Bill Laimbeer shot 3-pointers like a forward, played center like a center

In his bullets last week, Henry Abbott wrote about Bill Laimbeer’s 3-point shooting:

Bill Laimbeer is known as one of the NBA’s real 3-point shooting big men. But he hardly shot any for the first several years of his career. And while shooting a lukewarm 33 percent, over his entire 14 years he made 202 — plenty of players have made more than that in a single season. So, how’d he get that reputation? I’d guess it’s simply that back then nobody appreciated the 3 as much as they should have, and hardly any big men used it at all. So he stood out. But today, all kinds of players, big and small, shoot it more and better.

Yes, Abbott praises Laimbeer’s outside shooting, but his tone indicates a bit of, let’s call it skepticism, about whether Laimbeer deserves his reputation as 3-point sharpshooter. As far as Abbott’s point about all kind of players shooting 3-pointers more and better today, there’s no doubt that’s correct. But I still think he sells Laimbeer short.

Abbott correctly notes Laimbeer was slow to embrace the 3-pointer. Laimbeer, whose NBA career began one season after the 3-pointer’s, didn’t make any 3s his first and fourth seasons and didn’t attempt many in between. But after that, Laimbeer became an average 3-point shooter at a time centers were decidedly below average 3-point shooters.

Sheet 1
Sheet 1

When Laimbeer retired, just three centers had made more than 40 3-pointers – Brad Lohaus, Jack Sikma and Laimbeer. Since then, no center has passed him in career 3-pointers. Not a single one.

As much as players have gotten better at shooting 3-pointers, centers haven’t made much progress. Who’s the best 3-point shooting center in the game today? It’s a fairly challenging question. Try naming your top three. You’ll have to include someone you don’t feel comfortable listing – either because he doesn’t shoot from distance well enough or he might be considered forward.

Just 148 centers have ever made a 3-pointers. For perspective, 148 forwards have made at least 140 3-pointers, and 148 guards have made at least 381 3-pointers.

Why haven’t centers improved at 3-pointers

Short answer: stretch fours.

Among players 6-foot-10 or taller, only Tom Chambers, Lohaus and Sikma made more 3-pointers when Laimbeer retired. Now, Laimbeer ranks 30th in career 3-pointers among players 6-foot-10 or taller. If you’re tall and can makes 3s now, teams play you at forward.

People talk about a time when men were men. Well, Laimbeer played center when centers were centers.

Of the 29 players 6-foot-10 or taller who’ve made more 3-pointers than Laimbeer did, none had a higher career rebounding percentage. Just three – Derrick Coleman, Terry Mills and Mehmet Okur – weighed more.

No offense to a pair of fine Detroiters, but that says more about Coleman’s and Mills’ struggles with keeping their playing weights reasonable than anything else. They certainly didn’t use their bulk to play as strongly as Laimbeer did, especially Mills, whom a friend of mine calls the heaviest shooting guard in NBA history.

That leaves Okur, sixth-best rebounder on the list, as the only player who can make a legitimate case as Laimbeer’s heir apparent to the center/3-point shooter throne. But Okur’s interior defense doesn’t hold a candle to Laimbeer’s.

In every respect besides his 3-point shooting, Laimbeer looked and played like a center. As long as this trend toward stretch fours continues, don’t expect anybody to resemble him anytime soon.

I’m not sure whether Laimbeer was ahead of his time, because if he was, time still hasn’t caught up. That’s why Laimbeer deserves recognition as a 3-point revolutionary.

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