The Best NBA Shooter at Every Position

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2019

The Best NBA Shooter at Every Position

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    There aren't three sweeter words in the NBA lexicon than release, rotation and splash.

    That's as true in today's three-point-hungry Association as it's ever been.

    Just last season, the league's 30 teams combined for a record 27,955 triples. Of course, breaking net-shredding barriers is nothing new. Last season's mark broke the record established just one season prior.

    Wilder still: That pattern repeated itself in each of the previous five campaigns, too.

    It's almost a prerequisite for today's players, regardless of position, to have a three-ball. Of the 461 hoopers to log 100 minutes in 2018-19, all but 39 had at least one perimeter make. In other words, more than 91 percent connected from range at least once, and 149 buried 75 or more from the outside.

    But not all shooters are created equally, which got us thinking: Who do the stat sheets say is the best shooter at all five spots?

    So, we took that group of 149—minus the since-retired Dwyane Wade and Darren Collison, the dismissed Tyreke Evans and the back-to-Europe Nikola Mirotic—and evaluated them by various shooting metrics, which we'll explain later, to objectively identify each position's top marksmen.

    Sounds intriguing, right? Well, let's dig in.

Methodology and Interesting Notes

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Given the wealth of numerical data at our disposal, it's all too easy to feel overwhelmed by the quantity. To work around that issue, we are attempting to side with simplicity by focusing on a few metrics that help paint an all-encompassing picture.

    More specifically, we ranked every player by last season's three-point percentage (because everyone digs the long ball), effective field-goal percentage (which gives extra weight to threes) and true shooting percentage (which adds free throws to the equation). Then, to extend our study beyond 2018-19's data, we added career true shooting percentage to the mix.

    All four rankings were added together then divided by four to find the average, which we'll dub shooting score. Like golf, which happens to be a preferred pastime of perhaps the game's greatest shooter ever, low score wins.

    Players were grouped by either their listed position on Basketball Reference or the one in which they logged the most floor time.

    At three of the five spots, the leader scored a perfect 1.0, meaning he was that position's top performer by all four metrics. At another, he posted a 1.125, as he paced three categories and shared the lead in the fourth. Only at small forward did we find multiple leaders at multiple categories.

    The center spot predictably had the shallowest player pool, as only nine big men met the minimum requirement of 75 makes. Conversely, shooting guard boasted the deepest with 57 players in the mix (27 more than at point guard). Even in this positionless era, shooting guard remains an appropriate title.

    Lastly, with only a minimal control for volume, some globally known snipers didn't make the cut. For instance, only one of the famed Splash Brothers snagged a top-five spot at his position. Still, the name of today's game is efficiency, so taking this quality-over-quantity approach seemed fitting.

Point Guard: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Accuracy Rates: 43.7 3PT%, 60.4 eFG%, 64.1 TS%, 62.4 career TS%

    Shooting Score: 1.0

    Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr owns the NBA's highest career three-point percentage. He thinks Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter of all time.

    "I've never seen anybody capable of shooting the three three different ways: spot-up, running off screens and off the dribble," Kerr told reporters in February. "... Nobody's ever done what Steph has done the way he shoots the three with that type of range, off of multiple dribbles, creating space for himself. I think he's the best."

    Brooklyn Nets sniper Joe Harris paced all three-point shooters in accuracy last season and bested Curry during the three-point contest. He has Curry No. 1 on his all-time list, too.

    "Steph is the greatest shooter of all time," Harris said, per the Bay Area News Group's Mark Medina. "Shooting off of the rack for a minute is not indicative of being a better shooter than Steph Curry. I don't want anybody to get it twisted at all."

    With his elaborate set-ups and blink-and-you'll-miss-it rapid release, Curry has made three-point shooting an art form. He has also used it as an evolutionary tool, forever changing perceptions on range, spacing and off-the-dribble launching.

    He's had better shooting years—by makes and accuracy—than 2018-19, but the numbers are still remarkable. He finished with the second-most triples (354), fourth-highest three-point percentage and second-highest true shooting percentage among perimeter players. 

                     

    Rounding Out the Top Five...

    2. D.J. Augustin, Orlando Magic (Shooting Score: 4.125)

    Consistency hasn't always been one of Augustin's strengths, but he found enough of it in 2018-19 to have his second-best season in perimeter makes (131) and percentage (42.1).

    3. Monte Morris, Denver Nuggets (4.375)

    His jump shot was no sure thing coming out of Iowa State (and perhaps wouldn't hold up with added volume), but his first year in an NBA rotation featured a pristine 49.3/41.4/80.2 shooting slash. 

