*This is Part 2 to my series on the perfect NBA skill-set.
First, I chose overall skills, next I’m diving into each skill and breaking down the best/most iconic players for each move/style.
In case you missed it – here was part 1:
Quick re-hash of my malleable set of rules:
What are the rules? How am I going to do this?
First rule is THERE ARE NO RULES! (jk, some rules).
- Any NBA players past or present are eligible. Video evidence helps, because while I’m sure George Mikan had some awesome post-moves – I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t seen the footage, but I’ll be sure to ask the next member of “The Greatest Generation” I come into contact with (several months from now, for safety purposes).
- I’m only using each player once. I understand plenty of NBA legends deserve to be mentioned for a couple or a few moves here, but it’s more fun to spread the wealth.
- You’ll see for this post, I divided up into sections, with an overall top pick of a particular skill-set. In upcoming blog posts I plan to break down each category of moves and skills.
- This is totally biased and up to your own interpretation. Feel free to share your own version of a similar list. Or just roast mine – that’s welcome, too.
First skill I’m diving into is probably the first that comes to mind for any fan who thinks of the game – shooting! The way the game is played has obviously altered dramatically over the years. Teams are now designing rosters with clear intent to take advantage of the analytics that suggest which shot attempts are most effective to take (i.e. corner 3’s and RIP to to deep contested 2’s). As a result, we’re in an unusual spot where it’s becoming more and more difficult to compare shooters across the different era’s. Not dissimilar to the NFL with quarterback passing production, NBA players are constantly shooting more 3’s than ever. Teams have figured out how to maximize their total possession in each game – and allow their best shooters to let it rip from deep on a regular basis.
Today, we’re seeing some of the most prolific shooting performances in the history of the league. Trying to compare across the many eras of the NBA seems impossible. Larry Bird never shot more than 3.3 threes per game in a season! Even Steve Nash’s career high threes per game across a season was 4.7! For context, Buddy Hield (a very good shooter, no doubt) shot 7.9 threes per game in 2018-2019. And this past season? He upped it even more with a whopping 9.7 attempts from three per game! And over the abbreviated 19-20 season that’s about 400 less 3’s than the league-leading James Harden!
This ain’t your grand-pappy’s NBA of Bob Cousy dribbling in circles! The opportunities are abundant for today’s shooters, with a plethora of attempts to mold their legacies with. Gone are the days of an Alex English-type shooter who didn’t dazzle with a high-volume shooting performance, but rather an uber-efficient night.
Either way – shooting has become more than the most useful method of scoring – it’s truly an art-form. As someone whose own basketball coach father refers to his shot as ‘broken’ (my untracked career shooting % across organized and unorganized hoops would suggest differently), I admire the heck out of a great shooter. That being said, let’s dive in.
OVERALL: Larry Bird
The Hick from French Lick! You may have seen this choice on my initial blog. Sticking with it – so deal with it! 100% transparency, I’m a big Celtics fan and come from a household that worships Larry Bird. So honestly I’m starting off with a total homer pick here. Steph Curry probably deserves this title, but he’s going to be on another section’s overall top skillset, so don’t be too upset. BUT, in the defense of Larry Bird, at his peak, he was the most lights out shooter to play the game.
Today’s era of teams shooting exorbitant amounts of threes per game makes his numbers tough to compare with guys like Steph, Klay, Ray Allen, etc. Regardless, Bird was the face of the league with Magic preceding the reign of Michael Jordan, and deserves one of these prestigious spots. For Pete’s sake, back in 1986 Bird shot half of a game against the Trail Blazers with his left-hand! He finished with 47 points (with 10 of his 21 made field goals with his left hand), 14 rebounds, and 11 assists in a Celtics OT win. Why did he do it? Because he was saving his right hand for the Lakers two nights later! The C’s went on to win in LA in the ensuing matchup. I’ve changed my tune and don’t feel bad at all for this pick at all anymore. It’s not even a homer pick, totally deserved.
Please watch at least the 2nd video above – Bird’s magnum opus of shooting a basketball. He wins the 1988 NBA All-Star ‘Long Distance Shooting Competition’ (yes that’s what they called it LOL – thank god for the 3-point shootout re-branding) for his 3rd straight year… WHILE STILL IN HIS WARM UPS. Look at how uncomfortable that warm up shirt / jacket looks? Remember when LeBron intentionally ripped the sleeves of the new Adidas jerseys with sleeves? I’d like to think Bird saw that happen back in 2013 and laughed out loud at LeBron’s complaining. They call him Larry Legend for a reason!
Free-throw: Steve Nash
I’m not going to bore you with actual free-throw footage of Steve Nash. You know he was good, so here’s a HOF highlight video package instead to satiate your thirst for Steve Nash content.
I was so tempted to put Rick Barry, partially in jest, but also to get a good mix of eras, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Steve Nash could be one of the best shooters ever. He might deserve a different spot here in the realm of shooting or passing – but when I think of a sure-fire free-throw shooter, Nash is near, if not at the top of my list.
