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Thursday, November 1, 2012
Best of the best: Top 10 3-point shooters

By Eamonn Brennan

You can’t learn how to dunk. You either jump, or you don’t. You can, however, learn how to shoot: feet shoulder-width apart, right foot an inch ahead of left, elbow over the knee, wrist parallel to the floor, ball gently placed in fingertips, elbow straight, up and out, follow through with the wrist. Rinse, repeat.

That’s the great thing about the art of long-range shooting. It requires nothing but a few quick mechanics and tons and tons and tons of practice. The best players in the world are rarely the best shooters, because they don’t have to be. But if you can master your shot, you can level the playing field at all levels, from your local pickup game to the NBA. And aesthetically, there are few things more satisfying than watching a beautifully shot ball drop perfectly through the net. I love good shooting.

As you can imagine, it was rather fun to put together the following list -- the nation’s 10 most dangerous 3-point shooters. (Freshmen, as always, were excluded.)

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Let’s get one thing clear: There are 3-point specialists on this list that have made more 3-pointers than McDermott in his career. They are arguably better “pure” shooters. But none of them, not a single one, manages to blend the sheer overall offensive efficiency that McDermott brings to the game; none of them maintains utterly deadly 3-point shooting in their reportoire as an afterthought. But that’s exactly what McDermott did in 2011–12, when he was one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. McDermott attempted 400 2-point field goals and made 63.2 percent of them. He attempted 111 3-pointers and cashed 48.6 percent. His true shooting percentage (67.8) and effective field goal percentage (65.4) were third- and sixth-best in the country, respectively.

Creighton's Doug McDermott
The versatile game of Doug McDermott includes 48.6 percent shooting from 3-point range.
So, why put him atop this list, when others have made more 3s, who serve as lethal catch-and-shoot specialists for their teams? Because you can’t guard McDermott the way you can guard most of the country’s best shooters. At 6-foot–7, he’s too tall, his post game too sharp, to be put in any particular box. He’ll work you to death with pivots and drop-steps on the low block, just before stepping outside, or catching in transition, and hitting one out of every two 3s he takes.

I mean, seriously: How on Earth do you stop that?

2. Jordan Hulls, Indiana: Hulls may have flaws in his game -- he’s undersized (and definitely shorter than his gentleman’s listing of 6-foot) and an occasional defensive liability at the point of attack -- but he has plenty of strengths, too. He can handle, he can dish, he’s whip-smart and, oh by the way, the boy can really shoot. In 2011-12, he went 72-of-146 from beyond the arc, good for 49.3 percent, the second highest rate in the country. (He also shot 89.9 percent from the free throw line.) And while you’d expect someone with Hulls’ size to struggle to get his shot off, he really doesn’t -- he can get looks from off-ball screens and high picks, he can step under a defender and bury the 20-footer, and he can catch and release as quickly as any player in the country. And if you leave him open? Well, just start running the other way.

3. Brady Heslip, Baylor: In 2011-12, Heslip shot the ball inside the arc exactly 57 times. But don’t worry, he got still got his looks -- fully 220 of them from outside the arc. He made 100 of them, or 45.5 percent. Considering the volume involved, that is very efficient work, and a big part of the reason why Heslip ended the season with an eye-popping 138.6 offensive rating, best in the country among players with similar usage rates. If I was Baylor, I would focus on getting Heslip as many looks as possible this season.

4. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Canaan is a lot like McDermott, and a couple of other names on this list, in that he is so much more than a pure shooter … who also happens to be a pure shooter. Canaan is also his team’s primary ballhandler; he posted a 24.1 percent assist rate last season, easily the highest among any frequent Racers' contributor. He also drew 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes, shot 83.7 percent from the stripe and 48.1 percent from the arc. And, oh yeah, he made 45.6 percent of his 215 3-point field goal attempts last season. Defenses, Ohio Valley and otherwise, can’t contain Canaan, because he can get his own shot, or get into the lane, or hit a 25-footer in your face.

