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And This One Time…

August 18, 2011
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It’s easy to name NBA stars, but your top ten list is probably composed of those who have posted statistical absurdities for a large majority of their careers. LeBron, Iverson, Garnett, Nash, Nowitzki – their names carry weight as greats because of their unfailing consistency and their relentless rise to the top year after year.

But tautologically, not all NBA players can be among the greatest. Despite conspicuous height, many will never be recognized by name in public, and are left hoping for a freak season or game that will make a memory for the fans. This post acknowledges them.

If they were baseball players, their outlier performances would have drawn accusations of steroid use, and if they were hockey players, we’d never have heard of them in the first place.

*But no one in the NBA uses steroids.

We’re dealing with basketball players, though, so we find a middle ground – we praise them at their peak, and then call them washed up when they can’t repeat the feat. As Vonnegut would say, “so it goes.”

 

Glen Rice shot 47.0% on three-pointers in 1996-97.

Admittedly, there have been many better single-season three-point shooting percentages (including a staggering 53.6 % by Kyle Korver), but never has such a previously meh shooter developed a golden touch over the course of a single 82-game stretch while attempting so many (440) three-pointers. It’s hard to explain the sudden hot hand, but there’s one obvious factor that affected that season alone – Tom Chambers was a member of the Charlotte Hornets.

Glen Rice came to the Hornets as part of a major trade with the Miami Heat, one which partly broke up the Hornets’ bulldozer back line of Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson (traded to the Knicks the same year). The change in personnel suddenly shifted Charlotte’s offense to a launch-at-will long-range assault, with Rice’s wingman Dell Curry also contributing impressive three-point shooting at a 42.6% rate.

Count it.

Rice only lasted three seasons with the Hornets, which were the three best three-point shooting seasons of his career, but what makes 1996-97 so impressive is that it was Rice’s best season by nearly four percentage points, and because he was attempting so many shots, opponents certainly knew it was coming, but they just couldn’t stop it.

It’s beyond the memory of most fans that Rice could have been fighting for playing time with rookie Kobe Bryant that season, had the Mamba not refused to play in Charlotte after being drafted with the thirteenth pick.

Bryant was traded before the season, and it seems more than coincidence that Glen Rice eventually joined the Shaq/Kobe Lakers and went on to win the only championship of his career as a backup in 1999-00, unfortunately while posting the fourth-worst three-point shooting percentage of his career.

 

Tony Delk scored 53 points in a game in 2001-02

Tony Delk scored 53 points on 20-for-27 shooting, which is good enough to place him in a tie for the 50th best scoring performance ever in the NBA. Over the course of his ten-year career, Delk’s next-best game total was 27 points, just barely over half his maximum and a mark that’s broken by some player almost every single night of any season.

Interestingly, he posted his career high without making a single three-pointer (0-for-1), and the 53 points that night accounted for 8.9% of his scoring for the entire season, or basically 7.3 games worth of output.

Can't. Stop. Shooting.

It’s worth noting that the game went to overtime and Delk played 50 minutes, but this was not against weak competition. The Suns were playing on the road against the then-powerful Sacramento Kings, Delk’s former team, who were 21-8 at the time and would come within one game (one shot, even) of reaching the NBA Finals that season.

Unfortunately, despite Delk’s lightning strike, the Suns lost the game by four points and even worse, went on to lose to the Kings 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs. Tony Delk may have won the battle for history, though, because while I didn’t remember the outcome of the game or the Suns-Kings playoff series, I did remember that he scored 53 points in a single game.

 

Jose Calderon shot 98.1% from the free throw line in 2008-09

My first thought was that it must be a sample size issue, caused by a lot of missed playing time. However, Calderon played in 68 games that season and logged the second-most minutes of his career, and most importantly, attempted more free throws (154) than he has in any other season to date.

The mark is an NBA record by a margin of over two percentage points, and it’s Calderon’s best single-season rate by over seven percentage points.

Right where he wants to be.

Jose Calderon was never drafted – the Raptors signed him from Spain as a free agent in the midst of the past decade’s foreign player mania. Playing in Canada hasn’t helped Calderon develop name recognition, and although his 7.0 career assists per game won’t come close to leading the league, his career assist/turnover ratio (4.1) is better than Chris Paul (4.0), Rajon Rondo (3.0), Deron Williams (3.0), and Derrick Rose (2.3).

Keep that in mind next time you need an impressive point in conversation. Nobody expects the pro-Calderon argument.

 

*Dwight Howard has never been seriously accused of steroid usage, and I have no reason to believe or suggest he does. But that photo is just unavoidable.

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