Warrior head coach Mark Jackson's recent comments about his own Golden State guard tandem being the "best shooting backcourt ever" got me to thinking about who really fits that bill.
For while Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are an excellent-shooting young guard duo, such a statement is pretty ludicrous, especially when one considers how little the pair have played together. Yet if someone in a position of authority (and a very partial one at that like Jackson) makes a statement emphatically and powerfully from his bully pulpit, a lot of unknowledgable or easily-cowed folks can and do take it as the truth.
After all, Shaq often said he made free throws when they counted. Well, just because you are big and occasionally menacing doesn't make it true, Mr. O'Neal. And his "I dare you to confront me" claim wasn't even remotely true, as the statistics bear out.
That said, Curry is a tremendous shooter and Thompson is also quite good, but the duo simply haven't played enough together and shot well for long enough to seriously be in the conversation as THE best ever. Maybe if they keep up the same pace or improve and do it over time, they will be ranked among the very best ever. As a potential roadblock to the tandem, Curry has been hampered by serious foot and ankle injuries throughout his short NBA career.
The over-emphasis on three-point shooting in the last 20 years or so has caused the last few generations to be better extremely long-distance shooters in general than those of the post-sset shot era, but it also has caused them to be far less accurate from mid-range, long mid-range and the free throw line.
The instant gratification effect that technology has spawned has mirrored sports via the home run mentality, and has manifested itself in over-dependence on and a near obsession with the three-pointer in basketball, especially at the college level. And with it comes a misconception that because a person can shoot fairly well from 23 or 24 feet (or 20-21 feet in college), they have mastered all the shots from 10, 12, 15, 17, 18 and 20 feet.
The truth is that many players who can shoot 40 percent or so behind the line can't shoot 35 percent on a shot one step inside the line, or even 30-35 percent two steps inside the line, because they rarely practice those shots that require touch and control.
So in response to the bombastic Jackson's loud proclamation, I say, perhaps a bit presumptuously on behalf of basketball historians everywhere, "no" to the idea that Curry and Thompson are the greatest ever, and argue that they are not even close at this point. Jackson's claim also reeks of "now-ism", the arrogant and unknowing, major media driven disease that deems whatever is most recently good is also the best of all time.
It is so easy to forget the best from the past, especially eras when there was no 24/7 ESPN, League Pass or Internet that gave constant coverage, exposure and over-analysis.
With that in mind, here is my list of the best-shooting backcourts ever. As criteria for the top 10, the guards first need to have started together or played very significant minutes in the backcourt at the same time over more than a season.
Accuracy from mid-range, long-range, foul shooting, scoring and consistent accuracy from all angles are the key criteria, with longevity a nice bonus. A subjective, aesthetically-pleasing shooting form, release and arch help too, but the results are what count most.
1) Jerry West and Gail Goodrich (LA Lakers 1965-68, 1970-74). West (25.8 points per game) and Goodrich (25.9) combined to tally the highest points per contest average of any backcourt in NBA history in 1971-72 (51.7 ppg) as they led the Lakers to a record 33-game win streak and their first NBA title in LA. West is one of the greatest shooters ever and Goodrich was an excellent marksman with an extremely high release point that was deadly accurate. In their time together, particularly in the early 1970s, both shot well over 80% from the line and in the upper 40s from the field, no mean feat for smallish jump-shooters. This, in an era with no NBA three-point line, although both were considered to be top-notch deep shooters. In 1972-73, they combined for 46.7 ppg, 47% FG shooting and 82% foul shooting as they led the Lakers back to the Finals. The following season was the last of West's career and his campaign was shortened to 31 games by a knee injury. With Mr. Clutch out for over half the year, the quick Goodrich stepped up his game to average career-bests of 25.3 ppg and 86.4 FT%, and he was rewarded with first team all-league status. A 35-year old West still scored 20.3 ppg, his lowest mark since his rookie season 13 years earlier. The duo combined to shoot just under 45% from the field and 85% at the charity stripe but without a healthy West, LA lost to eventual runner-up Milwaukee in the playoffs. When asked if the West/Goodrich backcourt was as good as the great Bill Sharman/Bob Cousy tandem of his Celtics, then-Laker coach Sharman laughed and said "hell yes, they are better than we were." Goodrich, a left-hander, is arguably the best southpaw guard shooter in NBA history. In 14 NBA years he shot just under 46% from the floor and 81% at the line despite standing barely over 6-0, and was the shortest player in pro hoops history to score over 20,000 season and playoff career points when he retired in 1979. West retired five years earlier with an incredible 27 points per game average (29.1 in the playoffs!) while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 81.4 percent at the foul line in a legendary career from 1960-74. West, along with Larry Bird, is the premier clutch shooter in NBA history, and Goodrich was no slouch himself. Gail averaged 35 ppg in the 1965 NCAA tournament and led the Lakers in scoring during the 1971 and 1972 playoffs at just under 25 ppg, while canning 192 of 221 foul shots over those post-seasons (86.9%). Both of these greats are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and only the number nine tandem on this list can also make that impressive claim.
