By: Mike Moreau
Who are the best shooters in the NBA? How do you define who is in that group? First, you have to define shooting. There are all kinds of made shots in an NBA game, from jump hooks to runners to dribble pull-ups to fallaways to power dunks to spot-up threes.
Not all shots require the same motion or mechanics. So first of all, let's define the type of shooting we are talking about when we look at the NBA's best shooters.
From a fundamental teaching standpoint, shooting is the combination of balance and mechanics brought together in a consistent, repeatable motion leading to made shots.
Translated into game situations, for this argument, it is the ability to make open jump shots off the dribble or off the catch, knock down threes with consistency, and make a high percentage of free throws. All of these types of shots require the same basic mechanics.
Athleticism plays no role in good shooting form and mechanics. How high you jump or how fast you run are unimportant factors. Talk of "fast twitch fibers" and "explosiveness" are irrelevant.
In fact, players with great athleticism can tend to struggle as consistent jump shooters, simply because their athleticism can get in the way of the mechanical motion and the balanced precision necessary to be successful.
Many good shooters become that way simply because they lack some of the other athletic or physical attributes to be proficient at other parts of the game. They don't get distracted with other facets of their offensive repertoire because their lack of athleticism prevents them from achieving a high level of performance in those other areas. They focus on what they are best at, and perfect that one phase of the game.
So, the argument comes down to simply this: Which guys in the league have the best stroke – which guys can knock down a jump shot, an open three, or free throw with the most consistency?
This does not take into account "big game" shooters, "clutch" shooters, etc. That is really a whole different category, and an argument can be made that those guys are truly the "best" shooters.
But, for the sake of this argument, how are we going to figure out who the best shooters are in the league? Who are the guys with the best, pure stroke?
Can we use field goal percentage? Only as a secondary form of evidence, as the types of shots made are not defined and, as illustrated by Andres Biedrins, Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard and Shaq being the top four in the league last year, not what we are looking for in this discussion. Most fans would challenge these four to a game of H-O-R-S-E any day – maybe even bet paychecks on it with a high level of confidence.
No, field goal percentage is too vague, although it can be used as supporting evidence.
Let's focus on two primary areas. First, let's look at three-point shooting. It is the least contested shot taken in an NBA game, generally an open shot that a player can get balanced and prepare for, and gives good evidence of shooting motion and consistency. Let's also look at free throw shooting, which is totally uncontested and one of the most comparable stats in all of sports.
There were only two players in the NBA last season in the top five in three-point shooting percentage and free throw percentage – Steve Nash and Peja Stojakovic. The only other players in the Top 30 in both categories were Ben Gordon, Derek Fisher, Wally Szczerbiak, Danny Granger and Kevin Martin.
Jason Kapono and Mike Miller may immediately come to fan's minds as top three-point shooters, but neither get into the 90% stratosphere at the foul line like Nash and Stojakovic. And some good three-point shooters, like Kapono, Brent Barry or Daniel Gibson, don't get enough free throw attempts per game. It's more difficult to shoot a higher percentage when you only get a handful of free throws every now and then.
So, we have a good group of shooters up there at the top. But, when we add field goal percentage as a secondary variable, it's Nash and Miller, as well as Jose Calderon and Mike Dunleavy, that combine high percentage three point shooting with a better than 50% two point shooting percentage. Stojakovic shoots just 43% from two point range.
So, which of these players combines all three? It's only Steve Nash that we find at the intersection of all of these circles. The fact that Nash can be this efficient shooting the ball is a staggering revelation because many of his threes are off the dribble or in transition, and most of his other shots are contested and require great creativity.
It's not like he is running off double staggers or just spotting up in the corners. He is orchestrating the offense, handling the ball, assisting and creating for others. But, however he gets himself into position to shoot the ball, the common factor is this: Nash has a compact, mechanically fundamental and repeatable, consistent motion and follow through. Whether pulling up or falling away, his stroke is pure.
Nash also makes big shots in big games and comes through in the clutch. He's not one of those guys who makes open jumpers, then disappears at crunch time. That he does this without much more than a ballscreen and his own creativity is even more compelling.
So, by my process of elimination, Steve Nash is the best pure shooter in the NBA. Isn't it interesting that the guy who holds up the game to work on his mechanics and practice his shooting form at the foul line is the guy who is the NBA's best shooter? Interesting, but not surprising.
Before he gets the ball from the official, Nash gets balanced, tucks his shooting hand under the imaginary ball, and he follows through with his hand in the rim.
He shows the way for every other shooter in the game at every level. Every time.
And he's got the numbers to back it up.