Metrics 101: Greatest Shooting Seasons in Modern NBA History
More and more every year, the NBA is becoming a shooter's paradise.
Whereas big men once ruled the league, teams can no longer win without plenty of floor-spacing options and players who knock down triples. But since the start of the 2000-01 season, when the league expanded its statistical tracking to include searchable play-by-play information, which shooters have risen to the top of the pack?
To determine that in objective fashion, we're looking at three different jump-shooting areas: 10 to 16 feet, two-pointers from at least 17 feet and three-pointers. Everything else, from dunks to free throws, is wholly irrelevant for the purposes of this analysis.
During the relevant time frame, 7,641 individual seasons have been recorded in which a player took at least one jumper from 10 feet or beyond. Each of them received a score that showed how much value they added relative to the league at that specific time.
As an example, let's take Mike Bibby in 2000-01.
From 10 to 16 feet, he went 51-of-139, and that 36.7 field-goal percentage means he added 0.734 points per shot. The league as a whole notched 37.8 percent (0.756 points per shot) during that season, so he added minus-5.18 points of value with his attempts, calculated by finding the difference on a per-shot basis and multiplying by the total number of tries.
Similarly, he added 90.98 points on longer twos (the best score from that range throughout the analysis) and 21.73 with his three-point shooting. Add those together, and his score of 107.53 leaves him ranked No. 83 overall.
That's a strong finish, but it isn't enough to earn him a featured spot, which were limited to one per unique player. The following 10 marksmen were that much better.
10. Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento Kings, 2003-04: 162.06
Value Added from 10-16 Feet: 6.18
Value Added on 17+ Twos: 12.87
Value Added on Three-Pointers: 143.01
Sometimes, players are simply feeling it.
Such was the case for Peja Stojakovic throughout his 2003-04 campaign with the Sacramento Kings, as evidenced by his league-leading 92.7 percent clip at the charity stripe while taking a career-high 5.2 attempts per game. Those numbers don't factor into this analysis, but they're indicative of the confidence with which he played all year. When he shot the ball, he legitimately thought it was always finding twine.
Stojakovic was a perennially great shooter for the Kings, but he reached his peak this season. It wasn't that he thrived from mid-range zones or on long twos, though he was still above-average in each area. He just dominated from beyond the arc during an NBA era in which teams generated nowhere near the same percentage of offense from three-point territory.
Remaining healthy all year and shooting 43.3 percent on his 6.8 long-range attempts per game, he paced the Association in total treys (240). Though that number would've tied Kemba Walker for sixth during the 2016-17 campaign, it was the highest tally ever recorded at the time during a season without a shortened arc.
Let this serve as an important reminder that these scores are all relative.
Had Stojakovic put up the exact same numbers during the most recent NBA season, his total value added of 142.32 would've ranked behind all five honorable mentions seen below, as well as the best marks produced by Jason Kapono and Raja Bell. But relative to the league averages in 2003-04, he was that much more dominant and ahead of his time.
Honorable Mentions: Chris Paul (2014-15), Ray Allen (2001-02), Wesley Person (2001-02), Ben Gordon (2006-07), CJ McCollum (2016-17)
9. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors, 2015-16: 168.54
Value Added from 10-16 Feet: 7.84
Value Added on 17+ Twos: 20.53
Value Added on Three-Pointers: 140.17
As you move through these rankings, you'll likely notice an interesting trend.
The players from the most recent years provided almost all of their value from beyond the arc, whereas the sharpshooters from the early and mid-2000s did plenty of damage from the in-between zones. The league has undergone a sizable shift, and it's not the least bit hyperbolic to claim the best shooters are almost entirely sacrificing mid-range jumpers for more efficient looks.
Klay Thompson is a prime example.
During his best shooting season, 26.9 percent of his attempts came on two-pointers longer than 16 feet. He was still effective from that area, but he added that much more value from outside the rainbow. Spotting up on the perimeter and waiting for kick-out passes from Stephen Curry and Draymond Green (among others), he took a staggering 46.9 percent of his tries from three-point territory.
He is, after all, a Splash Brother. And were it not for a certain teammate joining him in that club, Thompson likely would get more shine as arguably the greatest distance shooter in NBA history.
