly—distance shooting was the only part of his game that resonated throughout households around the basketball-watching world.
When it comes to three-point shooting, everyone is chasing two players.
Why They're Elite
Curry has splashed in more long-range bombs in a single season than anyone else in league history, establishing a new high-water mark in 2012-13 and then breaking it himself this past season.
Typically there's a trade-off between volume and efficiency, but the normal rules don't apply to the league's reigning MVP. He's coming off a season in which he drilled an all-time-best 286 shots from deep—the third consecutive year in which he's led the league—and he did so while shooting at a 44.3 percent clip.
Only 48 different players in NBA history have knocked down 42 percent of their long-range tries while taking at least 4.5 per game. Just 13 have done so during multiple seasons. The non-Curry record belongs to Ray Allen (five appearances on the leaderboard).
Korver has achieved the feat four times, but Curry has done it six times in six pro seasons.
Now, we can make the guidelines even stricter.
Since the NBA instituted the three-point line in 1979-80, a shooter taking seven threes per game hit 42 percent of them in only six campaigns: Allen, Klay Thompson and Dennis Scott all qualify once, while Curry has three such campaigns of his own.
This time around, Korver doesn't qualify. The ridiculous levels of volume aren't his cup of tea; he's never been so heavily featured in an offensive scheme.
This shouldn't take away from the Atlanta sniper's reputation. Rather, Curry is an extraordinarily special shooter. But what makes him even more unique is twofold: He can drill shots from all over the arc—as you can see from the shot chart below—and he doesn't require assists to knock down looks.
Curry refuses to discriminate between spots along the arc. No matter where he is, he's more than capable of knocking down those attempts and adding points to the Dubs' tally in groups of three.
In fact, you may as well just refer to him as "deadly" from all three major areas:
|Stephen Curry's Stellar Regular-Season Shooting|
|Area||3PA in 2014-15||3P% in 2014-15|
|Above the Break||549||42.6|
When Curry ended up in the corners, he was virtually unstoppable, particularly in the postseason last year. He drilled a ridiculous 14 of his 18 looks from the left corner during Golden State's run to the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Thompson discussed his fellow Splash Brother with Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News:
That's his spot of the postseason, ever since he made that shot in New Orleans. He practiced it, too. His footwork in that corner is pretty amazing. So that doesn't...I mean, it does surprise me he's 13 for 14. That's pretty unbelievable. But at the same time, it really doesn't. He's such a great shooter off the bounce, off the catch. We've all seen it.
Players such as Damian Lillard, James Harden and Kyrie Irving all excel at working off the bounce, but no one is truly in the same league as Curry. As Seth Partnow wrote for Nylon Calculus, "Steph Curry is ridiculous. While [the] NBA average on unassisted threes is probably around 30 percent, Curry shot around 43 percent! On unassisted shots only he would have been sixth in the NBA in 3PT%."
Off the Catch or Off the Dribble?
Korver, on the flip side, is almost never going to put the ball on the floor and create his own looks. According to NBA.com's statistical databases, the eagle-eyed Hawk took six three-point attempts per game, but only 0.8 came after he dribbled at least once. A large percentage of those tries in the latter group were the result of a rhythm dribble, which may as well still be considered a catch-and-shoot situation.
When he didn't have to release his grip on the rock, he was nearly automatic. Shooting 49.9 percent in that situation is absolutely sensational, and it's a major part of what kept Korver's hope of a 50/50/90 season alive for such a significant portion of the 2014-15 campaign.
Defenses can typically live with a player dribbling around and pulling up for a shot from well outside the painted area. It's the spot-up opportunities they want to prevent, even if few players have ever been as on point as Korver in that situation.
But when Curry is the one treating the rock like it's on a string, that's a poison they don't want to select.
He's just a ridiculous outlier:
There are a few players who create a similar—or, gasp, better—percentage of their own long-range bombs, but Curry remains in a class of his own.
It's notable that he's knocking down about an extra triple per game when compared to Harden and the rest of the quintet, who required assists on no more than 62.5 percent of their makes. But even that's not as impressive as what's next.
Three-point percentage is noticeably absent from the above graphic. So let's just look at that and the percent assisted for each member of that elite group of five:
The best at knocking down threes with ridiculous volume? Check. One of the premier shot creators from beyond the arc? Check. The most accurate among those who don't rely solely on spot-up opportunities? Check.
