Everyone in the NBA wants to have that Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, and I daresay Kyle Korver-esque sniper shot. Dirk and Durant especially are revered for their inhuman consistency and clutch factor to their jump shot, while Korver is just chillin’ with a ridiculous .425 career 3p%. But there are plenty of great players out there that are far more feast or famine.
Two thoughts immediately try to ram themselves out of the front of my forehead when discussing streaky shooters: for one, most players are streaky shooters, but the true hot and cold players that make this list have one difference – if they’re missing, they don’t stop shooting. And secondly, being a streaky shooter isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just the source of extreme agita for fans and coaches.
My brother and I (hi Dan) have discussed this ad nauseam; is there truly a ‘zone’ or ‘hot hand’ where a shooter’s percentage actually goes up due to some state of enhanced kinesthesia, or are streaky shooters’ hot streaks merely natural statistical variation– that is to say, just probability working through its ups and downs. If a 38% career 3-pt shooter is 6-6 from range in a game, is he 38% to make the next shot? or does his percentage go up when he’s hot, and down when he’s cold? (even if it makes no statistical difference in the long run).
Mathematical nerd digressions aside, anyone who has played ball knows that sometimes, your shot just feels right. Sometimes you know the ball is going in before it has even left your hand. I should title this rant “Math: finding new ways of making sports more boring.”
So without further shenanigans, hereafter is my list of the streakiest shooters in the NBA.
10. Carmelo Anthony — New York Knicks
Many of you may be shouting already. How can I say Carmelo, who is undoubtedly an extremely talented shooter with an incredibly diverse offensive game, streaky? Well, despite the fact that he is similar to Durant (though Durant has better percentages from the floor and from 3-land) ‘Melo is a streaky shooter for a few reasons: he’s been so relied upon to carry the offensive load, that he’s become even more of a conscience-less shooter now than he was in Denver.
It’s not crazy to see him go 7/26 or 14/18 from the field in a game. If Melo had the desire or luxury of being able to pass off the offensive load to other premiere players regularly, his percentages would probably go up and his attempts down. Furthermore, if he had an excellent point guard that could break down defenses, his numbers would undoubtedly flourish. But as it is, too many Knicks possessions get over-dribbled to death, then someone passes the ball to Melo with 5s on the shot clock and he’s forced to take a very contested shot.
Frankly, he makes so many of said shots that even as a Knicks fan, all you can do is chuckle and shake your head. His career percentages are .476 from inside the arc, and .345 from three (though since he’s been in NY it’s been .385). Given the nature and difficulty of the majority of those shots, those numbers are astounding.
9. Manu Ginobili — San Antonio Spurs
You can tell when you see some players who just want to shoot. It goes beyond conscience to just pure desire to hoist it up and see what happens. Ginobili is definitely one of those players. This saucy Argentine also is quite capable of putting it on the floor and taking it to the rack as well, but he’s most loved and feared for his bombs-away mentality amongst a very disciplined, well planned basketball philosophy that Gregg Popovich espouses for the Spurs.
Probably one of the funniest thing that Popovich uttered in his stellar career of both basketball coaching and deadpan humor was about Ginobili’s contested 3 pointer with 44 seconds left in game 1 of the 2013 playoff series between the Spurs and the Warriors:
“I went from trading him on the spot, to wanting to cook him breakfast tomorrow.”
Because of course, Ginobili bricked the shot, and then like any mindless shooter, made the next 3 pointer to win the game at the end of double overtime. On top of it all, it was a shot that wasn’t his to take: “I wasn’t even an option,” Ginobili admitted. “They told me to go screen and stay far away from the play.”
Oops. Well, they’ll take the win, and the march to the finals. Ginobili’s career percentages: .503 from inside the arc, .370 from beyond. Not bad, Manu.
