Had an interesting discussion last night. Which former Arizona Wildcat has had the best NBA career?
The debate started on KCUB 1290-AM during the drive-time In the House show. Guest hosts Brad Allis and John Schuster posed the question for their listeners, with Schuster, in particular, making the case for newly-crowned NBA champion Jason Terry.
A couple of months ago, Terry wouldn’t have been in the forefront of the discussion. But he’s earned his championship ring — and he was especially good in the final two games as the Dallas Mavericks closed out the NBA Finals in six games against the Miami Heat.
But has Terry really had the best NBA career of all the ex-Wildcats?
That conversation continued later last night as Allis and Schuster joined me and TucsonCitizen.com bloggers (and former Arizona basketball beat reporters) Steve Rivera and Javier Morales at a northwest side establishment. Allis also blogs at TucsonCitizen.com.
Rivera said the choice was a no-brainer: Steve Kerr.
By virtue of Kerr’s five championship rings — three with the Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs — all the former Wildcats probably would trade their careers for Kerr’s. But that’s not quite the same thing as having the best career.
Kerr played 15 seasons, with a well-defined role as a shooter off the bench. He made an NBA career-record 45.4 percent of his 3-point shots (726 of 1,599). On the other hand, his career scoring average was only 6.0 points per game.
Terry has played 12 seasons, with little indication of slowing down. Since his rookie season, he has averaged less than 15.5 points only once — and that was in the 2004-05 season, his first in Dallas, when he still managed to score 12.4 points per game.
He has scored 15,537 points, which is 10,100 more than Kerr (5,437). Terry averages 16.2 points per game for his career.
But for pure scoring, no ex-Cat touches Gilbert Arenas, who has a career average of 21.2 points. For a while, he was one of the top five players in the game, averaging 29.3 points in the 2005-06 season and 28.4 in the following season.
Since then, injuries and off-court problems have diminished his production and his star power … and his postseason career has been nothing special, limited to a mere 25 games.
Then there’s Sean Elliott — 12 seasons, a 14.2-point scoring average, the 1999 championship with the San Antonio Spurs … and a forever-highlight: The Memorial Day Miracle, as he nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to beat Portland in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
Damon Stoudamire had a 13-year career, averaging 13.4 points and earning about $100 million in salary.
Richard Jefferson has played 10 seasons, averaging 16.4 points, although his two seasons with the Spurs haven’t been as productive offensively. There is still time for him, like there was for Terry, to get that NBA title on the back end of his career.
Mike Bibby spent some years as one of the NBA’s best point guards. He still has career averages of 15.2 points and 5.7 assists, although he seems to be fading at 33, while Terry at the same age, seems to have a few years left in the tank.
So, which ex-Cat has had the best NBA career?
Kerr has the postseason success and a shooting stroke for the ages.
Arenas has the prolific scoring.
Others have enjoyed long and productive careers.
Terry can’t match Kerr’s rings or Arenas’ scoring, but he is in a sweet spot of consistency, outpacing Kerr’s scoring, matching Elliott’s championship and now holding an NBA title that has eluded Arenas.
Based on all that, I’m going with Terry as the answer to this debate.