He might not create as many looks off the bounce, but his impeccable and consistent shooting form along with his lightning-quick release allows him to drill catch-and-shoot jumpers even when blanketed by tight coverage. He's also developed a unique ability to corral the ball outside the shooting pocket and still get into his typical stroke in the blink of an eye.
Only that same certain teammate has made more three-pointers in a single season than the 276 Thompson drained in 2015-16.
8. Jason Terry, Dallas Mavericks, 2006-07: 170.97
Value Added from 10-16 Feet: 50.91
Value Added on 17+ Twos: 31.65
Value Added on Three-Pointers: 88.41
Jason Terry is only 6'2".
He isn't supposed to be adding this much value from between 10 and 16 feet—an area frequently populated by rangy wings and big men stepping out of the paint to contest mid-range jumpers. In fact, he's the second-shortest of the six players who added at least 50 points of value from that area and another 30 on even longer twos during a single season, towering over just the 6'0" Chris Paul.
But with the speed necessary to jet around the half-court set and the ability to rise and fire with perfect verticality off the dribble, Terry proved size didn't matter. If we remove the restrictions limiting each player to just one appearance, he'd boast three seasons in the top 90, including this masterpiece.
The guard found more success on long twos in other years, but his remarkable accuracy from 10 to 16 feet (a career-high 53.7 percent) and ability to connect from the outside (43.8 percent on 4.6 attempts per game) allowed his work in 2006-07 to rise above all the rest. Defenders didn't know whether to remain in his jersey on the perimeter or sag off a bit and try to stop his pull-up game.
It also helped that the Dallas Mavericks featured such crisp ball movement.
Dirk Nowitzki, for example, has always been a solid distributor out of the frontcourt, but he never averaged more assists than he did in 2006-07 and the subsequent season. As Terry told Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard about the German 7-footer after Game 1 of the 2007 postseason's opening round, "His passes are crisp now. Last year they might have got deflected, or he might have spun and thrown up a shot over two people. Now he trusts his teammates more."
Based on Terry's shooting numbers, Nowitzki was correct in displaying that increased trust.
7. Sam Cassell, Minnesota Timberwolves, 2003-04: 171.08
Value Added from 10-16 Feet: 88.88
Value Added on 17+ Twos: 53.92
Value Added on Three-Pointers: 28.28
Guards who added at least 80 points of value from 10 to 16 feet: 2000-01 Sam Cassell, 2001-02 Sam Cassell, 2003-04 Sam Cassell and 2005-06 Sam Cassell.
Guards who added at least 50 points of value on two-pointers from at least 17 feet: 2000-01 Mike Bibby, 2000-01 Terrell Brandon, 2007-08 Jose Calderon, 2001-02 Sam Cassell, 2003-04 Sam Cassell, 2004-05 Sam Cassell, 2006-07 Ben Gordon, 2000-01 Allan Houston, 2002-03 Allan Houston, 2002-03 Allen Iverson, 2014-15 J.J. Redick, 2009-10 Luke Ridnour, 2003-04 DeShawn Stevenson, 2010-11 Jason Terry and 2007-08 Mo Williams.
The second list contains quite a few more names. Twelve unique ones during a 17-year stretch, in fact.
But Cassell is the only player to appear three times, and he's the lone guard who also provided such astronomical value from a few steps closer to the basket. During his prime years with the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves (2001-02 and 2003-04 are the only two seasons to double-dip), he was the league's most unstoppable mid-range threat out of the backcourt. Kobe Bryant and Iverson might have scored more points, but no one meshed together volume and efficiency in more ideal fashion.
So what caused this T-Wolves season to rise above the iteration coming two years earlier, as well as his two other finishes within the overall top 100?
While he was with the Bucks—and for most of his career, really—he was a below-average sniper from beyond the arc. That changed in '03-04, when he fired away 2.3 times per game and connected at a 39.8 percent clip, frequently taking advantage of the excess spacing provided to him by Kevin Garnett's all-around dominance and the defensive attention he drew every night.
6. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks, 2005-06: 178.2
Value Added from 10-16 Feet: 80.7
Value Added on 17+ Twos: 58.8
Value Added on Three-Pointers: 38.7
Defenders know what's coming. It still doesn't matter. Dirk Nowitzki has swished countless jumpers through the net in the face of stifling defense, terrorizing the opposition with mid-range bucket after mid-range bucket when he's not spotting up for threes.