2) Billy Keller and Rick Mount (Purdue 1967-69 and Indiana Pacers ABA 1970-72). These back-to-back Indiana Mr. Basketball winners (Keller 1965, Mount 1966) teamed up to lead Purdue to the 1969 NCAA Finals and then re-united with the Pacers in the ABA for two seasons, winning the league title in 1972. Three-time All-American Mount had arguably the most perfect jump shot form ever yet the underrated Keller actually crafted higher free throw and three-point percentages and was a better pro. In their 1972 ABA title season, the duo combined for 25 ppg in just 50 minutes per outing. The speedy 5-10 Keller shot 87.9% from the foul line that year and 87% for his eight-year career, and both were over 30% from beyond the 25-foot ABA three-point arc. Keller led the ABA in three-pointers made three times and shot a respectable 43% from the field for his career even though close to 30% of his attempts were treys. The 6-3 Mount's form was so classic that he was the first team sports high schooler ever featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1966 as a schoolboy legend in Lebanon, Indiana. Rick averaged 32.3 ppg in three seasons at Purdue, with a high of 35.4 as a senior in 1969-70. He averaged 39 ppg in Big 10 play that season with no shot clock or three-point line. His 61-point outburst against league champion Iowa in a 108-107 loss that decided the league title was a Big 10 record. Estimates from film review show that he would have scored 74 or 75 points in that game had the three-point line been in effect then. In 1968-69, Keller and Mount took Purdue to the NCAA championship game against Lew Alcindor and UCLA, but lost as Keller and Herm Gilliam were hampered by injury, seven-footer Chuck Bavis was sidelined with a broken collarbone suffered earlier in the NCAA tournament, and Mount suffered a rare off shooting night. The Keller/Mount tandem combined to average 44.4 ppg in 1967-68, while shooting 46 percent from the field and 84 percent from the line. In their Final Four season the next year when Mount was a junior and Keller a senior, the sharpshooting duo combined to shoot 86% from the stripe, 50% from the field and ripped the nets at 46.6 ppg. Mount's favorite shot was a high-arching pull-up jumper from the deep right corner that would clear the corner of the backboard before settling into the net. After retiring in 1975 due to a serious shoulder injury, the legendary marksman fittingly went on to market a toss-back shooting machine and run shooting camps. Keller also ran a basketball camp.
Jeff Hornacek and John Stockton (Utah 1994-2000). This tandem led Utah to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998 as the best-shooting backcourt of recent years. Stockton came into the league as a mediocre shooter but became an outstanding shooter with his off the right ear release. Hornacek's textbook shot and arch led him to shoot a league-best 95% at the foul line and 47.8% beyond the arc in his final season at age 36. When teamed with the slick-passing Stockton, Hornacek shot 50% over seven years and never shot less than 88.2% at the charity stripe. Jeff also made an incredible 43% from three-point land in his time with Stock. The durable duo rarely missed a game at Utah. For his 19-season career, the 6-1 Stockton made 51.5% of his field goal tries, 38.4% of his triple tries and 82.6% of his foul shots. In his seven years with Hornacek, John shot almost 53% from the floor, over 40% on three's and 82 percent at the charity stripe. Unfortunately, the duo were already in their 30's when they teamed up and their best years physically were just behind them. Still, with their incredible skills, smarts and determination, they helped will the Jazz to the brink of titles in 1997 and 1998. In perhaps their best season of 1996-97, Stockton shot 54 percent from the field, 42 percent from three-point land and 85% at the foul line while scoring 14.4 ppg on just 9.3 shots a night. Former Iowa State walk-on Hornacek shot 48, 37 and 90 while tallying 14.5 ppg. The year before Jeff shot 50, 47 and 89 and scored over 15 ppg. Stockton shot 54, 42 and 83 as wrist and hamstring injuries kept the Jazz one game from making the Finals. The efficient duo took just 20.7 shots per game in 1995-96 yet scored 29.9 ppg. Stockton was also one of the best clutch shooters and players of his era.
