With NBA free agency having started Sunday, the Daily Bruin Sports editors decided to take a look back at some of the most influential professional Bruins. They’ve dominated decades and pioneered positions, but each editor had their own pick for the one whose fingerprints are the most prominent in today’s game.
Coral Smith, assistant Sports editor
Reggie Miller is one of the greatest long-range shooters of all time, plain and simple.
The UCLA alum joined the NBA in 1987 and made a name for himself as one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in the game – a legacy that is still intact 14 years after his retirement.
Miller started playing basketball against his older sister as a kid and found that he couldn’t compete against his taller sibling with shots close to the hoop. So he moved back, taking hundreds of shots a day and eventually mastering a long-range jump shot – the skill that made Miller famous in the NBA.
Miller’s ability to shoot the long-ball led him to success at UCLA, as he led the Bruins to the National Invitation Tournament championship in his sophomore season and to the Pac-10 championship his senior year – also the first season that the 3-point field goal was officially implemented.
After graduation, Miller played for the Indiana Pacers for 18 seasons, creating a reputation as a 3-point monster.
He started things off by breaking Larry Bird’s record for most 3-pointers in a rookie season with 61. Miller led the league in 3-point field goals twice – in 1992-1993 and 1996-1997 – with 167 and 229, respectively.
While other prolific 3-point shooters have emerged in recent years, it was Miller who was there first, revolutionizing the way players shot by focusing on the long shot.
By the time Miller retired in 2005, he had cemented his legacy as one of the greatest 3-point shooters of all time. He is one of only eight players to join the 50-40-90 club and has made 2,560 3-pointers in his career, an NBA record at the time of his retirement. It has since been surpassed by only one other player – Ray Allen.
The 3-pointer is an iconic aspect of NBA basketball in today’s game, and no one did it better than Reggie Miller.
Jacqueline Dzwonczyk, assistant Sports editor
There’s only one person in the world who owns the title of the NBA’s all-time leading scorer – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
And he did it at 7-foot-2 before other big men were consistently contributing offensively.
As a Bruin in the John Wooden-era, Abdul-Jabbar, known then as Lewis Alcindor, went 88-2 and lead UCLA to three NCAA championships. He earned All-American honors in each year of his varsity collegiate career and was named National College Player of the Year in 1967 and 1969.
“The Captain” went on to win six NBA titles and was named the MVP of the NBA Finals twice. He lasted 21 seasons in the league – an anomaly, especially for his time – and racked up 38,387 points, 17,440 rebounds and 3,189 blocks.
That places him as the No. 1 scorer, No. 3 rebounder and No. 3 blocker of all time.
Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t a 3-point shooter like today’s most popular bigs, but he perfected arguably the most unstoppable and iconic post move ever – the sky hook.
It’s not a coincidence that Abdul-Jabbar is one of only three players who had his jersey retired by both UCLA and the Lakers. Los Angeles is the home of basketball stars, and Abdul-Jabbar is one of the brightest.
Jared Tay, assistant Sports editor
Plain and simple, Russell Westbrook is a stat-sheet stuffer.
The former Bruin turned star point guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder has transformed the point guard’s role on the court. A point guard in today’s game has to excel in multiple areas and Westbrook’s stats illustrate his command of nearly every part of the floor.
Westbrook has established himself as the king of the triple-double – a stat line in which a player accumulates a total of at least 10 in three of five statistical categories – usually points, assists and rebounds – in a single game.
In the 2018-2019 season, the guard averaged a triple-double – a feat only matched by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson over 50 years ago – for the third-consecutive season.
Westbrook’s stat-padding was the talk of the 2016-2017 season, and his league-best average of 31.6 points combined with just over 10 assists and rebounds per game propelled him to the MVP title.
Westbrook’s 138 career triple-doubles puts him in second place on the all-time leaderboard. He is tied with Magic Johnson and sits atop other NBA legends like LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird.
Westbrook isn’t a multiple-time NBA champion like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Walton. In fact, he has yet to win a championship with the Thunder. But this doesn’t diminish his status as one of the greatest all-around players in the league.
Reggie Miller can shoot 3s? So can Westbrook.
Abdul-Jabbar scored double-digits almost every game? So does Westbrook.
In fact, the 6-foot-3-inch guard does the job of basically every position on the court. With Westbrook’s ability to run an offense, score and make an impact on the glass, you just won’t find a player as dominant in all facets of the game.
Jason Maikis, assistant Sports editor
Bill Walton is one of the most recognizable Bruin faces from the fabled days of John Wooden.
In his three years playing men’s basketball for UCLA, Walton took home two titles as well as three Naismith College Player of the Year awards. During that time, Walton graced the hardwood with other Bruin greats such as Marques Johnson and Jamaal Wilkes.
However, his time in the NBA was quite different.
Walton won a single NBA title in the first 10 years of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers and the San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers. But after back and foot injuries that sidelined Walton for over three seasons in the midst of his career, he decided to usher in a new era for professional basketball.
In 1985, Walton decided to leave the Clippers and turned his attention to the NBA dynasties of the ’80s — the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. A trade to the Celtics followed, as did a championship at the end of the 1985-86 season.
In no small turn, Walton had instigated the idea of NBA superstars finding and joining championship-level teams to win rings with at the close of their careers. The trend started by Walton has now gathered enough steam to power the conversation of free agency every summer, with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and countless then-ringless veterans being the prime followers.
Walton didn’t just leave behind a spectacular career, he also provided the blueprint for many ring-chasing veterans of the future.
Sam Connon, Sports editor
The Bruins have produced a handful of great big NBA men.
Abdul-Jabbar owned the post, Walton was a freak athlete and other guys like Ryan Hollins filled solid roles down low in the pros.
But they were just big men – Kevin Love changed the game.
There have been other big men who can shoot – think Dirk Nowitzki, Andrea Bargnani and Mehmet Okur. And while those guys were efficient from deep, none of them were as consistently deadly from deep as Love.
Love shot 35.4% from deep at UCLA on 2.1 attempts per game, but he shot just 29.6% on just 0.9 attempts per game in his first two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. In five of his next eight seasons, however, he was named an All-Star – thanks in large part to his much-improved 3-pointer.
Love is a double-double machine, but his career 3-point percentage of 37 on 4.4 attempts per game is what sets him apart. Nowitzki was the league’s premier shooting big through the 2000s, but he never shot more than five 3s per game in any of his 21 seasons.
Love, on the other hand, has taken more than six per game in three separate seasons.
This isn’t just an isolated personal achievement for Love either. Ever since Love has garnered national attention, teams all over the NBA have tried their best to copy his success.
Nowadays, every championship contender needs to have a shooting big man to spread the floor on the offensive end. Marc Gasol and Al Horford have morphed from defensive post players to long-range shooters, thanks in large part to Love’s role with the 2016 champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Splash Brothers and Golden State Warriors – along with Mike D’Antoni’s Houston Rockets – have undoubtedly changed the way teams play offense and set up around the perimeter, but guards and wings have always been the league’s most proficient shooters.
Love isn’t as good of a shooter as Miller, and he isn’t as dynamic as his old teammate Westbrook. What the big man does have going for him, however, is how drastically he has changed his position and the league as a whole.