Posted Oct 7 2010 8:25PM
It's the basic function that's required to achieve the object of the game, which is to put the ball in the basket. Then why does shooting seem, from appearance anyway, such a rare skill these days?
Larry Bird, quite recently, griped how shooting was becoming a lost art. How for today's players it's all "about getting on the highlight shows" and less about sticking to the fundamentals. This wasn't an out-of-touch rant from an ex-great, this was a legend speaking the truth. The game founded by James Naismith still depends on shooting. Not dunking. Or slashing. Or doing a 360. From the days of the peach basket, the one-handed push, and the jumper, shooting lies at the very core of the game. Much like passing in football, kicking in soccer and swinging the bat in baseball.
The highlight shows don't reward 20-footers, unless they fall at the buzzer. But Michael Jordan, among other greats, didn't start winning big until he perfected a lethal turnaround on the baseline. There's a shooter somewhere on every championship team, or else those teams wouldn't win championships.
Here's our shooting starting five in today's NBA. We gave weight to those players who relied on shooting at its purest form (like Bird, for example) than scoring (say Dominique Wilkins).
Nash is an excellent passer and clever with the dribble. But Nash wouldn't be a two-time MVP without the one skill that has allowed him to survive this long and enjoy this kind of career. And that makes Nash's body of work all the more impressive. Most great shooters are only assigned that responsibility. They're even concentrated in a position named after them: shooting guard. But Nash has made shooting just one of his many duties. These are the kind of credentials that make for a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame. In the history of point guards, how many were better shooters than Nash? You say Isiah Thomas? Maybe. Nobody else. And even Isiah, although he scored more points, can't touch Nash's all-around percentages.
His numbers are freaky. He's a career 90. 3 percent free-throw shooter, second only to Mark Price, whose 90.4 will likely be passed by Nash. A career 43.2 percent in 3-point shooting, fifth highest in league history, and Nash has taken almost 1,000 more attempts than the four players ahead of him on that list, who were mainly 3-point specialists and nothing more (Steve Kerr types). Only Nash ( five times) and Larry Bird (three) have shot 50 percent from the field, 40 from 3-point range and 90 percent on free throws in a single season more than once.
Nash isn't just your ordinary catch-and-shoot artist, either. Those are easy to find. Nash brings more flavors than Baskin-Robbins. There's the one-handed runner, the two-handed runner, the 3-point jumper and yes, even the vanilla catch-and-shoot. Because he's a point guard and the ball's mainly in his hands, Nash doesn't come off screens. He creates his own jumpers, which again, gives him bonus points for creativity and degree of difficulty over other shooters.
I'll say right here, right now that Nash is the best all-around shooter of all time. And I dare you to shoot that down.
Ray-Ray's form is so textbook, it deserves its own logo. Have you seen Allen's calves? They're cantaloupes. Players joke those calves were developed from decades of launching off his toes for jumpers (although, if true, you wonder why Reggie Miller always had stick legs). Allen's entire body works in unison just to get his shot off. His speed gets him distance from his defender. Soft hands, acting as first baseman mitts, allow for easy catches. A sturdy back and flexible hips help him quickly turn and face the target. Expert vision brings the basket into focus. And then the shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingertips unite in harmony for the release. Poetry.
Allen is masterful at understanding screens and playing without the ball. Good luck chasing him through picks. He has a good head fake, so watch out for that. And his dribble is tight, which allows for the extra bounce away from the defense. Allen, a nine-time All-Star, a career 89 percent shooter from the line and a shade under 40 percent from 3-point range, is entering his 15th year in the NBA. Shooters are the last to go, you know.
Nobody this tall -- Dirk's 7-feet -- ever shot this well, unless he was sitting in the cockpit of a tank. Yes, Heir Schutze is a strange NBA sight to behold, a power forward with a blond mop-top making a generous living 18-24 feet from the basket. Because of his size and stroke, Nowitzki must be classified as one of the all-time toughest checks in league history. Do you throw your big man at him? Most are clumsy and out of their element that far away from the basket. Do you defend him with someone smaller? Well, Dirk can post up, too.
But this isn't about scoring; this is about shooting. Dirk's release is quick and his shot is rarely blocked, because not only must you be tall enough to reach it, you must have the speed. He can connect on fallaways (which is his specialty), jumpers and set shots. His career percentages of 47, 38 and 87 from the floor, 3-point range and the line confirm Dirk as an all-around guy. Actually, remove his first four years in the league, and that free-throw shooting rises to 89 percent. Like Nash, Dirk is a member of the 50-40-90 club, and his scoring average the last six years: between 23 and 26 points a game, consistency that has marked his career.
In three years, Durant already has seasons of 90 percent from the line, 42 percent on 3-point shooting and 47 percent from the floor. We should mention another number: 22. His age. In other words, KD is just getting started. Admittedly, putting Durant in such high company as Nowitzki, Nash and Allen, players proven over the long haul, is a bit unfair. But something very unexpected (a deadly and prolonged slump) or sinister (serious injury) must happen to keep Durant from enjoying the same kind of sustained career. Besides, this story is about the here and the now, and who disagrees that Durant isn't already among the finest shooters in the game?
At 21 he became the youngest to win a league scoring title, mainly because he demonstrated an ability to score from all points on the floor. He's Gervin-like, able to shoot with his hands under the ball (finga roll) or behind it (your normal push). Blessed with octo-arms (a 7-foot-4 wingspan) and a quick release, Durant keeps his man off-balanced. He's the main source of Oklahoma City's offense and still thrives despite the double teaming. Durant has the goods to win multiple scoring titles and MVPs, and it's all because he knows what to do with a ball from 18 feet away.
Wait. After one measly season, he gets mention here? Yes. Curry could've played only half his rookie season (the second half, when he caught fire) and found himself on the starting five of the All-Shooter's team. That says a little about the pure shooting skills of the league, and plenty about Curry. He set a rookie record for 3-point sharpness (43.7 percent), connected on nearly 89 percent of his free throws and 46 percent from the floor. Surely, you see a 50-40-90 club membership in his future. Plus, the way he finished with a flurry, scoring 42 points in the season finale, surpassing 30 points six times, the most of all rookies, and shooting will serve him well in his career.
Already, it's evident that few players bring better shooting skills. And none have his future. Curry has Nash written all over him. Kid can shoot off the dribble, on the fly, from deep, from close. Leave him open at your peril. His form, like Allen's, is exactly the kind you'd use as an example in a Shooting 101 class. It's arms in, elbow up, ball high, extended release, exaggerated follow-through. It helped that he learned from daddy Dell, owner of a pretty shot back in his day.
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