SWISH! Portland’s top 25 shooters of all time

By Wayne Thompson
Rip City Magazine

Talk all you want about your seven-footers, your playmaking point guards, your slash-to-the-basket, athletic scorers, and your top-tier defenders, but if there is one thing in short supply in the history of the Portland Trail Blazers and the NBA in general, it's your pure shooters.

First of all, the definition of a pure shooter needs explanation.

In this writer's view, a pure shooter -- as opposed to a streak shooter or a prolific scorer who might be an average shooter -- is a player who doesn't endure long shooting slumps.

More precisely, it is a player who can hit the unguarded, open shot about 80 percent of the time from three-point range.

It is a player whose shooting mechanics and touch are based on replication -- that is, delivering the same stroke time after time, like pistons pounding steel in a well-tuned engine. It is a player with uncommon confidence in his shot -- one who is always surprised when he misses.

So who are the top 10 pure outside shooters in Trail Blazer history? This list, compiled by the author based on his 56 years of watching the 60-year-old National Basketball Association, will start a lot of arguments in taverns, barber shops, online forums and chat rooms.

Nevertheless, here goes, with explanations:

The Yugoslavian sharpshooter drafted by the Blazers in the third round of the 1986 NBA draft, was the greatest shooter I've ever seen. He played here only two seasons (1989-91).

At practice one day in the spring of 1990, Petrovic made 57 straight free throws; when challenged by Terry Porter to shoot one without looking at the basket, Petro turned away from the hoop and fired up a blindside hook shot with the left hand. Result: SWISH! Enough said.

The former Arizona star is simply the best long-range marksman the league has ever known, evidenced by his all-time high 3-point field goal percentage of 45.4 percent (726 of 1,599).

Though he played only one season with Portland (2001-2002), he did nothing to tarnish his reputation, hitting 39.4 percent of his threes and a blistering 97.5 percent of his free throw attempts in 65 games.

The very first Trail Blazer player (1970) arguably could be known as the franchise's greatest pure shooter. He shot 45.5 percent from the floor even though more than a third of his shot attempts were from behind the arc. If the 3-point shot rule had been in effect in the six seasons he played (1970-76) in Portland, his scoring average would have been 23.2 instead of 21.8.

For the rest of the argument for Petrie, I refer the reader to page 156 of Pulitzer Prize winning author David Halberstam's 1981 book on the Blazers, "The Breaks of the Game."

"He (Geoff Petrie) had come to Portland in 1970, the first year of the franchise's existence, after graduating from Princeton and he had, for a harried Stu Inman, the chief scout given only two months to select players, turned out to be a superb first-round draft choice.

"He was a guard, a rare pure shooter, his touch some thought was as good as that of the legendary Jerry West. Once during a practice Petrie had bet Wayne
Thompson, a writer for the Portland Oregonian, that he could not only hit eight jump shots in a row, but hit them in such a way that each time the ball would come right back to him.

"He had proceeded to do exactly that, with his first seven shots, although on the eighth the ball went through the hoop but did not come back. Still it was a feat of skill which stunned Thompson for it meant not just making a basket, but making it at so precise an angle that the ball would touch the back of the rim and bounce right back. That, Thompson thought, was a real shooter."

Most Trail Blazer fans, especially those 30 or older, likely would argue strongly that this 1985 first round draft pick out of Wisconsin Stevens Point was the best pure shooter in Trail Blazer history. They could make a good case with little disagreement here.

In 10 remarkable seasons (1985-95) with Portland, Porter established most of Portland's 3-point shooting records -- 3-pointers made and attempted, and third in 3-point FG percentage (38.5 percent). He also is second all-time in Trail Blazer points scored, field goals and free throws made and third in free-throw percentage at 84.5 percent.

His record of making 7 of 7 treys at Golden State Nov. 14, 1992 still stands.

The ex-UCLA All-American, whose father had been a star with the New York Knicks in the 1940s-'50s and whose mother was a former Miss America, got to be a pure shooter the hard way: He earned it during countless hours as a gym rat, taking about 500 to 1,000 jump shots a day, year-round, since puberty.

Playing with the Trail Blazers (1984-89), Vandeweghe averaged 23.8 points per game, shot 53.6 percent from the floor, and an all-time, team-leading 88.1 percent from the free throw line.

To show his range, he connected on an astounding 40.8 percent of his 3-point attempts. It is not surprising, then, that Kiki led the entire NBA in 3-point shooting in 1986-87 with 48.1 percent accuracy.

