Back during the Dark Ages, someone decided that one of the greatest virtues of any scorer in the NBA was “he can create his own shot.”
Meaning that a player can get the ball, isolate one-on-one against his defender, pull a series of jab steps, dribble crossovers, or whatever Harlem Globetrotters gimcrackery he learned on the playground, then get the defender out of position and hit what is inevitably a midrange jump shot.
And in 2002, when every NBA team seemed to have a playbook that was dumbed down to the level of “give ball to best athlete, have best athlete go one-on-one, and the other four guys on both teams stand around watching”, the ability to play within that framework made superstars out of guys like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant.
They also made for plenty of games where teams failed to score 80 points and still won. It was the worst, most unwatchable basketball in NBA history since the invention of the shot clock in 1954.
Today, in 2019, “can create his own shot” is still thought of as a virtue.
In 2019, it is the least valuable skill an NBA player can have, surpassed by just about every other possible thing one can do correctly on a basketball court.
Like moving without the ball to spring oneself open for a pass, as everyone from the point guard to the center is expected to have court vision that used to be the province exclusively of the “pass-first point guards” like Jason Kidd and John Stockton.
Like coming off a screen to create space, as big men are expected to range out to the three-point arc, where standing their ground either slows down the defender for long enough for a guy with a lightning-quick release to get the shot off (aka “why Stephen Curry will end up making about 10 million three-pointers before he retires”) or forces the defender under the screen, where even a less adept quickdraw shooter will still have time enough to get the shot up.
Or like the attacking game, where a player who is a strong finisher at the rim slashes through the empty space in the midrange that good ball spacing provides and gets a layup or dunk (Giannis Antetokounmpo is the king of this) or a player forces an opponent onto the back foot only to can a stepback three (James Harden, and this is the closest thing in today’s league to the evolution of that old “create one’s own shot” adage.)
Or, in a twist on that formula, a player drives to the hoop, has the defense collapse in on him, and hits a wide open shooter on the wing.
That last is a fine example of the latest effort by Dark Ages fans who don’t understand modern basketball to try and criticize.
But for years, during the most individualistic times in NBA history (and, it should be noted, the least efficient; Kobe’s career True Shooting% of .550 would be 56th out of 131 guards qualified for the scoring title in 2018-19, and the best season of his career, .580, would be tied with Patty Mills for 25th), we sang the praises of the selfish shot-creator who couldn’t involve his teammates in the flow of the game.
Iverson’s career TS% of .518 is even worse; that would be tied with Eric Gordon and Donovan Mitchell, who are respectively a guy whose value has fallen off a cliff and a volume shooter whose game has been unfavorably compared to those Dark Ages dinosaurs as guys who’d shoot you out of a game.
Gordon and Mitchell are tied for 95th out of 131 for shooting efficiency among guards.
Curry is first in TS% among guards. Bogdanovic is seventh. And Kyle Korver, the ur-example of the wing shooter who never dribbles, is tenth. Thompson, who is having the worst season he’s had since 2013-14, before Steve Kerr came in and played right into Thompson’s talents, is still 40th, better than Kobe’s career average and miles and miles beyond Iverson’s.
None of those guys create their own shot. Curry comes closest, but he’s not a shot creator so much as he’s a guy who knows how to use a screen.
Are any of them less of a player for it?
It is long past time to stop lionizing the isolation players. They are a product of a different time in the NBA, one that has largely passed them by. Unless they’re so good at getting loose in an isolation that they’re just freaks of nature at it (Harden), iso-heavy creators just waste shot clocks and waste possessions, hurting modern teams far more than they help.
Give me wing shooters who take two dribbles a game over that every single time.