You've seen it all before.
Nowitzki either grabs an entry pass or backs his man toward the elbow, establishing his position while facing away from the hoop. He then spins and kicks out his leg in a singular motion to create extra space and fires a shot as he's fading away. It's the patented one-legged flamingo fadeaway, and it's been responsible for roughly 78,412 of his 30,260 career points.
But interestingly enough, his representation in this countdown doesn't stem from his 50/40/90 season in 2006-07.
That campaign ranked "only" No. 11, whereas this one, in which he produced a career-best 26.6 points per game, checked in at No. 10 (if we don't prevent players from racking up multiple entries). And really, Nowitzki is one of those players who's largely sold short by only getting a single spot, since he boasts the Nos. 10, 11, 12, 25, 36, 51, 55, 66, 69, 71 and 95 finishes—an eye-popping 11 seasons within the top 100.
Quite simply, volume nudged this one to the forefront. Nowitzki didn't spend quite as much time playing around the basket. Instead, he turned those close-range finishes into legitimate jumpers and long-range bombs. Regardless, everything still seemed to find the bottom of the net.
5. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns, 2007-08: 193.6
Value Added from 10-16 Feet: 38.25
Value Added on 17+ Twos: 32.09
Value Added on Three-Pointers: 123.26
Shocked? You shouldn't be.
Steve Nash gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the game's most accurate shooters throughout his career, and never more so than during his MVP seasons with the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns.
Wait. The title here says 2007-08, and he won the preeminent individual award in 2004-05 and 2005-06. Isn't that a mistake? He was an even better shooter two years later?
Your eyes do not deceive you. Whereas Nash finished those MVP campaigns ranked Nos. 75 and 47, respectively, he was that much better as his career continued to progress. Not only did he assume a similar scoring burden for the Suns while maintaining his mid-range proficiency, but he reached newfound heights from beyond the arc.
In 2004-05, Nash took 2.9 triples per game and hit 43.1 percent of them. Those numbers swelled to 4.3 and 43.9 during his successful defense of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy. But two years later, he took a career-high 4.7 deep tries per game and found twine on a career-high 47.0 percent of those looks.
At that stage of NBA history, Glen Rice was the only other player who had matched those numbers during a qualified year, and he did so while the league was experimenting with a shorter arc. The Association's most efficient shooter at the time had somehow found a way to add to his 50/40/90 exploits and break new ground.
4. Allan Houston, New York Knicks, 2002-03: 195.79
Value Added from 10-16 Feet: 63.75
Value Added on 17+ Twos: 69.8
Value Added on Three-Pointers: 62.24
How does a 31-year-old guard score a career-high 22.5 points per game for the New York Knicks while showcasing an inability to finish plays around the basket?
Normally, the answer is simple: They don't. But Allan Houston was an exception during the 2002-03 season, thriving even as he finished just 38.1 percent of his attempts from within three feet because he almost refused to miss jumpers.
One of the reasons for the three-point revolution is simple math. Triples are worth an extra point, so players can shoot a lower percentage from beyond the arc and still produce more points per possession. Granted, shots around the rim are typically left out of the "two-pointers are bad" scope since they're so much easier to convert and still yield great results.
Just consider Houston. Shooting 38.1 percent from inside three feet leads to 0.762 points per possession. To match that from the outside, he'd have to hit only 25.4 percent of his triples—easy for even the most limited shooters to attain. And yet, his three-point percentage (39.6) was actually higher than his interior work, so it would've been more advantageous for him to shoot from 23 feet even without the luxury of that added point.
Oh, and Houston continued getting things backward. He produced 0.762 points per possession from close range and 1.188 from downtown. But he also threw up 0.98 from 10 to 16 feet and 0.958 on even longer twos. Somehow, driving to the hoop was actually a bad strategy unless he drew a whistle and earned a trip to the stripe, from which he hit at a league-leading 91.9 percent clip.
3. JJ Redick, Los Angeles Clippers, 2015-16: 197.43
Value Added from 10-16 Feet: minus-0.53
Value Added on 17+ Twos: 43.78
Value Added on Three-Pointers: 154.18
JJ Redick is certainly capable of taking a step inside the arc, putting the ball on the floor for a rhythm dribble and pulling up to drill a two-pointer. During the 2015-16 season, only Karl-Anthony Towns and, surprisingly enough, Jason Smith added more value on two-pointers from at least 17 feet.