But there are still boxes Curry can't check nearly as well as Korver.
No matter where Korver was spotting up from, he was ripping the twine with the picture-perfect form that's been perfected over so many years in the Association.
If he's able to lean into his shot and avoid rushing to loft the ball over the outstretched arms of a defender, he's just about automatic. For that reason alone, few players evoke such absolute fear at all times, and the opposition's scrambling around in an effort to pinpoint Korver's location at all times is a frequent sight, especially because he's always been so adept at running through multiple screens to create the tiny bit of space he needs to release a shot.
Per NBA.com's SportVU data, Korver has the highest effective field-goal percentage of anyone in the NBA who used more than 145 possessions coming off screens in 2014-15. Impressive as Curry is in this situation, the frequency with which the first-time All-Star excelled at this part of his craft makes him the biggest positive outlier here.
The Atlanta assassin is a master at creating space without the ball, often displaying a perfect understanding of positioning and body control as he weaves his way through a defense or darts around the arc waiting for an opportunity to launch.
Beyond that, his combination of accuracy and volume leaves him as a massive standout among the league's premier snipers:
To find someone as accurate as Korver—who, mind you, knocked down 52.3 percent of his deep tries before the All-Star break and saw his percentages decline as fatigue set in throughout the year—you simply can't look at the players who take enough shots to finish near the top of the leaderboard. He's too much of an anomaly there.
Among all players in the Association during the 2014-15 season—not just those who qualified for the three-point-percentage crown by taking enough attempts—just 13 hit at least 49 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. Eleven of them did so while taking no more than 11 deep looks throughout the entire campaign.
In fact, the dozen who finished shy of the No. 1 attempts mark combined to take 161, led by 115 from Luke Babbitt. Korver alone lofted up 449 three-point attempts while qualifying for that exclusive club by virtue of his scorching percentage.
For further perspective, Tim Legler (245 in 1995-96), Steve Kerr (237 in 1995-96) and Jason Kapono (210 in 2006-07) are the only other players on the right side of 200 throughout all of NBA history, and the first two needed a shortened three-point arc in order to join the party. Korver's total attempts from 2014-15 still dwarf everyone else's in this above-49-percent club.
That's important not just because he did something no one else ever could. He also provided an insane amount of offensive value to the Hawks during the best regular season in franchise history. As Kirk Goldsberry penned for Grantland, he was the most threatening presence on the roster:
The Hawks remain a legitimate threat to win the Eastern Conference because of Korver, but also because they have the coach of the year in Mike Budenholzer and a band of other great players working together to find the best shot on the floor. However, with all due respect to All-Stars like Paul Millsap, Al Horford, and Jeff Teague, Korver is the team's scariest weapon.
Who Ya Got?
First, let's make one thing clear: Curry and Korver's precision brings immeasurable, certain value to their respective teams, as most three-point snipers do. In fact, with the exception of Trevor Ariza, every player who finished among the top 10 in three-point makes during the 2014-15 season saw his team's offense improve significantly while he was on the floor:
This is no fluke.
The NBA is becoming a league dependent on perimeter marksmanship. Without spacing, offensive systems aren't strong enough to compete for a title, and there's no better way to open up the court for other players than to threaten a defense with long-range bombs.
It's tougher to cheat away from a sniper and impact the passing lanes. It's tougher to double off a shooter when a post-up player has the ball on the block. It's tougher to guard the rim in transition when a marksman is trailing and waiting for a kick-out look.
Curry has become the poster boy for the guards who are able to accurately loft up shots without requiring a teammate's feed. Korver is the master of catch-and-shoot opportunities. Both are incredibly valuable, and it should be rather telling that none of the other top-10 triple threats—save Harden, who does far more than just shoot threes—can touch the on/off impact of those two on the offensive end.
So, looking solely at their ability to dismantle defenses with their work from distance, would you rather have Curry or Korver helping you space the floor? Do you favor the unique off-the-dribble creation or the off-ball work that necessitates constant attention?
If forced to pick just one, Curry is probably the correct choice. His skills are tougher to come by, since there are more spot-up shooters who fall slightly short of Korver's inhuman accuracy than there are ball-handling wizards with a permanent green light.
But the beauty of these two truly mastering their craft is that there's no wrong answer.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.