Younger brother of The Rifleman, Chuck Person, one of the NBA's pioneer 3-point specialists, Wesley came to the Trail Blazers late in career at age 32, but he stayed long enough to buy a house, settle in and lead the 2003-2004 Blazers in three-point shooting at a 47.4 percent clip.

Like Dell Curry and Craig Hodges who came before him, Person was lights out from 18 to 28 feet, anywhere on the half court. He ranks eighth all-time in NBA three-point shooting at 41.8 percent.

Not many Trail Blazer fans will recall this ex-UCLA 6-foot-7 forward with great fondness, but give him his dues: He had one of the most gorgeous outside shooting strokes of any Portland player ever -- especially from really long distances (30 to 35 feet, for example).

In his otherwise uneventful four seasons in Portland (1991-95 and 2003-2004), Murray proved one dimensional, but that dimension was indeed pure -- 38.8 percent 3-point shooting. He led the entire league in 1993-94, connecting on 50 of 109 treys for 45.9 percent.

Another late-comer to the Trail Blazers at age 30, Smitty was already an NBA All-Star and U.S. Olympian, but he played a big part in Portland's 1999-2000 run to the Western Conference Finals.

In two seasons in Portland, Smith, primarily a perimeter shooter, made 36.9 percent of his 3-point attempts, shot 87 percent from the free throw line (second best among Blazers, all-time) and was the team's second leading scorer.

A native Oregonian from Eugene who earned most of his credits as a Boston Celtics sixth-man, Ainge played two seasons in Portland (1990-92), joining Porter and Clyde Drexler on one of the league's most feared offensive juggernauts.

In those two memorable seasons in which the Blazers won 120 out of 164 regular season games, Ainge was a deadeye marksman off the bench.
In his first season when the Blazers won their all-time high of 63 wins, Ainge was sixth in the league in 3-point accuracy (40.6 percent).

Here's a player that only a few living and die-hard Trail Blazer fans over 50 will recall. Clemens played just two seasons in Portland (1974-76) and averaged only 4.4 points in 126 games, yet he was the purest of pure shooters of his era.

Only problem is, Barry couldn't do much else. Having played in New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Cleveland before coming to Portland, Clemens' chief claim to pure-shooting fame was making it to the finals of the NBA's One-on-One contest in 1972-73.

Deadly accurate from 12 feet and beyond, Clemens had few other offensive weapons. A lay-up from him was someone's oversight and his after-thought. But against some of the best shooters, big and small, in the league in that era, Clemens toppled four of them on his way to face Petrie. Geoff had conquered Gail Goodrich, Bob Dandridge, Mike Riordan and Bob McAdoo rather easily, but Clemens' outside pops took Petrie to the brink before Geoff's drive to the basket won the title.

It marked the one and only staging of the made-for-television one-on-one event, but it gave Barry Clemens closure as one of the era's best pure shooters.

Fans who follow the Trail Blazers will no doubt challenge these opinions, but they should also know the names of the following Trail Blazers who were given serious consideration for top 10 honors:

11. WALT WILLIAMS, 1997-99

12. MARIO ELIE, 1992-93
13. BILLY RAY BATES, 1979-82
14. ARVYDAS SABONIS, 1995-2003
15. BOBBY GROSS, 1975-8
16. ISAIAH RIDER, 1996-99
17. JERRY SICHTING, 1987-89
19. DAVE TWARDZIK, 1976-80
20. JIM PAXSON, 1979-88
21. LARRY STEELE, 1971-80
22. RON BREWER, 1978-81
23. RASHEED WALLACE, 196-2004
24. CLYDE DREXLER, 1983-95*
25. VASHON LENARD, 2005-2006

* Clyde Drexler, the greatest scorer in Trail Blazer history was not a pure shooter, but rather a player who over his career turned himself into a dependable shooter through hard work and practice. At one point early in Clyde's career, team management considered offering him a salary bonus if he could improve upon his below-average jump-shooting percentage.

Clyde wouldn't take the money, but he said he would try to improve. And he did.

You'll notice only one current Trail Blazers player -- Martell Webster -- made the list, but that's because it's too early to tell how these young players will turn out. Webster, of course, has the stroke to break into the Trail Blazer top 10 if he develops more consistency in his delivery.

"I started to refine my shooting mechanics as early as the eighth grade," said Webster. As a Seattle native, Martell had plenty of pure shot-makers to study -- Dale Ellis, Ray Allen and Hersey Hawkins all played for the Seattle Sonics and all possess great 3-point strokes.