5. Rotnei Clarke, Butler: Clarke sat out last season after transferring to Butler, where he will take on a new role that may require him to do much more distributing and far less spot-up shooting. He also suffered a foot injury, though he appears to be recovered fully. In any case, the dude can stroke it: Clarke has shot 39.3 percent, 42.7 percent and 43.8 percent in his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, respectively, and has 274 career 3s to his name. It will be interesting to see what his new team does for his production/efficiency (his Arkansas teams were never particularly good, so it could just as easily enhance both, too), but there’s no question Clarke is a major threat beyond the arc.

6. Langston Galloway, Saint Joseph’s: I’m guessing most casual hoops fans will not be familiar with Langston Galloway, but it’s time to correct that. In 2011–12, Galloway was one of the best 10 3-point shooters in the country, making 46.6 percent of his 193 attempts. Almost all of those shots came via the spot-up, where Galloway is just lethal. According to Synergy Sports, Galloway scored 1.38 points per spot-up jumper, and 1.49 points for every spot-up shot that came from beyond the arc. It is a bad idea to let him get loose, but with so many other returning weapons making up Phil Martelli’s highly regarded A-10 contender, keeping Galloway in check is easier said than done.

7. Chase Tapley, San Diego State: Tapley’s presence is a through line marking the recent ascendance of Aztecs hoops, beginning with his supporting role* on the Kawhi Leonard-led 2011 breakout squad. He stepped into a larger role last season, and responded by making 43.3 percent of his 3s, an improvement from the year prior despite an 70-attempt increase in volume (and a decrease in 2-point field goal accuracy). Tapley will have to be just as deadly from outside this season if San Diego State plans to live up to its preseason billing. I’m not worried. (*The original version of this post said Tapley came off the bench in 2011; in fact, he started the majority of games that season. My apologies for the error.)

Christian Watford
Christian Watford drained arguably the most memorable 3 of the college basketball season.
8. Christian Watford, Indiana: There is a reason the Hoosiers offense was the fourth-best in the country last season. Not only did it boast monster freshman center Cody Zeller, and not only did it get efficient shooting from the aforementioned Jordan Hulls, and balance from Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey (to say nothing of Matt Roth’s 54.5 percent 3-point shooting), but its second-most-used player is a 6-foot-9 forward who also happens to be lights-out from the perimeter. Watford made 43.7 percent of his 3s last season, and he shot plenty of them -- 119, to be exact (one of which you may have seen a few times before). Before Zeller’s arrival, Watford was often forced to play in the post, a position for which he is particularly ill-suited. Now that Zeller commands the low block, Watford is free to set up outside, peer over the defense, and fire away. It’s his niche.

9. Kenny Boynton, Florida: Among the handful of players who shot as many 3s in 2011-12 as Boynton, only Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins was a fellow member of a power-six conference. Boynton fired from downtown 270 times last season. If we were talking about his freshman or sophomore seasons -- in which Boynton was similarly free of conscience but far inferior as a shooter -- that would not necessarily be a good things. But because Boynton hit 40.7 percent of his 3s, he was a major reason why Florida’s offense was so difficult to stop. He can handle it and get into the lane, too, but his 3-point attempts dwarf his 2s, and as long as he’s making them at a 40-percent or higher rate, he’s very dangerous to opposing defenses.

10. Scott Wood, NC State: We talk a lot about NC State’s pieces, and these discussions typically center on point guard Lorenzo Brown, or forward C.J. Leslie, or touted freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis. Far more overlooked is the offense Wood provides, and the way he provides it. At 6-foot–6, Scott is similar to Watford in his ability to step out and see over defenses, if slightly easier to run off the ball. (Despite his size, Wood attempted 232 3s and just 78 2s in 2012.) Whatever his breakdowns, Wood’s 40.9 percent shooting on a large number of attempts is crucial again this season, because NC State’s still-improving offense will desperately need the outside balance.

Honorable mentions: Travis Bader, Oakland; Scott Bamforth, Weber State, C.J. Wilcox, Washington, Allen Crabbe, Cal; Ethan Wragge, Creighton

Freshmen to watch (thanks to Dave Telep for the suggestions): Phil Forte, Oklahoma State; Isaiah Zierden, Creighton; Omar Calhoun, UConn; Katin Reinhardt, UNLV; Melvin Johnson, VCU; Kellen Dunham, Butler; Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke, Michael Frazier, Florida