8. Joe Johnson — Brooklyn Nets
He’s like Carmelo, yet somehow streakier. The man either sinks deadly game winning buckets after tearing up the court, or is just a super-brick-artist with amnesia. He’s been a bit more restrained since he came to Brooklyn, if for no other reason than there is so many players that deserve their fair share of shots. It’s probably a good thing, to keep him as an ace in the hole when you need potential explosiveness. No one will dispute his talent or his ability, but if you reach back into his long career you’ll find plenty of 3-16 or 5-17 days. Like Melo, this year he has just been lights-out on his shot, with a .406 3p% and .486 2p%. But really though, Johnson has occasionally shot under .300 on three pointers for entire seasons. That’s like, the definition of a streaky shooter. Especially when you consider his career averages are .472 2p% and .372 3p%. I bet he has a Men in Black memory zapper.
7. Monta Ellis — Dallas Mavericks
I don’t think many people would argue Monta Ellis was a solid addition for the Mavericks. Given that you have a solidified #1 option in Dirk Nowitzki, he can be a great athletic compliment and provide solid scoring for the team. And when you consider how hot and cold he is, well, it’s pretty helpful to be able to rely on a rock like Nowitzki when your shot isn’t falling. Just how streaky is Ellis? In two years in Milwaukee, 2011-2013, Ellis managed a .284 3-point shooting percentage over 373 attempts. Granted, he’s not the best shooter from range, but jeez that’s a lot of missed chucks. After all, he’s shot as high as .361 from 3 in 2010-11 with 379 attempts in that season alone. That’s some serious variance right there. For a man who varies wildly with consistency, he clearly doesn’t mind putting the ball in the air. Career percentages .482 2p% and .318 3p%.
6. Nick “Swaggy P” Young — L.A. Lakers
Swaggy P is legitimately a pretty solid shooter. However, something about the nature of his play tends to vary wildly from game to game. He seems just as likely to make a highlight reel as he is to face the comedic ignominy of Shaqtin’ a Fool. Undoubtedly, Nick Young is fearless and confident like most of the players to grace this list, but his predilection to force up some absurdly contested shots is, well, dragging him down like an albatross. Perhaps it’s some improptu drive to the hoop despite the paint being packed with defenders, or the mind numbing choice to hoist up fadeaway jumpers when double teamed. Whatever it may be, it’s often not the best choice for both his stats and the team. Yes, every team wants a player unafraid to take the tough shot. They just don’t want a player unafraid to take the tough shot every possession. An open letter to Nick Young: not every shot has to be a fadeaway. Career percentages of .451 from 2, and .373 with the three ball.
5. Rudy Gay — Sacremento Kings
In almost 8 seasons with three different teams, Rudy Gay has put up 9,007 shots for 10,640 points in total. For perspective, in 12 years with the spurs, our #9 on this list, Manu Ginobili, has put up 8,300 shots for 11,620 points. So Rudy Gay has put up 707 more shots and scored about 1,000 less points in that span. How’s that for a volume shooter. It’s fair to say Ginobili has played for a far better team both in talent and coaching than the teams Gay has played for, but nevertheless the numbers say Gay has spent most of his time racking up points with a short memory and often questionable shot selection. It’s downright shocking to see him with a stat line that doesn’t include double digit shot attempts in any given game he plays, and you’ll see plenty of ugly percentages for every beautiful game he puts up. Rudy is a shooter through and through, with a career average of 18.3 PPG with only 2.3 assists. Regardless, a confident scorer is always a coveted asset in the NBA, and so you’ll be seeing plenty more of him before his career ends. Maybe just choose your shots a bit better, eh? Career percentages .477 2p% and .342 3p%.
4. Jason Terry — Brooklyn Nets
J.T. is like the basketball equivalent of an in-game roulette wheel. Clearly a great perimeter shooter, Terry manifests those numbers with some absolutely scorching performances, and some ice cold clunkers that leave you shaking your head. Clearly, he believes his shot is always going in, becuase when he’s regularly putting up 2-15 shooting days, with 11 of those being three pointers, you wonder if there’s ever a hint of hesitation. Of course, he’s had some epic nights where he shoots 90% and they’re all perimeter bombs, and he basically shuts down the game. To his credit, his career 3 point shooting percentage rises in the playoffs to a touch under .400, so he’s managed to get hot at some of the best times you could ask him to. He certainly was a key piece in the Mavericks’ 2011 championship, shooting a sizzling .442 from 3 over those 21 playoff games. I’m sure Dirk appreciates his streakiness. Career numbers for 2-pointers is .484, and .379 for threes.