    4. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets (5.125)

    Uncle Drew could be the next marksman to gain entry to the famed 50/40/90 club, as he has flirted with the distinction for three years running.

    5. Quinn Cook, Los Angeles Lakers (6.125)

    One of several snipers brought in to complement LeBron James and Anthony Davis in L.A., Cook's 40.5 three-point conversion rate (fourth-best at the position) was the lowest of his three-year career.

Shooting Guard: Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets

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    John Amis/Associated Press

    Accuracy Rates: 47.4 3PT%, 62.2 eFG%, 64.5 TS%, 61.7 career TS%

    Shooting Score: 1.125

    Joe Harris probably wasn't well known enough to be considered a forgotten man in 2016 when he had foot surgery, was salary dumped and got waived all on the same day. But a two-year, partially guaranteed $2 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets that summer became the defibrillator that shocked his career back to life and skyrocketed it to unimaginable heights.

    He had caught fire with the Nets before this season, but 2018-19 saw a different kind of ignition.

    He topped his career best in triples by 33 and bettered his personal high in three-point percentage by 5.5 points. Leading the league in the latter actually seemed like his second-most-impressive accomplishment, considering his three-point contest victory over Stephen Curry occurred on the latter's home turf.

    "Joe shot the lights out," Curry remarked, per Newsday's Barbara Barker.

    Three summers back, Harris was looking for work. This offseason, he's firing away as a member of the American delegation at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Next summer, the free-agent-to-be could be sifting through contract offers with eight-figure annual salaries.

    The journey is too improbable for Hollywood, and it's taken Harris to the top of the shooting ranks at the league's best shooting position.

                     

    Rounding Out the Top Five...

    2. Danny Green, Los Angeles Lakers (4.25)

    Green got his groove back and then some last season, shooting a career-best 45.5 percent from range and matching Harris with a blistering 62.2 effective field-goal percentage.

    3. Landry Shamet, Los Angeles Clippers (5.5)

    Among the 28 NBA freshmen to ever hit 125-plus threes, Shamet's percentage (42.2) trailed only Stephen Curry's rookie rate (43.7).

    4. Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks (5.75)

    Shooting is the family profession of the Curry clan, and Seth just became only the 15th player with multiple seasons of 45 percent three-point shooting and 50-plus long-range connections.

    5. Malcolm Brogdon, Indiana Pacers (6.125)

    Brogdon's perpetual improvement continued through his third season and earned him an all-access pass to the 50/40/90 club.

Small Forward: Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Accuracy Rates: 43.3 3PT%, 55.4 eFG%, 63.3 TS%, 58.8 career TS%

    Shooting Score: 2.5

    Each of the last three campaigns, the Houston Rockets have set an NBA record for most single-season splashes. So, when their skipper, Mike D'Antoni, talks about the long ball, it's usually best to pay attention.

    Back in 2009, D'Antoni dubbed then-sophomore-to-be Danilo Gallinari "the best shooter I've ever seen."

    It was wildly premature (Gallo had only played 28 NBA games at the time) and surely biased (D'Antoni was coaching Gallinari and previously played with his father, Vittorio, in Italy), but it spoke to Gallinari's shooting prowess. While his accuracy has ebbed and flowed over his 10-year career, it ranked among 2018-19's elite.

    His 161 threes were the second-most of his career. His 19.8 points per game, 46.3 field-goal percentage and 63.3 true shooting percentage were new personal bests. His 367 free throws were the second-most he'd ever made, and his 90.4 free-throw percentage ranked fourth among qualified shooters.

    With size for the post (6'10", 225 lbs) and mobility for the perimeter, he can get his shot off at any time. He fits the cliched (but appropriate) definition of the walking mismatch: too big for smaller defenders, too quick for bigger ones.

    He might not be the best shooter we've ever seen, but he takes the top spot here with No. 1 positional rankings in field-goal and true shooting percentages.

                     

    Rounding Out the Top Five...

    2. Doug McDermott, Indiana Pacers (3.5)

    Over the last four seasons, McDermott has only posted one sub-40 three-point percentage and one free-throw percentage south of 83.5.

    3. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets (5.25)

    Durant could've ranked even higher if not for posting his worst three-point percentage in eight seasons (35.3).

    4. Tony Snell, Detroit Pistons (6.75)

    Snell is an unabashed perimeter specialist, as 57.2 percent of his career field-goal attempts have come from outside, where he most recently posted a 39.7 percent success rate.

