Who Are the Best 3 Point Shooters in NBA History?

In my most recent article, I devised a new metric for measuring the effectiveness of 3 point shooters that accounts for both efficient shooting and a volume of shots, which is important to the effectiveness of the 3. I used player data from the 2015-16 regular season to explore the ways that this metric could be used to evaluate effectiveness. In this article, I’ll take this metric, and apply it the the most prolific 3 point shooters in NBA history to see how they all stack up. To read up on how the metrics work and how they apply to the 2015-16 crop of players, click here.

Instead of the 2015-16 Offensive Rating averages I used the average of averages since the introduction of the 3 point line. Additionally, I also limited the players to those who had attempted 500 or more shots in their career, so as to eliminate a swarm of meaningless dots. This left 540 players, a suitably large sample size, 500 attempts is not a great deal to achieve. This analysis will provide interesting insight into the most effective 3 point shooters of all time in a more useful way than total 3 pointers made or 3 point percentage, and will also inform judgement about players who shot poorly from the 3 point line.


If the above embedded graphs don’t display in your browser, click here to view them on tableau.com.

Let’s start with simple 3PTx, where we see that there are a clear 5 best shooters of all time. Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Steph Curry, Kyle Korver and Ray Allen. First of all, Ray Allen, 1020 points added through the 3-ball is just incredible, and the rest of the numbers are almost equally as astounding. What I found most interesting from this graph is that Steph is already 3rd all time, which is just incredible, who knows how far above the rest of the pack he could be by the end of his career. When I asked Editor-In-Chief Elliott to name who he thought were the 5 at the top of the list, he named all but Steve Nash. This makes sense, because he’s often not brought up as one of the best shooters of all time, but it’s clear just how good he was when you see him perched above Reggie Miller. Kyle Korver also gets a lot of love, a player whom we don’t yet contextualise as one of the best 3 point shooters of all time but almost certainly is. Finally on the positive end of the graph, We see Steve Kerr fall back to earth from his best 3 point percentage of all time. Should have jacked up more shots like your underlings on the Warriors, Kerr, you would have been way more effective.

Let’s now look at the bottom of the graph, some of the worst shooters of all time. Charles Barkley at the bottom of the list, costing his team 534 points off ill-advised 3 point attempts. No wonder he’s so jealous of the Warriors and keeps coming out with hot takes doubting them. We also see KOBE near the bottom of the list, not the great shooter he’s perceived to be, at least from 3 point land. It’s a shame, because I thought more advanced analytics might justify his chucker mentality, but when it comes to bricking contested threes, they don’t come much better. We also see Allen Iverson near the bottom of the list, and what becomes a consistent theme of Andre Miller in a league of his own when it comes to bad shooting. It’s also interesting looking at all of the other players you find nested in the bottom half of the list, like Dwyane Wade, Clyde Drexler, Stephen Jackson or Michael Jordan. Obviously, these players’ contributions were not defined by their 3 point shooting.

Next, looking at 3PTx., we see Steve Kerr back at the top because of his more conservative trigger with the long range shot, and not too much can be learnt from this, as it is very similar in nature to the simple 3P% metric. Moving on.

looking at 3PTx/36, we see Steph Curry is by far the best shooter of all time, which gives promise that if he can continue to play like he has been in the last two MVP seasons, he is going to absolutely destroy every 3 point record known to man that he hasn’t already thrown by the wayside. We also see Steve Novak get some vindication, if anybody needed convincing that he wasn’t the best 3 point shooter of all time until Curry came along. We also see Klay Thompson coming in 3rd all time. It’s just incredible to think you’re justified in saying that the Warriors literally have the two best 3 point shooters of all time on their team. Some of the historic players on the list have been bumped further down the list and we see more modern players rise to the top, most likely a product of the fact that coaches encourage their shooters to take more attempts per game. We also see Marcus Smart, a player we might recognise from the 2015-16 data as a Chucker. By the numbers, he jacks up the most bad 3 point attempts per 36 of any player, in the history of the league. We also see players like KOBE with numbers that don’t look so bad given the amount of games they’ve played.

Finally, a look at 3PTx/game, which removes the occasional outliers like Steve Novak, and gives a clear look at which players are able to find the most looks from beyond the arc in a game and most help their team on the offensive end. What do we find? Klay Thompson and Steph Curry at the top of the list. Incredible. Marcus Smart once again, huge chucker, and Steve Novak still incredibly high on the list, right on par with Steve Nash.

The next step for this metric is to improve the personalisation. Instead of applying a league wide Offensive Rating, applying the Offensive Rating of each player’s team for that season would provide further accuracy, as a 3 point shooter isn’t passing up a 3 to a league average team, he’s passing it up to the team he’s currently on, so it would favour players who needed to take more 3s because they were on a bad team.

Let me know what you think of the metric and if you’ve got any comments or suggestions for improvements, I’m all ears.

  • Statistics provided by Basketball-Reference
  • Graphs provided by tableau.com
  • Read about how the metric works and how it applies to the 2015-16 class here
  • twitter: @jackneubecker
  • email: pointforwardpod@gmail.com
  • An Article by Jack Neubecker

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