"They all reminded me that to be an accurate distance shooter, you have to have the elbow (of your shooting arm) tucked in close to your side and your feet squared up, and you have to repeat the same mechanics each time," he says.

"And it helps to simply have the touch and feel of the shot and the distance it must travel," Martell added

"But most of all, you have to have confidence. You can't shoot the ball with any kind of consistency unless you have confidence that it will go in. A pure shooter," Webster summarized, "is someone who is surprised when he misses."

Webster says one of his goals is to become the best shooter that he can be, which requires constant practice taking hundreds of shots each day. More than that, though, Webster says he doesn't just want to be known as a shooter, but rather as an all-around solid player.

Brandon Roy, Dan Dickau and Ime Udoka show perimeter-shooting promise, Raef LaFrentz has a long-distance shooting rep, and Juan Dixon's practice sessions (I saw him convert 24 of 27 shots one day from corner to corner in a waltz around the three-point circle), makes him a potential candidate if he could avoid those two- and three-game shooting slumps.

As for Portland scoring leader, Zach Randolph, he's hard to classify as a pure shooter. No question that he's a very gifted shooter, with decent range for a post player. He has a remarkably soft touch and gets some good rolls around the basket. But to many casual observers, it just looks like Zach flips the ball in the basket's direction with the hope that somehow it will find its way to the hole. On the other hand, Zach's free-throw shooting accuracy suggests great shooting mechanics.

Yet, to mine's eyes, he falls into the category of being a scorer, rather than a pure shooter. It's the same way I see some of the other great NBA point producers such as Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Allan Iverson, and Vince Carter.

Aside from the Blazer shooters, the league, over these past 60 years, has come a long way in developing deadeye distant marksmen.

In the early years, when 1940s stars such as Joe Fulks, Max Zaslofsky and Bob Cousy were shooting field goals in the low 30 percent range, only two names jump out.

One was Bill Sharman, the former Brooklyn Dodger outfielder and Southern Cal three-sport star, who broke in with the Boston Celtics in 1950 and had a career 88.3 percent free-throw shooting percentage -- still the 10th best in NBA history.

The other great pure shooter was Paul Arizin of the Philadelphia Warriors. Recently deceased at age 78, Arizin was a jump-shooting marvel; twice leading the league in scoring despite the fact that he was so near-sighted the rim from his eyes was just a hazy blur.

Who is the best pure shooter I ever saw? I'd have to list 10, in no certain order of preference:

Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Reggie Miller, Craig Hodges, Ray Allen, Glen Rice, Steve Kerr, Drazen Petrovic, Peja Stojakovic and Steve Nash.

Who did I leave out? Well on my research list I have 90 more names, which over the 60 years of NBA play and the more than 4,500 players who performed in the league, is not many.

To give readers a sense of that, some of the best of the rest on my list include Rick Barry, Dale Ellis, Mark Price, Dell Curry, my all-time favorite three-point bomber, Tim Hardaway, Lou Hudson, Jerry West, Fred Holberg, Dirk Nowitzki and Bob McAdoo.

The next tier would include Michael Redd, Jeff Hornacek, Oscar Robertson, John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Rolando Blackman, Wally Szczerbiak, Raja Bell, Dana Barros, Geoff Petrie, Gilbert Arenas, LeBron James (getting better from long distance by the hour), Chris Mullin and Terry Porter.

And close behind them would be Alex English, Michael Jordan (Like Clyde Drexler, Jordan had to do a makeover from a mediocre perimeter shooter in his early years to a great one toward the latter part of his career); Allen Houston, Pete Maravich, Calvin Murphy, Wesley Person, Mitch Richmond, Kiki Vandeweghe, Louis Dampier and Joe Johnson.

And for argument's sake, here's another five to total 50 of the 100 names on my list: George Gervin (not a really long-distance guy, but an accurate shooter within 8-10 feet, Kyle Korver, Phil Cherier, Kevin Garnett and Jon Sunvold.

The other 50 pure shooters and countless more that no doubt were overlooked will remain undisclosed, with the notation that all of the players mentioned in this story I've seen play in person at one time or another.

From the time I was 14 years old in Bangor, Maine, in the fall of 1950, when I saw my first NBA game between the Boston Celtics and the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings, by way of Kansas City), to the more than 1,500 games I've seen involving the Trail Blazers and their opponents, there's one constant for me:

I love this game.

Wayne Thompson was The Oregonian's Blazers beat writer from 1970-73 and sports editor from 1977-1979. You can email Wayne at mlou4jazz@aol.com.


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