Last week, Ray Allen surpassed Reggie Miller to become the the leader in most three-pointers made. The record itself is hardly written in stone. The three-point shot is a relatively new record and it took the NBA nearly a decade before team’s routinely used it as normal part of the offensive game. By way of a quick history, the shot came into being in the NBA in 1979-80 and was mostly a novelty. In watching the old footage, one can see that the teams would only use the shot as a Keystone Kops routine where with a minute or two left the players on the trailing team would dribble out to the three-point line, turn around and shoot without getting squared away. Predictably, the shot was not a huge success at that time. This changed over time and the early 1990s were really the first time players came into the NBA using the three-point as a staple of the most teams’ offensive strategy.
This is not to downplay how well Allen has played and how well he has shot. While Allen did get a slightly earlier start to his career than Miller, Allen has legitimately shot more effectively from three-point land than Miller. Miller never averaged more than 6.5 threes per 36 minutes and Allen beat that mark six seasons in a row, maxing out at 8.4 threes per 36 minutes with the Sonics in 2005-06. Both players, by the way, shoot roughly the same from downtown (.398 for Allen vs. .395 for Miller). Another interesting note is that Allen is currently shooting a career high .456% from three this year, well above his previous career high of .434%.
Interestingly, a few years ago, Bill Simmons put forth in his Book of Baseball that Allen was close to surpassing Miller as a player. I felt that this was a decidedly non-controversial thesis at the time. Objectively, Allen was the better and more complete player in their primes. Check their career per-36 minute stats:
-Reggie Miller: 19.1 pts, .471 FG%, .395 3FG%, 5.3 FTA, 3.2 rebs, 3.1 asts, 1.1 stls, 0.2 blks, 2.1 TOs, 18.4 PER
-Ray Allen: 19.8 pts, .452 FG%, .398 3FG%, 4.0 FTA, 4.2 rebs, 3.5 asts, 1.1 stls, 0.2 blks, 2.2 TOs, 19.3 PER
Allen isn’t a lot better and he might decline from ages 36-38 but the stats bare out Allen’s better overall game (with the exception of field goal percentage from two and free throws drawn). In Miller’s defense, he spent the latter part of his career on slow-paced teams that kept his scoring numbers down. Where do Allen and Miller currently rank on mythical list of two guards? Limiting the list to players since the Magic-Bird Era, here’s how I see the Top Ten right now:
1. Michael Jordan: Safely ensconced ahead of Kobe
2. Kobe Bryant: Vaulted Drexler a while ago but needs a remarkable few years still to get to MJ
3. Clyde Drexler: Always underrated, a truly great player
4. Dwyane Wade: This might be a little high so far but he is in the picture for second two guard of All-Time
5. Ray Allen: Model of consistency
6. Reggie Miller: Ditto
7. Manu Ginobili: Manu is better than both Allen and Miller but had a later start to his NBA career and might not catch them
8. Tracy McGrady: I know he’s been done for awhile but the first half of his career counts too. Was as good or better than Kobe until about 2004
9. Vince Carter: He earned some of the vilification in Toronto but was a legitimately great player
10. Allen Iverson: AI was a scoring machine but overrated since he fit so poorly in most schemes and was a real pain to coach most of the time.
Speaking of the three-point shot, it would not shock you to know that the All-Time career leader changed quite often. Just in case your wondering, here are the career leaders as of the the end of each NBA season since the shot was adopted in 1979-80, with some commentary along the way:
-through 1979-80, Brian Taylor (90): This ex-ABAer didn’t actually make too many in the ABA (career best was 32 in that league). Taylor’s career was over two years later and he made only 67 more threes in that time.
-through 1980-81, Brian Taylor (134): After leading the NBA with 90 in 1979-80, Taylor only made 44 but he kept the All-Time lead since Mike Bratz led the NBA with only 57.
-through 1981-82, Joey Hassett (193): Not a great shooter but Hassett was willing to fling them (71-214 from three in 1981-82 for .332%). Interestingly, Hassett played only six more NBA games and made only one more three-pointer after 1981-82.
-through 1982-83, Joey Hassett (194): The original three-point shooters (Taylor, Hassett, and Chris Ford) were all gone and not too many new ones emerged, so Hassett kept his crown despite his career ending (Mike Dunleavy led the league with 67 that season).
