Had a fun discussion with Washington State coach Ken Bone, in Selah for a Thursday night Cougar booster function, regarding the best pure shooters we’d seen in person.
It stemmed, of course, from Klay Thompson’s electric display for Golden State the previous night in the NBA playoffs. Bone had coached Thompson during his final two seasons at Washington State, and agreed with most observers that the 6-foot-7 guard is a marksman with few peers. Steph Curry, too, of course.
But as for the best he’d ever seen, Bone paused for a time when asked, then smiled and said, “My brother, probably. One winter we were shooting outside and he made a hundred free throws in a row, wearing gloves.”
Len Bone was in fact a shooter extraordinaire for Shorecrest High School in the early 1970s, leading the Metro League in scoring at 24-plus points a game. He is presently the boys hoops coach at Snohomish High School.
“But actually, as far as the best I’ve ever seen in high-level competition,” Ken Bone said, “I would have to say Ray Allen.
I told him Fred Brown stood out from my early days of covering the Sonics, and of how Fred was also a pure scorer who could drop double-pump runners through traffic in the lane. And when Brown truly had it going, as he did on the night he scored a Sonics-record 58 points at Golden State (I watched that game on TV as a senior at Central Washington in 1974), which he did without benefit of the 3-pointer, his range was remarkable.
Others, of course, have gotten my attention over the years. George Gervin, Reggie Miller, Alex English, Eddie Johnson (quickest release I ever saw), Andrew Toney, Jeff Hornacek (had to be open, couldn’t create his own shot). Dirk Nowitzki, perhaps the most skilled big man (7-feet) ever to play, is clearly in that group.
So was Jerry West, who I saw once in Seattle as a fan while the Lakers were compiling their still-standing record of 33 consecutive wins. And Dale Ellis, during his heyday with the Sonics, was a great catch-and-shooter.
But the best I’ve seen — just my opinion, not pretending to state as an absolute fact — was Larry Bird. Inside or outside, runners from the lane or 3-pointers from any angle, Bird was money.
And my assessment does not primarily stem from having watched him win the 3-point shooting contest during All-Star weekend in Seattle in 1987, impressive and entertaining as that was.
Lots of players can make shots during practice or an exhibition. Bird could do that, of course — I saw him before a game in Seattle make 25 straight 3-balls, five from each of five spots at the arc.
But put him 25 feet away from the basket with the opposition’s best defender in his face and the game on the line, and Bird would almost always emerge victorious.