The NBA moved towards relying on the three-point shot slowly after the early 2000s and then quite drastically after the advent of analytics and teams like the Golden State Warriors in the 2010s. Shooting the three well has always been a coveted skill though, and one of the league's elite marksmen was none other than Peja Stojakovic, a 3-time NBA All-Star, NBA champion and 2-time winner of the league's Three-Point Contest.
Stojakovic shot over 40% from three-point range for his career, an excellent number considering that he averaged 5.5 threes a game during that time as well. This made him quite the prolific scorer during his run with the Sacramento Kings in his prime and saw him feature heavily for 4 more teams after that. Peja's last stop in the NBA was with the Dallas Mavericks, where he finally won a coveted NBA title alongside another elite shooter in Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki.
And speaking to The Athletic, Nowitzki shared an incredible story of the time Stojakovic beat him in a three-point shooting contest during training. The duo used to get up shots together after practice and what started friendly soon became a competition for bragging rights. One time though, they went for 100 shots in a row, significantly more than their usual 25, and Nowitzki says Stojakovic was on another level from beyond the arc at the time.
“We’d shoot five 3s in five spots, so that’s 25 shots per round, then it’s the next guy’s turn,” Nowitzki said.
“I think he made 95 or 96 of them. The whole gym was stunned. That’s how good he was, how easy he shot it.”
NBA shooting coach Chris Matthews, known as 'Lethal Shooter', expanded on what made Stojakovic such an elite shooter as well.
“Peja didn’t necessarily have a beautiful shot,” said Chris Matthews. But he was an elite shooter. So, it’s not about how your shot looks. It’s about how efficient your shot is. It’s about consistency. If you can get your shot off going left, going right, if you can get your shot off against a 6-foot-8 defender then you shouldn’t change your shot.”
One of the NBA's most respected shooters, Mark Price, broke down the process of getting to the level that Stojakovic, along with the likes of Price and Nowitzki, found themselves at. Nowitzki himself elaborated on the point, really honing on the effort it takes to gain total mastery over this aspect of the game.
“It takes a lot of time, effort, focus, working on it every day, developing muscle memory, changing your mechanics,” Price said. “There’s a lot of mental, muscle memory stuff that goes into it. It’s not just about getting up to 100 shots every day. You have to correct it constantly. In the early stages, you have to do a lot of repetition, staying on top of that until guys get the picture.”
Added Nowitzki: “I think you can’t teach anyone off the streets how to be a great shooter. You have to have talent. You have to have great hand-eye coordination. You have to have a soft touch with your hands.”
Stojakovic ended his career as 11th in career three-point attempts, even though he has now fallen all the way down to 28th in the rankings. He shot nearly 90% from the free-throw line for his career at well, an absurd number, with only 3 players in NBA history surpassing him in that aspect of the game. Stojakovic retired the year after he won the 2011 championship with the Mavericks, and it would have been truly insane to see what he would have been able to achieve if he played in the following decade as the three-point shot became the most important aspect of the game in the NBA.