The NBA’s All-Time Record in Three Pointers Made

Hey, you! Yes you, with the eyes and the nose (sorry Voldemort)! Do you like three pointers? What a stupid question, of course you do! Who doesn’t like them?! Well, maybe Shaq… I mean, he made only one out of 22 attempts over his career. That’s even better than Kareem (1/18)!

Anyway, I really like three point shots. In the recent PC games from the NBA 2K series you have an option of a career mode, where you get the opportunity to built a player and play a whole career with him. And when I played that career mode, the first attribute that I always improved first was three point shooting. I really liked hitting them from downtown.

Anyhow, when I first started following and watching the NBA, Reggie Miller was already THE MAN when you talked about 3 pointers. He still wasn’t the all-time leader in 3 pointers made, because he achieved that feat during the 1997-98 season and I definitely remember myself following the 96/97 season via newspapers (the internet wasn’t invented yet!) and TV. But it didn’t matter, I didn’t know Dale Ellis then, all I knew that if you need a three pointer made – you better call Reggie.

Sure, there were great three point shooters beside Reggie. For instance, I was always fond of Steve Kerr, and in turned out that this was for a reason – the dude is the all-time leader in 3-pt percentage. His record is not unbeatable – Stephen Curry is really close, and he’s already made more three pointers than Kerr. And if such a prolific shooter as Steph (one of my favorite players in the league, btw) is close, someone who shoots less might break the record. I mean, it’s not Wilt’s 50.4 ppg season…

So yes, Reggie became the all-time leader in three pointers made. He finished his career with an impressive total of 2,560 three-pointers, and when he retired the second place was occupied by Dale Ellis, who made 1,719 3 pointers throughout his career. That’s almost 50% more! Damn. Reggie could just relax in his couch back home and think to himself “Ain’t nobody gonna catch me!”. Right? Well, no. Because even when he retired I was sure that as great a three point shooter as he was, it is only a matter of time before Ray Allen comes and breaks his record.

Yes, you have to believe me on that point. I didn’t have a blog back then, but I swear that’s what I was thinking. I remember talking about it with some friends who were also NBA fans, but I don’t think they’ll remember it now. Now, Ray only made 1,486 treys up till that point, but I was sure only a career ending injury will prevent him from overtaking Reggie.

The reasons behind this logic iwere simple: Reggie’s record was a product of Reggie’s longetivity in the league. He remained extremely healthy throughout his career, and played 1389 out of a maximum possible total of 1444 games, over 18 years. True, he was a great three point shooter, but his average over his whole career was 142.22 treys per season, a totally reasonable number for a good three point shooter. Ray Allen’s average up until Reggie’s retirement was 165.11 treys per season, AND he was at the prime of his career – 29 years old, playing for Seattle and averaging well over 20 points per game. In addition, Reggie started playing in the league when 3 pointers were still relatively rare. I mean – Reggie made less than 100 three pointers in each of his first two seasons (87/88 and 88/89) and still it was enough for him to be in the top 10 for 3 pointers made in both. Ray’s situation was completely different, having entered the league almost a decade after Reggie, when three pointers were much more common. Therefore, it was the only logical conclusion that Reggie’s record would fall to Ray, the greatest three point shooter ever.

Now, Ray did indeed break the record, in the middle of the 2010/11 season. But he didn’t stop there. He continued to shoot treys at the same rate that Michael Bay puts explosions in his films, and his advantage over Reggie only grew. Now, before the 2014/15 season he has already accumulated a total of 2,973 three pointers. Wow. That’s an average of 165.17 three pointers per season, over 18 seasons! Damn! Now that’s something to think about. For example, only 16 players in the league made more than 165 three pointers in the 2013/14 season. And that’s Ray’s  FUCKING AVERAGE OVER 18 SEASONS.

I don’t know whether Ray will return for the 2014/15 season. If he will, he will add to that total and increase his advantage at the top spot. Reggie is still second in total three pointers made, and he’s already more than 400 treys behind. The next in line is Jason Kidd, who is also retired, and he’s already almost a 1,000 tree pointers behind Ray!