-through 1983-84, Joey Hassett (194): Same story but Hassett was on borrowed time since Darrell Griffith set the new NBA record for threes made that season (91).
-through 1984-85, Darrell Griffith (246): Griffith broke his own record of threes made by hitting 92 and took a commanding lead in the All-Time race.
-through 1985-86, Larry Bird (267): We all remember Bird as a great three-point shooter (and he was) but his slow ascension reflects the reluctance of 1980s teams to shoot from three. In fact, Bird never averaged more than 1.3 threes made per game in his career.
-through 1986-87, Larry Bird (357): In case you are wondering, Hassett was still eighth on the All-Time list at this point.
-through 1987-88, Larry Bird (455): Bird had opened a 114-shot lead over the second place Griffith by this time. Incidentally, Danny Ainge set the new mark for threes in a season with 148.
-through 1988-89, Dale Ellis (472): Bird’s heal injuries knocked him out for the season and Ellis exploded with 162 threes to take the crown. Michael Adams broke Ainge’s record with 166 threes.
-through 1989-90, Dale Ellis (568)
-through 1990-91, Michael Adams (658): Adams was never particularly accurate from three but after four seasons of leading the NBA in attempts, he took the lead in makes too. Vernon Maxwell, another chucker, broke Adams’ records for makes in a season with 172.
-through 1991-92, Michael Adams (783): Ellis came back from injuries to close Adams’ lead to only 20 threes.
-through 1992-93, Dale Ellis (882): As Adams slowed down, Ellis retook the corwn.
-through 1993-94, Dale Ellis (1,013): Dan Majerle sets the new record for makes in a seasons (192). Bird has already fallen to ninth All-Time.
-through 1994-95, Dale Ellis (1,119): John Starks sets the new record for makes with 217.
-through 1995-96, Dale Ellis (1,269): Miller is only 66 threes from Ellis. Dennis Scott breaks Starks’ record by hitting 267.
-through 1996-97, Dale Ellis (1,461): Miller closes the gap to 29.
-through 1997-98, Reggie Miller (1,596): Miller’s got the record but only by eight threes.
-through 1998-99, Reggie Miller (1,702): Ellis falls behind by 20 threes. Glen Rice is a distant third at 1,269.
-through 1999-00, Reggie Miller (1,867): Miller now is building his lead to 148 over Ellis. Gary Payton leads the league in threes with only 177, the fewest in a full season to lead the NBA since 1992-93.
-through 2000-01, Reggie Miller (2,037)
-through 2001-02, Reggie Miller (2,217): Tim Hardaway jumps Rice for third place with 1,531.
-through 2002-03, Reggie Miller (2,330): Rice and Hardaway continue the seesaw battle for third with Rice ahead by 12 threes.
-through 2003-04, Reggie Miller (2,464)
-through 2004-05, Reggie Miller (2,560): Ellis, Rice, and Hardaway are done but Ray Allen is now up to fifth All-Time (1,486).
-through 2005-06, Reggie Miller (2,560): Miller retires in the year that Allen breaks Scott’s three-point record by hitting 269 threes. Allen vaults to second All-Time with 1,755 (Ellis finished with 1,719).
-through 2006-07, Reggie Miller (2,560): Allen is up to 1,920.
-through 2007-08, Reggie Miller (2,560): Allen is up to 2,100.
-through 2008-09, Reggie Miller (2,560): Allen is up to 2,299. Peja Stojakovic is now fourth All-Time with 1,571.
-through 2009-10, Reggie Miller (2,560): Allen is up to 2,444.
Allen does not appear to have much in the way of immediate challengers for the crown. The other active leaders (Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic and Chauncey Billups) are actually older than Allen and well behind (Kidd is second but over 800 threes behind Allen). Who is most likely to catch Allen? I don’t see any likely candidates at this point. The only players under 30 anywhere on the active leader board are J.R. Smith (age-25 and 840 threes), Ben Gordon (age-27 and 921 threes), Maurice Williams (age-28 and 661 threes), and Kevin Martin (age-27 and 607 threes). By comparison, Allen had 1,277 threes by age-28. Smith has an outside shot here but he must stay in a system like Denver that encourages three-pointers and he must have the longevity that a volatile player like him might not alway have. Gordon also has a shot but he is bit too old to expect keeping pace with Allen when he enters his 30s. The upshot is that Allen should keep his record for at least as long as Miller did.