The NBA's greatest ever three-point shooters: Curry, Allen, Miller...
After Stephen Curry surpassed Ray Allen's record for NBA regular-season three pointers, we take a look at the best shooters from distance in the league's history.
Curry now has the record he was missing. He already had the most threes overall in the NBA, but was yet to become the regular-season three-point king, which carries the most prestige. Curry’s collection of feats is truly out of this world: the most three pointers in a single season, the most games in a row with at least one successful three-point shot, the most three pointers in a single playoffs, NBA leader in successful three-point shots in six seasons, the highest three-point percentage in four seasons, two-time three-point contest winner… But without doubt Curry’s most significant contribution to the history books is the feeling that, as part of Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors, he has revolutionised the game of basketball. Players now throw threes from eight and nine metres back, and it’s because he popularised it.
A classy three-point shooter who rarely missed. A player with a very upright shooting action, Allen became a specialist over the years; when he was starting out at the Milwaukee Bucks, he was more of a powerful player and scored points in many other ways. After a spell in Seattle, he moved to Boston, where he won the NBA title in 2008 alongside another three-point sharp shooter in Paul Pierce. His second championship ring, with the Miami Heat in 2013, wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for his buzzer-beating shot against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6. His records have steadily fallen over time - and the latest is his feat of 2,973 regular-season threes during an 18-year NBA career.
Thompson's underrated for one simple reason: he plays alongside Curry. But there are so many memorable performances: his 14 threes in Chicago, his 60 points in three quarters, his 37 points in a single quarter, the night the Warriors came back against Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder, before Durant's move to Golden State… Thompson’s technique is one of the most orthodox out there and has led him to be the perfect companion to Curry, his leader and friend. One thing that works against Thompson, though, is the question of what he might have been had he not shared a locker room with Curry and been able to fly solo. Injuries permitting, he’s on pace for the top 15 three-point scorers.
Miller, the standard bearer for the Indiana Pacers between the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, made it seem easy. The Pacers got to the finals once and it was, in part, thanks to his fantastic scoring ability from distance. He had led the NBA in three pointers scored during a season twice before, both during the total domination of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. When Miller retired in 2005, he had become the NBA’s leading three-point scorer, before being overtaken by Allen and Curry. His eight points in nine seconds against the New York Knicks, his favourite victim, is his most famous feat.
Harden won the MVP award on one occasion and has been close on another three. It’s no coincidence. His capacity to find points out of nowhere is boundless. Harden’s habit of colliding with defenders to win free throws has generated a fair amount of controversy, but this unfairly overshadows his ability on three pointers. We’re talking about a player in the top three of the NBA’s most prolific three-point scorers, after all. Before the likes of Luka Doncic followed his lead, Harden was already bamboozling opponents with his three pointers thrown after taking a step backwards, a technique that has been regularly repeated over time but which the 32-year-old, who also takes advantage of the fact that left-handers are harder to defend against, was the first to get major results from.
An out-and-out specialist. At the Utah Jazz and the Atlanta Hawks, Korver became an institution for the way he hit three pointers, with his ability to evade blocks, his tendency to lean forward as he shot and, above all, the regularity with which he found the basket. His tally of 2,450 threes with a success rate of 42% is, for now, bettered only by Curry. Korver joined the Cleveland Cavaliers right after their 2016 NBA championship win and retired at the Milwaukee Bucks just before they lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2021. In recent years, only J.J. Redick has matched him as the best three-point-scoring shooting guard.
Petrovic only spent four years in the NBA, but he certainly made his mark in that time. Everything he had experienced before arriving in the US, from Yugoslavia to Croatia, from Cibona to Real Madrid, combined to produce a player that the world looked upon with awe at the Brooklyn Nets, his last team before his death at the age of just 28. His success rate of 43.7% on three pointers in the NBA makes him one of the best in history in this department, and speaks volumes for the shot selection of player who had fewer opportunities to go for the basket than in Europe. An old-school specialist who would keep his arms close together and generate power with a quick right-arm action, he went down in history thanks to his shooting and his irreverent character.
A three-time winner of the three-point contest, Bird had an incredible capacity to find the basket from anywhere, including from behind the three-point line. That image of Bird, warm-up jacket still on and finger pointing into the air in 1988, a man who knew his shot was in from the moment it left his hand, is legendary. A power-forward who did not boast a hugely athletic physique, Bird was the dominant figure at the Celtics, leading Boston to a period of success bettered only by the franchise’s incomparable period of glory during the Bill Russell era. Bird was one of the first players to shine from the three-point line after it was introduced in 1980, showing that he was among those with the best qualities for it.
Together with personal coach and former international Holger Geschwinder, Nowitzki developed a nigh-on perfect three-point technique. During his 21 seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, the German sank 2,131 threes across regular seasons and playoffs, a tally that places him in the top 10 among guards. And, it should be remembered, it wasn’t even his signature shot. That was his post-up, fadeaway jumper.
Lillard may be the most contentious pick among this top 10, but the Portland Trail Blazers point guard boasts an impressive scoring rate from behind the three-point line and, although he still has a few years ahead of him, his total number of successful three-point shots is already among the best. The 31-year-old is also proving the standard bearer for the option of shooting from way out to avoid the attentions of the defender. His powerful lower body and good footwork are important to the excellent technique behind his success as a three-point shooter.