    5. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers (7.125)

    More of a good three-point shooter than a great one (37.1 percent last season, 38.3 for his career), Leonard's ability to generate and convert free throws has helped him compile a top-25 career true shooting percentage (59.9, second-best at the position).

Power Forward: Davis Bertans, Washington Wizards

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Accuracy Rates: 42.9 3PT%, 61.0 eFG%, 63.2 TS%, 61.2 career TS%

    Shooting Score: 1.0

    Aptly christened the Latvian Laser, Davis Bertans is making a career out of dropping daggers from distance.

    As soon as he hits the hardwood, he's looking to launch. His career 7.8 three-point attempts per 36 minutes nestle him between the siblings in splash, Stephen Curry (8.6) and Klay Thompson (7.6). This past season, Bertans buried shots like a possible Splash Cousin, as his three-point percentage would've again fallen between the career rates of Curry (43.6) and Thompson (41.9).

    "He shoots threes. That's what he does," San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters in January.

    Last season was Bertans' best from range, and it was also one of the most efficient ever for a player 6'10" or taller. It was the 131st time a player that size has hit triple-digit threes, and his percentage was eighth-highest in that group.

    With a 72.5 career three-point rate, it's clear the sweet-shooting big man understands where he belongs.

                    

    Rounding Out the Top Five...

    2. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors (4.75)

    Siakam's 36.9 three-point percentage was the worst and lowest-ranked (13th at power forward) of all the silver medalists, but he was the second-best 4 in each of the other three categories.

    3. Nemanja Bjelica, Sacramento Kings (5.25)

    Throw out Bjelica's outlier sophomore season (31.6 percent from deep) and he'd own an elite 40.2 career three-point percentage.

    4. Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz (6.125)

    Ingles came back to earth a bit in 2018-19, which only meant dipping from back-to-back 44-plus percent perimeter efforts to a still well-above-average 39.1.

    5. Jerami Grant, Denver Nuggets (7.375)

    A quick round of applause for Grant, who was decidedly not a three-point shooter (0.5 makes per game on 30.1 percent his first four seasons) until suddenly he was in 2018-19 (1.4 on 39.2 percent).

Center: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    Accuracy Rates: 40.0 3PT%, 57.2 eFG%, 62.2 TS%, 61.9 career TS%

    Shooting Score: 1.0

    Elite three-level scorers are hard enough to find, but three-level 7-foot centers? It should be easier to spot Sasquatch—if not for the fact Karl-Anthony Towns exists.

    He offered a glimpse into his offensive bag as a rookie, and it was magical. He scored 18.3 points per night on 54.2 percent shooting, averages only three other first-year players had ever hit. For a follow-up, he ballooned his output to 25.1 points per game while capably and confidently firing off 3.4 long-range looks per night and connecting on 36.7 percent of them.

    In the two years since, he's turned the sliders all the way up.

    In 2018-19, while weathering Jimmy Butler's awkward exit early on, Towns tossed in 24.4 points and put together an impeccable 51.8/40.0/83.6 slash line. Once Ryan Saunders grabbed the coaching reins, Towns erupted for 26.8 points on 54.1/42.2/83.8 shooting.

    "Towns isn't just a special offensive player; he's a historically great one not just for his age or position, but any position," The Athletic's Sam Vecenie wrote.

    Towns not only paced the position in every category, but he also had over a one-point cushion in three of the four. The only nail-biter was effective field-goal percentage, where he barely edged Dewayne Dedmon and Brook Lopez.

                     

    Rounding Out the Top Five...

    2. Dewayne Dedmon, Sacramento Kings (2.625)

    A non-shooting rim-runner in a past NBA life, Dedmon's emergence as a legitimate three-point threat helped him land third or better in all four categories.

    3. Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks (3.625)

    Lopez's repurposing as a floor-spacer went full tilt this past season as he buried a personal-best 36.5 percent of his threes and splashed more than any 7-footer in NBA history (187).

    4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (4.75)

    An uncharacteristic drop in three-point percentage (30.7, down from 39.6 in 2017-18) nearly doomed the Joker, but his career 60.4 true shooting percentage (second-highest at center) salvaged a fourth-place finish.

    5. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers (5.25)

    Despite having the center spot's second-highest three-point percentage (38.8), Turner was undone by bottom-half marks in the other three metrics.

                   

    Unless noted otherwise, statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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