At long last, Steph Curry has become the all-time leader in career threes. But Ray Allen and Reggie Miller were not able to hold the throne for long before their records were broken, and it looks like the three-point shot is not going anywhere soon.
So, will Curry be the gold standard of outside shooting for years to come, or will the continued inflation of the shot sweep his record under the rug like Allen and Miller’s marks were in years prior?
Of the four major U.S. sports, the NBA’s inflation of three-point attempts had the largest jump in the shortest time. Since the birth of the three-point line in 1979, threes per game has inflated nearly 1,100%, meaning someone attempting a three per game in 1979 would be the equivalent of them averaging 11 a game now, which in one season has only been surpassed 6 times between Curry and James Harden.
Curry rewrote the abilities of a sharpshooter, which has been capitalized by his accuracy from deep, shooting 43% from downtown with an effective FG% of 5-sixty-5. He changed the definition of what is a good shot, and rewrote the narrative that three-point shooters should primarily receive their looks off assists, as only 61% of his career threes came as a catch and shoot.
In the same breath, however, the league he created for himself to thrive in has also improved the shooting abilities of those who came after him, giving plenty of current NBA stars the ability to pass his career threes whenever Curry does decide to call it a career. So, of the active players in the league, who has a case to end their career with the most made threes?
In this example, we will use the rate of 5.8% inflation per season to predict what Curry and his potential competition will produce in upcoming years, and we will compare each player at 1,300 career games, the same mark as Ray Allen.
There are 4 active players that could potentially finish their careers with the most 3’s of all time, and more specifically ahead of Curry. First of the group is Trae Young.
Trae Young, who is arguably the player most compared to Curry since entering the league, obviously has a great argument for one day surpassing the record for made threes.
Young enters the All-Star break 2,458 threes behind Curry with 655 in his first 4 seasons. If Trae finished his career with 1,300 games played as well, it would take him about 13 more seasons to reach the threshold.
Over that span, 3PA/G would inflate 52.9%, allowing his per game average to improve to 11 in those future years, and 10.3 for his career.
At a 35% clip for his career so far, Young would add an additional 3,987 threes before hanging it up, hitting a career 4,692 threes.
While he still has plenty of time to increase his outside jumpers as he ages, it is safe to say most fans assumed Young would be shooting more when he entered the league, considering he averaged 10.3 attempts from deep in his one season at Oklahoma.
But, Young, for now, has the number to beat, but let’s welcome in contestant number 2, Damian Lillard.
Looking at the all-time list, Damian Lillard is the closest to Curry’s current total before inflation, as he began his career attempting more threes per game than Curry for the first 4 seasons.
Lillard enters the All-Star break just 968 threes behind Curry with 2,143 made. If Lillard, who is 2-years younger than Curry, finished his career with 1,300 games played as well, it would take him about 7 more seasons to reach the threshold.
So, over that span, 3PA/G would inflate 56.6% for his final seven years, allowing his per game average to improve to 12.7 over the span, and 10.2 for his career.
Lillard is one of the best outside shooters the game has seen, as he ranks 14th all-time in career percentage from deep while attempting over 5 threes a game. With Dame starting his career three years later than Curry and gaining an additional season on the tail end, he would add an additional 2,768 makes from behind the stripe, finishing his career ahead of Young with 4,901.
Outside of the undisputed clutch factor of Lillard, he is not as appreciated as an outside shooter as he should be, especially considering Lillard joins just Curry and Harden as the only players to average over 10 three-point attempts a game in multiple seasons.
But, surpassing Curry one day would be quite the way to be recognized, but he does not have the best chance to finish at the top of all active players. Someone with a better chance is Donovan Mitchell.
While Mitchell may not be the first name thought about when thinking of the three-point crown, his usage percentage could allow him to get surprisingly high on a lot of volume statistics.
For a player’s first 5 years in the league, Mitchell ranks 28th all-time in field goal attempts, a list that Curry does not find himself in the top-100 of.
So, in terms of outside shooting, Donovan Mitchell enters the All-Star break 2,226 threes behind Curry with 879. If Mitchell finished his career with 1,300 games played as well, it would take him about 12 more seasons to reach the threshold.
Over that span, 3PA/G would inflate 53.1% for his final 12 years, allowing his per game average to improve to 11.5 over the span, and 10.5 for his career.
At a 36% clip so far, Mitchell would find himself just ahead of Lillard with 4,908 career trays. Mitchell’s steady increase of outside jumpers may make the most sense of anyone in this experiment, as his explosiveness and high-flying abilities at the rim are proven to diminish over his career, thus allowing more of his field-goal attempts to come from outside. For a player regularly compared to Dwayne Wade, Mitchell may have the upper hand considering the three-ball is already a part of his game since he entered the league in a much friendlier state for shooters.
But, when we look at a player who is constantly taking the scoring load for his team, there is another young star who does it even more than Mitchell, who in this example winds up higher on the list. That would be Luka Doncic.
Even though Doncic has one of the worst percentages from deep of the group, at just 33% in his first 4 years, he has already surmounted 653 threes heading into the All-Star break.
For Luka to finish his career with 1,300 games played, it would take him about 13 more seasons to reach the threshold.
Over that span, 3PA/G would inflate 52.9%, allowing his per game average to improve to 11 in the simulated years, and 10.3 for his career.
In those 13 seasons, Doncic would add an additional 4,368 threes before hanging it up, hitting a career 5,021 three-balls.
Doncic’s overall accuracy on the floor is not one of his most admirable traits, with a career 46% from the floor and an effective FG% of .524. That being said, a lack of accuracy is usually to be expected when you are asked to do as much as Doncic is for his team.
For a player with over a season in the NBA, Doncic has the highest usage percentage of all-time at 34.7%. In 3 of his first 4 seasons, the 22-year-old has attempted over 20 field goal attempts a night.
Taking on this heightened role at such a young age allows him to be another candidate who could find himself at the top of a lot of volume rankings when it’s all said and done for the Slovenian, but especially when it comes to three-point shooting. With speed and vertical not being as prominent of a factor as some other top scorers, but instead strength and craftiness, you can see Doncic relying on the three-ball as his career progresses.
All this being said, these totals would still trail Curry, as regardless of the inflation benefits that the younger players receive, they wouldn’t be within 1,000 made threes of Steph. To get to the 1,300 games played threshold, it would take just under six seasons for Curry, which compared to the league average during his 13-year career would be a 65.8% increase in attempts. This boost allows Curry to improve to 14.6 attempts a night, making 6.3 of them over his final six years, which would raise his career average of attempts to 11 per night.
While this increased production at the twilight of his career may be difficult to picture, especially considering the type of shots Curry takes and how much work it takes for him to get open, it would be on pace for his season-to-season progressions up to this point. Curry’s year-to-year inflation as a player is 10.2%, as he started his career as a 4.8 3PA/G rookie, but now has the second-highest total in NBA history with 12.7 a night last season, consistently increasing his volume from downtown.
In terms of a diminished accuracy in the ending of his career, it would be admittedly tough to maintain his current mark, which is the highest percentage from deep of anyone with over 6,000 attempts. That being said, Curry also deserves the benefit of the doubt in this factor as well, as every uptick in attempts has coincided with a percentage of makes to justify those extra tries, with the only outlier being this year.
So, unless significant changes occur in the career of either of these 4 sharpshooters or another player that has not been discussed, Curry may be safe atop the leaderboard for longer than anticipated. Even if one day the league average for threes per game does in fact surpass attempts from inside the arc, which is exactly where we are heading, it’s tough to see a world where someone else is appreciated as the greatest shooter of all time.