Honorable mentions to Rick Barry, and Tom Izzo.Barry has the iconic underhand release that was super effective. Izzo didn’t even play in the NBA, so I’m already sort of breaking one of my only rules, but I’ll never forget watching Izzo on a college gameday set shooting free-throws for screaming Michigan State fans because he was a notorious MACHINE from the line. I swear it wasn’t a fever-dream. It really happened. In the meantime, here’s a weird free-throw related Izzo advertisement instead.
Fadeaway Jumper: Kobe Bryant
Serious chills after watching the above compilation video of Mamba’s iconic fadeaway. Kobe’s seemingly ill-advised fadeaways dropping in clutch moments haunted opposing NBA fans for years, yet now, what we’d all give to see Kobe hit just one more over our beloved opposing franchise.
Honorable mention to Dirk, but #MambaForever. Also shoutout to iso-Melo in his peak Knicks days. Those offenses were as broken and stagnant as they could be, but I would be lying if I didn’t emulate Melo in my driveway while playing 1-on-1 with my older brother.
Step-back Jumper: James Harden
Is it a travel? Personally, I don’t think so. While I’m a fan of Harden, there’s no denying the hilarity of memes at his expense. I understand if you have a problem with this one, but let’s be real, when you think step-back, isn’t Harden the 1st guy you think of? If not, the above video is a quick reminder of why he should be. (Lowkey one of the most disrespectful moves of the NBA’s last 10 years. This is the Jose Bautista playoff bat flip equivalent of a step-back.)
Honorable mention to Damian Lillard and one of the coolest winner-take-all playoff moments of my lifetime.
Quick-release Jumper: Ray Allen
You probably already knew which moment and video clip I would pull for a quick-release 3-pointer by Ray Allen. I was so angry and frustrated by the Spurs’ inability to close out the Heat in the moment. In retrospect, it’s so absurd how Allen got the shot off and drilled it. One of the most clutch moments in NBA Finals history. If I need a quick 3 with limited time on the clock, Ray Allen is my dude for the job.
Honorable mention to Klay Thompson. One of the cleanest and quickest jumpers in the league. Rarely needs a dribble to drill a 3. I don’t think it’s insane to consider him one of the top 5 shooters of all-time already. Just speaks to how elite he’s been so far in his career.
Made Shot and Subsequent Celebration/Taunt: Reggie Miller
I sort of cheated and added this one in here just to ensure Reggie Miller was somewhere. Miller was obviously an all-time great shooter, but I struggled to fit him on the list for a specific shot-type other than honorable mention for all-around.
Reggie’s clutch game 5 performance against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden featured the infamous choke gesture from Miller to Knicks superfan Spike Lee after icing the game. What many forget is that the Pacers actually lost that series in 7 games back in 1994, with the Knicks going on to lose in 7 to the Rockets in the finals. Regardless, Reggie Miller’s celebration remains an iconic image of the 1990’s NBA, and probably Pacers fans still reminisce about today.
I wanted to add in a few honorable mention categories for non-superstars who excel at a few random areas. Recency-bias is definitely a factor – but feel free to comment or @ me on twitter on why Drazen Petrovic was the best off-ball screen catch and shooter.
Heat Check Shooter (Non-stars): Dion Waiters
Ever heard of Waiters’ Island?! Of course you have! He has some of the most-fun performances of recent memory of non-stars. Also – here’s a piece I loved, his article for ‘The Players’ Tribune’: The NBA Is Lucky I’m Home Doing Damn Articles | By Dion Waiters
Honorable mentions to Nick Young (aka Swaggy P) and Jimmer Fredette.
Off-ball Screen Catch and Shoot: JJ Redick
Gotta admit – I love me some JJ Redick. I must admit, I’m letting a bit of his Duke days influence his selection here , but DAMN. Watching JJ shoot jumpers off-screens is like watching Ja Rule lay down a duet with Ashanti – pure magic. Dude was absolutely unguardable in college. Opponent game plans consistently failed revolving around any plan of stifling him – a 6’4” not unathletic, but also certainly not super-athletic white dude from Virginia. Just a really cool guy too. If you haven’t listened to it before – check out his podcast via ‘The Ringer’.
Honorable mention to Kyle Korver, with his unbelievable and historic stretch of 3-point shooting back in 2013/2014. Korver probably doesn’t get the credit and attention he deserves for such an illustrious shooting career. But it just goes to show, it’s so tough with so many great snipers.
Final Seconds Clutch Jumper: Robert Horry
They don’t call him Big Shot Bob for nothing! Each of these above clips are just the top tier of clutch shots he made in his illustrious career. It’s no coincidence Horry has 7 Championship rings. We can leave it at that.
Honorable mention to Derek Fisher, as well as Horry and Fisher’s mutual teammate Kobe Bryant, who leads the NBA in most game-winning shots in history.
(In the world of shooting and shot-making – we’ll leave it at this for now. For anyone wonder why no love to big-men and shots in the post, don’t worry, I’m dedicating a blog to just post-moves.)
Next skill up: Ball-handling & dribbling. Buckle up for the next one – no one’s ankles are safe.
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-Mike Gilligan (@BigGilli, and @SmallStateTakes Podcast) – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/small-state-big-takes/id1432138166