4) Calvin Murphy and Mike Newlin (Houston 1971-79). This sharpshooting duo is mostly forgotten, and throughout their time together one or the other sometimes came off the bench to provide the Rockets with a spark. But both were great marksmen out to 22 feet and were superb foul shooters. Known for his all-out style of hustling play, the underrated 6-4 Newlin shot 87% for his career from the charity stripe and canned a very solid 46.6% from the field. Remarkably consistent, Newlin never shot less than 86% at the line over the last 10 seasons of his 11-year career. The husky, bearded guard posted five seasons between 17 and 22 ppg, with his Houston season-high being 18.6 ppg. The equally energetic 5-9 Murphy was even more accurate. The muscular midget dynamo shot an eye-popping 89.2% from the foul line in his long career and connected on 48.2% from the field. Highlighting his accuracy at the line were six seasons over 90%, capped by an incredible, then-record high of 95.8% in 1980-81. The speedy Murphy averaged 17.9 ppg over 13 seasons all for the Rockets, with a high of 25.6 ppg in 1977-78. He held the NBA record for most consecutive free throws made (78) for well over a decade. Murphy averaged a whopping 33.1 ppg in three varsity seasons at Niagara from 1967-70 and then proved his doubters wrong in the pros, showing that a little man could not only play but excel in the tall man's world of the NBA. He made the All-Star team in 1979 at age 30 and registered five campaigns of 20 points a game or more.
5) Mark Price and Terrell Brandon (Cleveland 1991-95). This small but extremely sharp shooting duo might rate even higher except they didn't start much together or play at the same time a majority of their minutes. Price, arguably the best shooter in NBA history, was just starting to decline due to age and injury by the time time Brandon was reaching his Cavalier peak in the mid-1990s. Both were incredible foul shooters and mid-range shooters, but four-time All-Star Price was clearly better from deep distances. The diminutive Price is the shortest man to win back-to-back three-point All-Star weekend shootout titles and retired as the NBA's career free throw percentage leader (90.4%). From 1990-93, Price splashed a mind-boggling 95% of his foul shots. He suffered a devastating ACL injury early in the 1990-91 season just as he was entering his prime at 26, yet he recovered to regain All-Star status. Listed at 6-0 but closer to 5-10 and 170 lbs., he was a career 40.2 shooter behind the arc and made first team All-NBA once, and third team three times in an era of great point guards - and probably could have made more appearances had he been more selfish. Speedy with a lightning-quick, stop on a dime release capped by perfect shooting form and arch, he led the ACC in scoring as a freshman at Georgia Tech, where he became a two-time All-American and resurrected the dormant Yellow Jacket program. Brandon was also small and very quick at just 5-11 and 175 lbs., yet was a two-time All-Star who shot 87.3% at the foul line over 11 seasons. He shot 44.8% from the field and 35.5% on three-pointers over his career, but this sharpshooting duo's careers overlapped for only four seasons. There also was friction between the two as Brandon contended he should have been starting over Price, even when Mark was earning first team all-league notice in 1992-93. This led to Price being dealt to Washington to team up with his brother Brent, another excellent shooter, but their sibling reunion was cut short by injuries, or they might well be on the top 10 list.