But that isn't this Duke product's specialty.
The Los Angeles Clippers scored an additional 11.2 points per 100 possessions when Redick was on the floor that year, and it wasn't just because he spent so much time with the starters. His gravitational pull was that substantial, since defenses had to respect a three-point marksman who understood how to extricate himself from the opposition in off-ball situations and produced 1.52 points per possession on his spot-up chances.
That last number left him in the 100th percentile. Only Cole Aldrich finished with more points per possession in such scenarios, going 1-of-1 for the Los Angeles Clippers. Needless to say, that limited big man failed to qualify for the real leaderboard.
Redick did not, however, pace the league in value added on three-pointers during the 2015-16 campaign.
That honor belonged to the No. 1 finisher in these rankings. But Redick could've never taken a shot from between 10 feet and the three-point arc and still added more value as a jump-shooter than every player in the league other than Klay Thompson and that same top finisher.
He didn't just strike fear into the opposition through sheer reputation. He also took 5.6 attempts from deep per game and led the league by converting an unreal 47.5 percent of those looks.
2. Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks, 2014-15: 203.6
Value Added from 10-16 Feet: 1.09
Value Added on 17+ Twos: 11.13
Value Added on Three-Pointers: 191.38
During his 2014-15 season with the Atlanta Hawks, Kyle Korver provided some underrated defense and served as a capable passer in the ball-sharing schemes. But he averaged only 12.1 points per game and rarely knocked down shots from inside the arc—a memorable transition dunk notwithstanding.
Regardless, he earned his first and only All-Star nod.
That was partially because coaches rewarded Atlanta for its remarkable team-based success, which led to co-Players of the Month in January and four different All-Stars. But Korver also led the league in three-point percentage (49.2) while taking 6.0 attempts per game. Whether he was scoring 11 points in 65 seconds against the Milwaukee Bucks or knocking down seven triples against the Chicago Bulls, he always seemed to boost the Hawks offense with his shooting exploits.
Even as the league kept moving toward increasingly three-heavy offenses, Korver stood out for his combination of volume and efficiency. He added a staggering 191.38 points above average with his perimeter marksmanship, which beats the best total scores of all but four other players since 2000.
Stop and think about that. With just his three-point stroke, Korver added more value than any player other than Steve Nash, Allan Houston, JJ Redick or the No. 1 finisher, even though they had every type of jumper from beyond 10 feet available in their shooting arsenals.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, 2015-16: 283.51
Value Added from 10-16 Feet: 15.87
Value Added on 17+ Twos: 2.1
Value Added on Three-Pointers: 266.54
Nothing about Stephen Curry's place atop these rankings should be surprising.
Of course Curry takes pole position. Of course he does so by such a wide margin that the gap between his best season and Kyle Korver's premier campaign is as large as the yawning chasm between Korver and 2000-01 Ray Allen, who sits at No. 56 overall. Of course he's represented by his work in 2015-16, when he won MVP in unanimous fashion while making a record-smashing 402 threes.
Curry is the reason we had to limit each player to one appearance, or else he'd hold down four of the 10 featured spots: 2013-14 (192.5 value added), 2014-15 (201.89), 2012-13 (218.97) and the one appearing here. Korver is the only man stopping him from boasting the three highest finishes all by himself.
But impressive as all the other go-rounds may have been, this one is still on an entirely different level.
Not only did he shatter his own three-point volume record while hitting 45.4 percent of his attempts, but he did so while providing so many unforgettable moments. Everything from his game-winner against the Oklahoma City Thunder to his many half-court heaves left an indelible impression on everyone watching. Curry threes were inevitable forces of nature, and it almost didn't matter how well defenses played him.
Also notable is the fact we're not factoring in the difficulty of shooting attempts. Curry created 45.3 percent of his triples off the dribble, but given this methodology, that doesn't give him a boost over the almost exclusively spot-up work of Korver and JJ Redick. Regardless, he still just about laps the field.
Since 2000, plenty of talented shooters have left a trail of scorched earth in the wake of their frequent jumpers. But the league has never seen anything close to the greatest shooter of all time, especially during his unbelievable 2015-16 season.
Curious where every player since 2000 finished? Check out the full results here, filterable by season and searchable for any one contributor.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.