3. Russell Westbrook — Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook has both the privilege and misfortune of playing on the same team as the superstar that is Kevin Durant. Clearly, it’s a wonderful thing to have such a classy, incredibly talented teammate in Durant, but unfortunately, every time Westbrook hoists up some wild perimeter shot, or any perimeter shot, all OKC and any fan can think is “why in god’s name isn’t Durant taking that shot?”
It’s clear from Westbrook’s demeanor and competitiveness that he’s one of the uber-confident, no-fear players. But unfortunately for Westbrook, his jump shooting numbers don’t really reflect the confidence. He’s played one less season than Durant, and has 7,158 FG attempts to Durant’s 10,243. The difference being Westbrook averages 1.22 points per attempt, where Durant averages an amazing 1.43 (for perspective, Lebron averages 1.38).
If Westbrook can get an easy dunk or transition points, then great. But for jump shots between 3 and 10 ft., Durant shoots more than 10% better than Westbrook, a staggering number. Furthermore, every time you see Westbrook brick an ugly looking forced three pointer, all you can think is only a few feet away is a lanky 6’9″ fellow with a silky smooth .379% 3 point shot. All this being said, every team in the league would love to have Westbrook, as he is an absolute force on the court with incredible speed. They’d all just wish he’d be a bit more deliberate. He has career percentages of .433 from inside the arc and .307 outside of it.
2. Jamal Crawford — L.A. Clippers
J Crossover, as he rightfully should be called for his sweet handle, is easily one of the most hot and cold shooters in the NBA. As a sixth man, or a support slasher and shooter rather than a #1 or #2 option for most teams, Crawford has still managed to put up 12,593 shot attempts over his 14-year career. He’s not exactly a generator of offensive rhythm for a team, but more of an endless shooter who will fire off regardless if he’s missed every shot in the game or if the team desperately needs some ball movement. His talent makes him an asset for any team, but like many of the other players on this list, he can turn into a liability quickly while searching for his shot. . . in the form of a series of bricks. Even at his age he still has the agility to break ankles and get separation, which was part of what makes him a great commodity and a perennial sixth man of the year contender. His career percentages are .449 for 2-pointers and .351 for threes.
1. J.R. Smith — New York Knicks
I mean really, is it even a contest? The reigning sixth man of the year, who was absolutely amazing last year, is, well, untying people’s shoes at the free throw line for some reason, and generally being an enigma of basketball frustration. But then again, lets rewind to… well, a short while ago, where he had a three game stretch of shooting 24 of 50 3-pointers over three games. I mean, what? He also managed to set an NBA record of 22 3-point attempts in the last game of that stretch against Miami, and made 10 of them. In that three-game span of 50 attempted threes, he only attempted 17 2-point shots, and went to the free throw line a magical zero times. He was probably tuckered out from making all those threes. Think that’s strange? on March 26th he shot 9-12 3 pointers against Sacramento. On December 18th of this season he hoisted up 17 threes and made 5.
Let’s face it, this is who J.R. is. Over his career he’s a solid .370% 3-point shooter, a .468% 2-point shooter, and he has no earthly regard for how many shots he’s taken, what time it is, what’s happening in the game, whether Jupiter is in retrograde, or how far away from the basket he is. If he’s got the ball, chances are he’s putting it up. Face it, Knicks fans, despite whether he’s unwittingly propositioning 17-year-old girls on twitter, or mumbling through an incoherent postgame interview on the court only to finish it with some kind of whooping sound, he’s fun to watch and you love him. Even if he did only shoot 17.9% from the outside against Miami in the playoffs in 2011-12. Because one day, if he takes that 24-50 three point barrage and lands it in the playoffs for the Knicks, it would be magical.