Another aspect of Ray’s potential return for the upcoming season is that he has a chance to break a tie with Reggie for another awesome record – the number of consecutive seasons with 100+ made treys. Ray already has the record for most such seasons overall, with 17 (Reggie has “only” 15), but they share the record for the most consecutive seasons – they both have a streak of 15, because Ray suffered from the shortened 98/99 season, which was his only one with less than 100 treys. So now Ray has a chance to claim the record all to himself. And he has another motivation for doing so, because Paul Pierce is currently riding a streak of 14 such seasons, and although I think there’s a decent chance he won’t reach the mark this year at Washington, Ray can’t afford to himself such a gamble. He must return for another season and extend his streak to 16!

So anyway, unlike Reggie, I think Ray is gonna keep that top spot to himself for a while. I mean, no one is even close! Several years ago I used to think someone might close the gap: Paul Pierce was a challenger, and so were Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry. However, Pierce didn’t score that many 3 pointers as I would have hoped so, Peja quickly became non-relevant after he left Sacramento, and Terry was relegated to a bench player in Dallas. Rashard Lewis was at one time making a splash, with two consecutive seasons with over 200 3 pointers made, and I remember thinking “why didn’t he start with this amazing pace earlier?!”. It was already too late to try and catch Reggie and Ray, but still – Rashard currently lies at 8th place all-time, and he might even move up a place or two by the time he retires – although there’s also a possibility that he’ll be passed by several players – Jamal Crawford is breathing down his neck, and he’s not showing signs of slowing down. BTW, speaking of necks, breathing and shit, Jamal is also closing down on Dale Ellis. Ellis, who was the all-time leaders in 3 pointers made before Reggie, is enjoying his last month in the top 10. It’s a safe bet that by the end of November, he will no longer be there.

So ok, Ray is the man and nobody can’t touch him, right? Well, yes, for the next 8-9 years. But I do have a potential contender for passing Ray, and no, I am not talking about Hasheem Thabeet.

True, Ray set the bar really high, and if he continues to play this season he will end his career with over 3,000 three pointers made, a truly mind-fucking achievement considering that only one other player has more than 2,000! However, Ray’s record can be broken. It will take a true phenom to break it, but it’s possible. Several factors contribute to this conclusion: Ray had many great years, but he also had several “weak” ones on terms of three pointers made. First of all, Ray had the unfortunate luck of playing during not one but two shortened seasons. Change those to two full seasons and he’ll have about 100 treys more. And even though Ray was a starter during his rookie year, he still averaged a mere 13.4 points per game. Now, I already mentioned that when Ray entered the league the three-pointers were much more common than during Reggie’s early days, but the three-point shot underwent still more changes in recent years, and has become even more common. For example, the two teams who made the most three point shots over an entire season in NBA history are last 2012-13 season’s the Knicks and the Rockets. It is a much more three pointers friendly environment these days.

So who has the chance to claim the top spot after Ray? Well, early in his career I thought that maybe Ben Gordon has a chance. He was a great shooter already in his rookie year, and made 770 three pointers over his first 5 years in the league, the same amount Pierce made over his first 6 years, and more than Ray made during his 5 years. And Gordon made them while maintaining a very good 3pt percentage, 41.5%. But then he left Chicago and was never the same again. His volume of three pointers fell, and so did his percentages. So no, Gordon’s candidacy fell.

However, a new contender appeared on the big stage, 5 years after Gordon. I’m talking about Stephen Curry of course. He is the potential all-time leader I’m referring to, the one who can break Ray’s record some day. Now, he’s only a five-year veteran, but I’ve been having him in mind as a potential record-beater ever since his second year. I really did. In fact, I have an e-mail saved on my gmail account that I sent to a friend of mine on February the 2nd, 2011 – during the middle of Steph’s second year in the league, where I’m talking about Ray being only 9 three pointers behind Reggie on the all-time list and also mentioning young Steph as my favorite to break Ray’s record one day. Steph was only in his second year in the league then, and much has changed since, but his candidacy didn’t.

Back then, in February 2011, my reasons for singling out Steph were that he just set a rookie record of 166 three pointers made (which was broken by Damian Lillard since then), and that he maintained an average of 2 three pointers per game up until that point in his very young career. Since then Steph evolved into the deadliest three point shooter in the NBA, perhaps even in NBA history. His 3 pointers percentage is off the charts – over his career he nails them with an accuracy of 44.0%. That’s almost unheard of, and no one EVER had these percentages for the amount of three pointers Steph shoots. True, he missed most of his third season due to injury, but he bounced back in the 2012/13 season, setting an NBA record of 272 treys made, and then followed it with the #4 season of all-time – 261 treys.

Now, five years into his NBA career, Steph already made 905 three point shots. And that’s with him missing out almost the entire 2011/12 season, in which he played only 26 games!!! I mean – WHAT?! Ray reached that total only when he was nearing the end of his 6th season. AND he never had the percentages of Steph: Steph’s last season was his worst in terms of 3pt%, when he “only” made 42.4% of his shots. Ray topped that percentage in only FOUR of his 18 seasons! Wow. Currently Steph is 3rd all-time in 3pt percentage, can you imagine a situation in which he’s BOTH the all-time three pointers leader AND the all-time leader in three-pointers percentage?! And that’s a real possibility, mind you!

So yeah, I’m betting on Steph to break Ray’s record one day. Currently Steph is 96th all-time in three pointers made, but this season he has a real chance of already cracking the top 50. He needs 245 three-pointers for that, a number well within his reach. The climb to the top will be long, but I really think that we have never seen a great shooter like him before. Not Reggie, not Ray. Steph is something else. Now, after he passes Ray, he can set the bar very high himself, depends on how many season he will play in the league. As of now he made an average of 181 treys in a season, and that’s including the aforementioned 2011/12 season. If he’s healthy, it is a safe bet to say he’ll make about 250 three pointers a year. But that’s if he’s healthy. Let’s say he plays another 10 years in the league. That’s not unreasonable, he’ll be 36 years old at the end of that stretch. Now, he will probably make about 250 three pointers a year for the next I-don’t-know, 7 years? And then his total would probably drop, but I don’t think that it’ll drop to around 100. It’ll probably still be in the high 100’s, maybe 180 or so. If Ray made 140 treys a year during a three-years stretch when he was 34-36 years old, I think that Steph can make 180 a year. That gives us a total of 7*250+3*180=2,290 three pointers. Add that to the 905 he already has and you’ll get 3,195. Of course, it is possible that Steph will get a serious injury, just like he did 3 years ago. But, I think that will balance out with the modest 10 years I give him. We see that NBA players play until later ages these days, and it is not unusual to see players perform well when they are 37 or 38 years old. And the 250 three pointers per season is also a modest average. It may well be 260. So I think that if anything, my predicted total is even slightly conservative. Let’s give him 3,250 or 3,300.

Now, 3,300 is heavy. This is a serious record that can hold on forever. However, Steph also had this 2011/12 season, in which he only played 26 games. So he is not at the perfect position to set a truly unbeatable record. A healthy, iron-man Steph, with a John Stockton-like resume of games played out of total games possible – now, that would be truly unbeatable. But even that “not perfect” record that Steph might set will be a really tough one to break. Out of the current young players, Damian Lillard has made signs of someone who might try to attack it one day. He broke Steph’s record of three pointers made as a rookie, and 2 years into his NBA career he already made 403 treys, while Steph had 316 at a similar stage. A big difference, but Lillard is only entering his third year. True, he didn’t miss a single game thus far, but his 3pt percentages are a mile behind Steph (Lillard has career percentage of 38.1%, decent but not great). With a perfect aligning of the stars and with playing 17-18 years in the league, Lillard can have a go at Steph’s future record, but it would be a real bummer if Lillard will be the all-time leader and not Steph. I mean, Steph IS the ideal three point shooter. Lillard is great, and he may evolve into a greater player overall than Steph, but he’s not Steph when it comes to shooting from downtown.

But hey, for now it’s still Ray’s record! We have a long way to go before Steph even comes close to Ray’s total, not to mention Lillard… But 10 years from now it will be interesting to have a look at this post and to see whether what I wrote is complete bullshit or not…

2 thoughts on “The NBA’s All-Time Record in Three Pointers Made

  1. Pingback: My Take on the 2015 All-Star Starters and Kobe’s Injury | Michael's Sports Statistics

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