ESPN’s JJ Redick and Mike “Mad Dog” Russo got into an eras argument over NBA basketball again. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Mad Dog called NBA legend Larry Bird one of the greatest three-point shooters of all-time. Redick disagreed. Is Larry Bird one of the great three-point shooters ever?
“Larry Bird is one of the top three-point shooters of all time,” said Russo. “He won three point shooting contests, he was phenomenal. Bird was a great shooter.”
To which Redick replied:
“Bird is one of the great shooters ever, but he’s not a top-five three-point shooter ever. Dog, it’s just math. There’s attempts, makes, and percentage.”
Mad Dog Says Larry Bird Is A Top 5 Three-Point Shooter All-Time
Let’s just clear some things up first and foremost. Larry Bird is one of the great players of all time. Three-time champion, three-time MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 12-time All-Star, 10-time All-NBA, and three-time All-Defense. He’s top 10 in career BPM, top 30 in career WS and top 30 in career WS/48.
Bird is a career 49.6% shooter from the field, a career 37.6% shooter from three on 1.9 attempts per game, and a career 88.6% FT shooter on five attempts per game. His career efficiency splits are 51.4 eFG% and 56.4 TS%.
Larry "The Legend" Bird is the greatest b-ball player of all timepic.twitter.com/Ykas9SbWfn
— TiM (@EvilDeadTiM) February 10, 2023
He was a great shooter in his era, and context matters here. Overall, the numbers tell a different story.
You can’t help the era you play in. But the simple fact is that Bird is not an all time great three-point shooter. The numbers don’t support that.
Using the fact that he won three-point shootouts as an argument doesn’t help, in fact it hinders the argument. That’s not a representation of what you shoot like in a game.
Many NBA players shoot good percentages from three on limited attempts. But as the volume increases, you sometimes see a dip in effectiveness.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey shot 42 percent from three last season on four attempts per game. This season he’s upped his attempts to six per game and is shooting 39 percent from three. Still excellent, but no longer elite.
We don’t know for sure what Bird would’ve done on more attempts, but we do know what Bird did with threes against better competition.
Would Larry Bird Be 3-Point GOAT In This Era?
The numbers above are Bird’s career regular season numbers. That’s over the course of 82 games where you get to feast on the dregs of the league.
Birds’ 1985-86 season was arguably his best ever. There were 12 teams in the league with sub .500 records. Twelve out of 23 total teams is more than half the league.
As you would imagine, those bad teams had horrible defenses and Bird could feast on them.
Against teams two points worse on defense than league average Bird shot 47 percent from three-on-three attempts per game from 1985-87 in the regular season.
Against teams two points better than league average on defense Bird shot 34 percent from three on less volume during that same period.
During Bird’s postseason career, his three-point attempts dropped slightly to 1.5 attempts per game, but his percentage dropped a full five points to 32 percent per game.
There is a lot of noise in those stats. But against better competition he took roughly the same amount of threes as in the regular season but shot significantly worse.
Is that a recipe for success on volume?
Again, this is not to discount or discredit Bird. Saying there is no evidence to support that he’s an all-time great three-point shooter doesn’t mean he wasn’t a great basketball player. He’s a legend and in the Hall of Fame for a reason.
Is Larry Bird As Good A Shooter As Steph Curry?
What players like Stephen Curry (the greatest shooter ever, and that’s undisputed), Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Buddy Hield, peak Klay Thompson and peak James Harden do on volume is absurd.
They score from deep in a variety of ways and maintain elite efficiency. Their career numbers state it, and our eyes confirm the same.