Stephen Curry, Pistol Pete, and Carmelo Anthony: what makes a good shooter?


DJ Note: This is another post that started with a couple of observations I made on Facebook.  And then — through the brilliant work of Devin — it is transformed into something more interesting.  Hope you enjoy!

Rick Reilly thinks that Stephen Curry is the best shooter since Pistol Pete. Clearly, he and I have a different definition of “good”. I think a good shooter is someone who gets the ball to go in the basket. Reilly thinks a good shooter is someone who can launch a basketball in the direction of the basket:

I saw Maravich in person. Nobody could shoot like Pistol. He could get his shot off in handcuffs. Scouts used to put his range down as ’10 feet to hotel elevator.’ He didn’t need space, teammates or a clean look. All he needed was the ball — and he only needed that for three seconds.

Now, it’s tricky to determine to compare Maravich’s shooting efficiency to what we see today. Unfortunately, Maravich played 9 of his 10 seasons without the three-point line, so some of his shots could have been worth extra points had he been a bit younger. It’s possible — albeit unlikely — that he was as efficient a shooter as Curry. In 2007, when I looked at his career, I found that Pistol Pete was inefficient scorer who tends to commit turnovers. But that’s not really important to the larger point I’m making: instead of measuring Maravich by what percentage of his shots went in, Reilly decided to support his case with Maravich’s ability to get his shots off from anywhere on the court.

The thing is, not only is taking shots from anywhere on the court and under duress not a rare skill, it’s also not connected to winning. Anyone can take a half-court shot, or a turn-around, fade-away three-pointer with a hand in your face. The real question is: can you make those shots?  Again — as is often said in this forum (and elsewhere) –– shooting percentage is one of the single most important contributors to winning in basketball.

Of course, by NBA standards, the exploits of Maravich are ancient history. A more contemporary example of the focus on the ability to launch shots is Carmelo Anthony. When people argue that Carmelo Anthony is not one of the top players in the game, it’s games like Game 4 of this year’s series between the Knicks and the Celtics that help make the case (of course, his career performance makes an even better case). Yes, he scored 36 points, but it took 35 field goal attempts and 20 free-throw attempts to get those points. An average-shooting power forward would’ve scored 52 points given that many shot attempts! Not to mention the fact that he also committed seven turnovers and failed to rebound like a power forward. In sum, he was awful. But the write-up of the game failed to note his awfulness. And I suspect Melo fans won’t remember this as well. Because many fans are impressed with Melo’s ability to take difficult shots from all over the court, they tend to forget that these shots often miss.

One might hope that 30 years from now, most NBA fans will have learned that making shots is more important than taking shots. But one suspects that someone like Reilly will probably be writing “I saw Melo in person. And until I saw so-and-so, I never thought I would see a better player.”

And when that happens, Devin and I will be saying: “you know, 30 years ago we said….”

– DJ and Devin

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