6) Louie Dampier and Darel Carrier (Kentucky ABA 1967-72). This little-known ABA bomber backcourt was exceptional from deep for the Colonels during their first five seasons of existence in the upstart league. The 6-3 Carrier, out of Western Kentucky, and the 6-0 Dampier, an Indianapolis native who led Kentucky to the 1966 NCAA finals, were a great but almost-forgotten shooting duo. Yet the 5-11 Dampier, not the much-more celebrated Dr. J, is the all-time leading scorer and assist man in ABA history. He shot over 44% from the field in 12 pro seasons, and made 82% of his free throwss while canning 36% beyond the 25-foot ABA three-point arc. In perhaps their best season together in 1968-69, Dampier (24.8 ppg) and Carrier (23.2 ppg) combined for 48 ppg, second-most among pro backcourts ever behind only the Hall of Fame pairing of West and Goodrich in 1971-72. Carrier averaged 23 ppg his first three ABA seasons, despite being a 27-year old rookie in the league's first season. In a shortened six-season pro career (the ABA did not start until 1967 after Carrier had been cut by the Hawks in 1964) he averaged 20 ppg, shot 85% from the line, 42% from the field and canned 38% of his three's. He led the ABA in three-point accuracy in 1969 and 1970, and shot a career-best 89.2% from the charity stripe to also lead the league in 1970. In their five seasons together, the sweet-shooting tandem averaged almost 43 ppg and shot nearly 85% at the line while leading the league in three-point field goals. Overall, they made 10 ABA All-Star Game appearances, seven by Dampier.
7) Pete Maravich and Lou Hudson (Atlanta 1971-74). This duo of 6-5 Hawk marksmen would rate higher except for the fact that Hudson played small forward much of the time when Pistol Pete was running the show from the backcourt. Hudson was one of the best pure shooters of the era while Maravich was arguably the greatest shotmaker and all-around backcourt offensive player ever. In 1971-72 the duo combined to score 44 ppg while shooting 46% from the floor and 81% at the foul line. In 1972-73, swingman Hudson scored 27.1 ppg and Maravich netted 26.1 while the duo combined to shoot 45% on field goals and 82% at the line. In 1973-74, their final year together, Pistol Pete tallied 27.7 ppg and Sweet Lou netted 25.4. Hudson canned half of his shots from the floor and 83.6% at the charity stripe, while Maravich splashed 46% and 82.6 at the line. Pistol Pete was then dealt to the New Orleans expansion Jazz, where he would win a scoring title in 1976-77 at 31.1 ppg. Hudson was the more consistent jump shooter, with Pistol Pete possessing greater creativity and shotmaking ability, as well as deeper shooting range. But as was said before, Hudson spent much of his time at small forward and only some at guard with Maravich, forcing them lower in the rankings.
Oscar Robertson and Jon McGlocklin (Cincinnati 1965-67, Milwaukee 1970-74). Using his great size and strength to back down and shoot over smaller guards, Oscar was a deadly mid-range shooter and free thrower with his unique one-handed style. Meanwhile, McGlocklin was one of the most accurate long-distance shooters of his era, particularly from what would have been three-point range on the strength of a high-arching, pinpoint shot. In the Buck championship season of 1970-71, the all-Indiana 6-5 backcourt tandem combined to score 35.2 ppg (Oscar 19.4, McGlocklin 15.8). In that title season, McGlocklin shot an impressive 53.5% from the field and 86.2% at the foul line, while Oscar canned 49.6% from the floor and 85% at the line. Over his 10-season career, McGlocklin shot 48.9% on field goals and 84.5% at the line, where he shot as high as 90% one season. McGlocklin made one All-Star team in his career-high scoring campaign of 19.8 in 1968-69 for the Bucks, and posted four straight seasons of over 50% field goal shooting despite most of his shots coming from the perimeter. Twelve-time All-Star Robertson shot 48.5% from the floor and 83.8% at the line in his Hall of Fame career yet rarely shot outside 17-18 feet simply because he didn't have to. The Hoosier duo first hooked up with the Royals from 1965-67, although McGlocklin was a swingman reserve in his first two seasons at the time and didn't play as much with Oscar during that span. The tandem reunited in Milwaukee three years later with great results.
9) Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe (New York 1971-77). The acclaimed Rolls Royce backcourt was an accurate shooting and charismatic duo, with the ultra-cool Clyde icily clutch and the flashy Pearl providing funky fire. Neither one shot well from what would be three-point range today, but as mid-range shooters out to 18 feet or so, both were extremely lethal. Once fierce former adversaries who headlined the rugged Knick/Bullet rivalry of the late 1960s and early 70s, they became unlikely backcourt mates after a blockbuster trade early in the 1971-72 season. Despite some early struggles to adjust, the duo meshed and combined to win the NBA title in 1973, the second and last one in Knick history. The heady Frazier rarely took a bad shot and hit on 49 percent from the floor and 78.6% at the charity stripe over 12 seasons. He was at his best in the clutch. In their six full seasons together, the pair averaged just under 40 ppg, shot in the high 40s form the field and low 80s from the foul line. Clyde was almost always under control while jazz-man Earl did on the ground what Dr. J did in the air. Known for popularizing the spin move, the gyrating Monroe shot 46.4% from the floor in 13 pro years and hit on 80.7% of his foul shots.
10) Tie: Fred Brown and Dick Snyder (Seattle 1971-74, 78-79). This incredibly unsung backcourt was one of the most accurate shooting tandems in NBA history. Downtown Freddie Brown was a great shooter from all distances and Snyder was one of the most efficient and unsung two guards of the early 1970s. The underrated 6-5 Snyder, like Stephen Curry a product of tiny Davidson College, shot 53, 53, 46 and 48 percent from the field in four full seasons with the SuperSonics. In those same four campaigns he shot 84, 84, 86 and 87 percent from the foul line in succession while averaging 17 ppg. Brown, a creative 6-3 shotmaker, was a career 86 percent foul shooter and 48 percent field goal marksman in 13 seasons with Seattle. In his years with Snyder, "Downtown" made 85 percent from the line and in 1973-74, the duo combined for 34.6 ppg while making 48 percent of their floor shots and over 86 percent of their free throws. In the first year the NBA employed the three-point shot, Brown topped the league with 44.3% accuracy beyond the long distance stripe. His career-high scoring average season was 23.1 in 1975-76. Snyder went on to hit the "Miracle at Richfield" shot, a one-footed runner off glass to win game seven of the 1976 eastern semifinals by one vs. favored Washington in the final seconds for his home area Cavaliers. He later came back to Seattle and won an NBA title with sixth man Brown and the Sonics as a reserve guard in 1979, then retired.
10) tie: Oscar Robertson and Adrian Smith, (Cincinnati 1961-70). Next to Cousy and Sharman, this backcourt played more years together than any other starting tandem. Smith was a very accurate yet diminutive sniper who nailed 84 percent from the foul line over his career, capped by his league-best 90.3 mark in 1966-67. The 6-1 "Odie" Smith also canned over 89 percent in two other seasons from the charity stripe and was the 1966 All-Star Game MVP after scoring 24 points in his hometown. A long-distance marksman well before the three-point era, he shot a respectable 43 percent from the field during a 12-year career which saw him average a very respectable 16.6 points a game, despite his lack of size. Remarkably durable, Smith averaged between 14 and 19 ppg every year of his career after being a 15th round pick out of Kentucky. Oscar, as noted above, was a deadly mid-range shooter and free thrower. The uber-consistent Big O led the NBA in foul shooting accuracy twice with his one-handed method, and shot over 50 percent from the field three times in his incredible 14-season career. Flynn Robinson, another fine jump-shooting guard, was a backcourt backup in the late 1960s as well with the Royals.
Special mention: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (Golden State 2011-13). Only time will tell how this duo ultimately stacks up. If they stay healthy, particularly Curry, and continue to shoot at the same level or better, they will likely move several spots higher on this list. Their three-point shooting accuracy ranks above almost any duo on this list, but many players from prior eras did not have the shot at their disposal and thus did not practice shooting from 25 feet or so. This should not be held against them since the strategy in basketball during their eras had always been to try and get the highest percentage shot possible. But along with the ABA duos of Keller/Mount and Dampier/Carrier, as well as West and Goodrich and perhaps Hornacek/Stockton, Curry and Thompson rank as the best from deep on this list. Probably the only duo as good or better from three-point land was the combination of Mark Price and Craig Ehlo of Cleveland in the late 1980s and early 90s. Price and Steve Kerr was probably an even better three-point tandem for the Cavs, but did not play that much together.
