Shooting is the first thing any basketball player learns to do. Sure we hear stories of kids dribbling the ball to school in the morning, but every hoopster needs to be able to get buckets. And if there’s one thing that Steph Curry has taught a generation of kids, it’s that truly great shooting can carry you farther than might seem possible. Shooting is the foundational skill of basketball, and also the most accessible – all you need is a hoop and a ball, a coconut and a milk crate, or, as writers like me can attest, a wadded up piece of paper and a trash can.
When ranking the best shooters, I used the following criteria:
• Percentages – how often does he make shots?
• Range – I didn’t consider anyone who can’t shoot threes.
• Aesthetics – style points awarded for form, swagger and celebrations, and of course bonus points for lefties.
• Creator vs. spot-up – bonus points for guys who can get their own shot.
• Reputation – do I need to explain this?
• Shooters only – finishing is not shooting; it is different. And totally awesome, but it deserves its own article.
• “Right now” – this is not career rankings, future rankings, or anything else. Who is the best shooter? Right. Now.
Now that I’ve explained my system, let’s move right along to the Sultans of Swish, the long-range bombers, the downtown chuckers, the nylon rippers, the knock-down, in-yo-eye, make-Mike-Breen-say-BANG, gun-slingin’ shooters.
20. Gary Harris – Denver Nuggets
The Michigan State product can straight ball. He made 100+ threes his past two seasons, reaching that mark in ‘16-’17 in just 57 games. Harris is a humble dude who lets his shot do the talking. He’s taking six threes per game this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him start taking more. He’s at 42% from distance the past two seasons, the result of a remarkable work ethic that his coach Michael Malone talks about a lot. He benefits from the dynamite passing of Nikola Jokić, both as a shooter and as a cutter. That’s one reason he isn’t higher on the list, but expect the talented 23-year-old to develop an ability to create his own shot as he matures.
19. Khris Middleton – Milwaukee Bucks
Middleton is shooting 35% from three on the season, but don’t be alarmed – he came into the year above 40% and should be back near there by season’s end. He’s adjusting to an expanded role in Milwaukee, taking a career high 16 shots per game. The Bucks are still figuring out exactly how to space the floor with the new addition of Eric Bledsoe, so Middleton should find more room on the perimeter as Giannis and Bledsoe create havoc with penetration. He uses a little too much off-hand to be in the upper echelon of pure shooters, but Middleton is one of the best long-range snipers, and a star in the making.
18. Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics
I’d be remiss to leave off the kid, who at just 19 is leading the NBA in three-point percentage, hitting a scorching 51% of his treys. He was a known assassin coming into the 2017 NBA Draft, but scouts and teams often love to dream on upside versus demonstrated skill. Well, Tatum is proving that his college achievements are replicable in the pros, as he has put up 14 points per game through 25 contests, sporting a sparkling 51%/51%/83% line. He’s got a slightly funky shooting motion, using a lot of off-hand and getting out in front of his feet, but the ball goes in the hoop, don’t it? We’ll keep him down on the list until he proves himself more, but it’s impossible not to be impressed with this shooter.
Image Sources: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports, Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports, Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports, David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports