Share Button

JJ Redick, former NBA player (Clippers, Magic, among others), recently stated, in a discussion with ESPN Mad Dog Russo, that Larry Bird (Larry Legend, one of basketball’s all time greats) is not among the top 5 3 point shooters of all time; according to Reddick that is a fact  proved by Bird’s stats, who had less 3 pointers made in inferior percentage than several more recent league players. He also shared his opinion that the NBA today is just as physical as it was in the 80’s. Those statements were harshly criticized by NBA legends such as Dominique Wilkins and Michael Cooper.

It is not the first time that the former Clipper has diminished past greats (despite claiming he does not do so, before and after his acid statements), especially those who played before the 80’s (when he says the modern NBA began). Last year he said that Bob Cousy (the “Houdini of Hardwood”, legendary Celtics point guard and NBA MVP in 1957) played against “plumbers and firemen”, also could not dribble with his left hand, and had a low percentage from the field. JJ conveniently forgets that the whole league had lower numbers in that area, and that the NBA used to call much more regularly carrying violations (several handling moves today would be considered illegal back then). Lastly, Redick also demonstrate ingratitude when he refers that some players had to work “regular jobs”; well, that happened because there wasn’t in that era so much money in basketball. We should never forget that, thanks to the legends of the past, the NBA has reached the gigantic global popularity and financial success that exist today. In such moment, it is important to remember Isaac Newton’s famous quote: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.

Click on the above picture to buy interesting books about the NBA

We can notice by those statements that the former Clipper struggles to make nuanced interpretations when comparing plays from different eras. Obviously, I assume that no one argues against that current players, on average, are stronger and more skillful (especially in 3 pointers, that rules the league today). However they are product of his and previous generations work. When someone says, for example, that Bob Cousy was greater than Redick, he is not claiming that the first would be superior than the later if we could transport him in a time machine from 1957 to today, but  that Houdini was, by a wide margin, superior to his peers than JJ to his.

It also holds little merit the specific claim only against pre-80’s players. In such case, how would we judge Dr. J and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? They both had their peaks in the 70’s, but remained stars in the next decade. It is essential to remember that a young Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) had epic battles against an already past his prime Wilt Chamberlain (drafted in 1959), whose greatest rival was Bill Russell (Cousy’s teammate in several title runs). Why can Kareem’s greatnesses be compared with current players, but not Russell’s and Houdini’s? It does not make much sense, dear readers.

Let’s now look at the numbers.

NBA during JJ Redick’s career: 2006-07 to 2020-21:

3PM 8.4, 3PA 23.4 and 3P% .358

JJ Redick:

3PM 2.1, 3PA 5 and 3P% .415

Thus,  JJ had a positive difference of 3p% .057 in regard to his peers.

NBA during Larry Bird’s career – 1979-80 to 1991-92.

3PM 1.3, 3PA 4.4 and  3P% .305

Larry Bird:

3PM 0.7, 3PA 1.9 and 3P% .376.

Thus, Larry Bird had a positive difference of 3P% .071 in regard to his peers.

NBA during Stephen Curry’s carrer (Warriors great, still playing)  – 2009-10 to 2021-22:

3PM 9.2, 3PA 25.7 and 3P% .357

Stephen Curry:

3PM 3.8, 3PA and 8.8 3P% .428.

Thus, Stephen Curry Larry Bird had a positive difference of 3P% .071 in regard to his peers.

By those stats, we can notice that Bird and Curry were equally superior in 3P% to their respected peers; and both better than JJ Redick.

Someone might, rightly so, say that there were less shots attemped from deep in te 80’s, and argue (not a sound argument in my view) that Bird would had a worse percentage if he shot more 3 pointers. How to refute all this?

There was indeed less long distance shots, never the less we cannot forget and ignore that Larry played in a college game that did not have 3 pointers, hence it was only in the NBA when he had his first competitive contact with that kind of shot. Another important issue is that, unlike today’s game, back then the 3 point shot was not a near center piece of team’s tactics; it was seen as last resort, often in desperate moments with the shot clock going down to its last seconds. It’s easily believable that if they had grown and developed their skills under current reality, Bird and other ballers from his time would attempt more 3 pointers and would hit them with more efficiency. Likewise, we must remember that stars played more minutes per game, and fatigue usually reduces shot percentage. Numbers also strengthen my arguments, because the worst Larry Legend 3 point years were exactly when he shot less than once per game; from 1980-81 to 1983-84, when he had only 3P% .257 in 9 attempts. While Redick, in similar way, had his worst performance in the seasons he least attempted (3 per game), from 2006-07 to 2010-11, in wich he shot  3P% .394 (unlike Curry who did not have much variation in his career; another factor that favors him over the Celtics great).

The above mentioned arguments also covers the Bird-Curry “battle”, but a careful reader should notice that, despite similar stats show that both of them were equally superior to athletes from their decades, I’ve stated in this article title that the Celtic’s great was “almost as good” from 3 as the Warrior fantastic player; why? Because I don’t think we can deny that Curry is the man piece of the 3 point revolution in the NBA; the 2021-22 season ended with more than 35 three pointers attempted per game from each team, against 18 in 2009-10, the guard’s first year in the league. We should also remember 2 more points in favor of the Warrior: he did not have much variation in his 3 point percentage throughout his career; and he routinely shoots (and makes lots of them!) much further from the 3 point line, something unheard of in previous decades.

At long last, a player can only face who was available to him and according to the rules and specific conditions of his own era; thus an athlete must always be judged only by what he did in his own time. When we compare players from different decades, here lies the main question: Which one of them was superior with more intensity in regard to his peers from his own time? For that and other reasons already explained here, I believe it is possible to answer and state: Larry Bird was better from 3 than JJ Redick and almost as good as Stephen Curry.

Share Button