- James Harden had the worst three-point shooting night in NBA history after missing 16 threes against the Orlando Magic. Here are some other performances that make the list.
James Harden has known no boundaries on offense this season. Normally, that statement is a positive, but on Sunday in Orlando, Harden went the other way and tied an NBA record by missing 16 threes in a single game. Even worse, by going 1-for-17 from beyond the arc in Houston’s 116-109 loss, Harden had the worst three-point shooting night in NBA history.
In the age of “Moreyball” and the corner three, one would expect most of the worst three-point shooting performances to be from the last few years. Well, surprisingly enough, the list of worst three-point shooting nights contains plenty of games from the late 1990s and early 2000s, before anyone had ever heard of effective field goal percentage. So, how does Harden’s latest effort stack up with the worst nights from shooters like Dennis Scott and Ray Allen?
The first glaringly bad performance since the creation of the three-point line goes back to March 22, 1995, when Atlanta Hawks point guard Mookie Blaylock went 1-of-13 from beyond the arc in a 98-84 loss to the Miami Heat. Blaylock was one of the original three-point bombers in the 1990s, and it’s not surprising he set the standard for freezing cold shooting. He went 2-of-20 from the field in that game and scored just seven points.
Blaylock was quickly challenged by Dennis Scott, who shot 39.7% from three in his career and was another great precursor of today’s game. Scott’s three-point shooting reached its peak in 1995-96, a year after the three-point line was shortened. Usually, Scott's outside looks were a huge boon to the Magic, like this 35-point performance against Blaylock and the Hawks in 1996.
Those three years were great for volume three-point shooters. Scott was way ahead of his time in focusing on transition threes and efficiency. That year, Scott shot 7.7 threes per game at a 42.5% rate.
But on one night in Orlando, Scott’s shot disappeared. He shot 2-of-17 from three in what he later referred to as a low point in his career.
"I put it on my locker and it stayed there for the next couple of years," Scott said in an interview with NBA TV.
Scott still managed to score 23 points and help the Magic to a 92-84 win over the Nets. It helped to have peak Penny Hardaway on the floor alongside him.
Next up, there's legendary shooter Ray Allen, who staked his claim for the worst performance from beyond the arc on December 4, 2001 with an abysmal 1-of-14 night in an 85-71 Bucks loss to a mediocre Knicks team.
“I’d have to say this is the worst performance I’ve had,” Allen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel back in 2001. “If I had made half of my shots, I think the outcome of the game would have been totally different.”
No kidding, Ray. Dennis Scott missed more threes than Allen, but he still made two to Allen’s one. Scott’s team also came away with the win, so the crown of "single worst three-point shooting game" passes to Allen. Allen redeemed himself by winning the Three-Point Shootout at All-Star Weekend that year.
Harden’s 16 missed threes tied a record held by Damon Stoudamire, who went 5-of-21 from three in a 108-88 Blazers loss to the Warriors in April 2005. While the 16 missed threes sound gaudy, Stoudamire made too many threes to be in real contention for worst of all time. Stoudamire was another great three-point shooter who would've thrived in today's game. In his rookie year with the Raptors, Stoudamire broke Scott's record for most threes made by a rookie with 133. Seven months after setting the record for most missed threes, Stoudamire scored 54 points on 20-of-32 shooting.
That stood as the Blazers' franchise record until Damian Lillard broke it in 2017.
However, James Harden’s quest to carry Houston’s offense over the last seven seasons has fundamentally changed what it means to have a “bad night.” Harden has repeatedly tested Scott and Allen’s benchmarks, missing 10 threes in six games before this season. But with more and more of Houston’s offensive burden falling on Harden, the potential for more historically awful nights is growing. The Rockets as a team missed 27 straight threes in Game 7 of last year's Western Conference finals. Two months ago he went 1-of-13 from three in a loss to the Spurs. Finally, on Sunday, Harden took the championship belt for worst three-point shooting night in NBA history.
“They just didn’t go in,” Harden said afterward.
Harden's night represents the next step in a growing trend. After 2005, there are many more abysmal shooting nights, often from the best shooters in the league. Kyle Korver has two 1-of-12 nights on his record, as does Russell Westbrook. Stephen Curry has three games with 11 missed threes.
Two months ago, Bucks center Brook Lopez went 0-of-12 from downtown in a loss to the Phoenix Suns, surpassing Curry's recently set record of most missed threes without a make in NBA history.
What’s even crazier about Harden's 1-for-17 day is that, statistically, Harden didn’t even have a bad game. He scored 38 points and had 12 assists. His game score of 30.3 is the highest of any player who has shot less than 20% from three on at least 10 attempts in a single game. Despite missing 16 threes, Harden was still above average and Houston was up seven with less than five minutes to go. Harden’s plus/minus for the game was an even zero. It seems like Harden is good enough to neutralize 16 missed threes. Even in bitter defeat, he continues to bend our conception of basketball reality.