Honorable mention: Hal Greer/Larry Costello (Syracuse/Philadelphia 1958-66); Brian Winters/G. Goodrich (LA Lakers 1974-75); Steve Nash/Nick Van Exel (Dallas 2001-03); L. Dampier/Mount (Kentucky ABA 1972-74); Maravich/Goodrich (New Orleans 1976-79); S. Nash/Michael Finley (Dallas 2002-04); J. West/Dick Barnett (LA 1962-65); Frazier/D. Barnett (New York 1968-72); Flynn Robinson/J. McGlocklin (Milwaukee 1968-70); Brad Davis/Rolando Blackman (Dallas 1981-86); J. Stockton/Jeff Malone (Utah, 1990-94); Bill Sharman/Bob Cousy (Boston 1951-61); Bob Davies/Bobby Wanzer (Rochester 1948-55); Walter Davis/Kyle Macy (Phoenix 1982-85); Jimmy Walker/Dave Bing (Detroit 1967-72); Geoff Petrie/Larry Steele (Portland 1971-75); Paul Westphal/Ricky Sobers (Phoenix 1975-77); Mark Price/Craig Ehlo (Cleveland 1986-93); JoJo White/John Havlicek (Havlicek part-time guard, Boston 1970-78); Mark Price/Steve Kerr (Cleveland 1989-92); Joe Dumars/Isiah Thomas (Detroit (1985-94); Chauncey Billups/Richard Hamilton (Detroit 2003-2008); Kevin Loughery/Earl Monroe (Baltimore 1968-71); Phil Chenier/Archie Clark (Baltimore (1972-74); Phil Chenier/Dave Bing (Washington 1975-77); (Fred Brown/A. Clark Seattle 1974-75); Hornacek/Hersey Hawkins (Philadelphia 1992-93); Ron Boone/Glen Combs or Jimmy Jones (Utah ABA 1971-74); Fred Brown/Gus Williams (Seattle 1977-80, 1981-83).
Best-shooting Celtic backcourts in franchise history:
1) Sam Jones/Larry Siegfried (1965-69)
2) Bill Sharman/Bob Cousy (1951-61) or Frank Ramsey (1954-63)
3) JoJo White/John Havlicek (when Hondo would move to guard, 1970-78)
4) Larry Siegfried/John Havlicek (1967-70)
5) Sam Jones/Bob Cousy (1959-63)
6) Dennis Johnson/Danny Ainge (1984-89)
7) JoJo White/Charlie Scott (1975-77)
8) Dee Brown/Kevin Gamble or Reggie Lewis (1990-94)
9) Ray Allen/Rajon Rondo (2007-2012) or Eddie House (2007-2010)
10) Nate Archibald/Chris Ford (1978-82) or Jeff Judkins 1978-80)
tie: 10) Nate Archibald/Danny Ainge (1981-83)
Best-shooting pro frontcourts of all-time:
1) Kiki Vandeweghe/Alex English/Dan Issel (Denver 1981-84).
2) Willis Reed/Dave DeBusschere/Bill Bradley (New York 1968-74).
3) Jerry Lucas/DeBusschere/Bradley (New York 1971-74).
4) Larry Bird/Scott Wedman/Robert Parish (Boston 1983-86).
5) Bob McAdoo/Jack Marin/Jim McMillian or Gar Heard (Buffalo 1973-75).
6) Dave Cowens/John Havlicek/Don Nelson (Boston 1970-76).
7) Alvan Adams/Walter Davis/Maurice Lucas (Phoenix 1982-84).
8) Bill Laimbeer/Kelly Tripucka/Kent Benson (Detroit 1981-85).
9) Bird/Kevin McHale/Parish (Boston 1981-92).
10) Chris Mullin/Rik Smits/Austin Croshere or Sam Perkins (Indiana 1997-2000).
Mike Saver 6/04/2013 09:40:00 AM Tweet