In this weekly series, we revisit players who were once valuable contributors and maybe even well known during their NBA careers, but have since quietly disappeared from the league. The kind of players who make you go “Oh yeah! I remember that guy”.
This week, we will cover 2K legend – Jason Kapono.
If you’re a casual NBA fan and remember Jason Kapono, you generally fall into one of two camps. You watched the 2007 or 2008 three-point contest, or you used him to put up something like 154 points from behind the arc in a game of NBA Live. With career averages of 6.7 points, 1.7 rebounds and .8 assists, it would appear on the surface that he was forgotten for a reason.
Jason was drafted by the Cavaliers with the 2nd pick of the 2nd round of the 2003 NBA draft. He had a prolific four-year career at UCLA, where he was named to the All-Pac 10 First Team for each of his four seasons with the team. Scouts at the time captured much of what would define his career – historically great long-range shooting accuracy and form, coupled with a lack of athleticism and lateral quickness that would render him a liability on defense. He was the prototypical NBA journeyman, spending time with the Cavaliers, Bobcats, Heat, Raptors, 76ers, and Lakers, never spending more than two seasons with a single team.
Before Kyle Korver in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons, Kapono was the only player to lead the NBA in three-point shooting percentage in consecutive seasons. Even more memorable, however, was his all-time record-setting performance in the 2008 three-point shooting contest:
Look at that performance! His 25 points out of a possible 30 remained an unbroken record until an additional 4 possible points were added to the contest in the 2013-2014 Season. No player has matched the percentage of possible points scored in the contest. Here, he takes his rightful place as a legend, surpassing other winners including Larry Bird, Ray Allen, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson.
Jason’s contributions were more than some three-point contests, even though most fans do not remember much else about him. After a career year for the 2006-2007 Miami Heat, Jason signed with the Toronto Raptors for the full mid-level exception. He was a key postseason contributor in his first season with the Raptors, averaging 15.6 points per game as the team’s second-leading scorer after Chris Bosh. Not bad for a role player off the bench. The Magic ultimately won that first round series 4-1, but had the Raptors’ other scoring options not been limited to Anthony Parker and T.J. Ford, Jason may have had more than one series to showcase his shooting ability.
Though he had been to the playoffs with the Heat in the two years prior, he only logged 90 seconds in the entire 2005-2006 postseason and only averaged 5 points in 19 minutes per game in the following season’s first round exit. Still, he walked away from the Heat a champion.
Turning Point and Current Status
When asked how his game would look without a three-point shot, Kapono replied, “It would be tough to play when you’re sitting in the 28th row watching the game.” Well said, Kapono. As his shooting accuracy dipped in his second season in Toronto before disappearing completely following a trade to Philadelphia, the prophecy unfortunately came true. He would average 4.2 points on 36% shooting behind the arc for the Sixers, a far cry from the 49% he shot for Miami and 45% for Toronto.
Jason then logged short stints with the Lakers and Panathinaikos in Greece, though he did not receive meaningful playing opportunities for either. After officially retiring from the NBA, he received a training camp invite from the Warriors but was waived before the start of the season. Though this may seem like ancient history, his brief time with the Warriors was only two years ago.
Though I would have loved nothing more than for Jason to have developed the multi-dimensional, versatile skillset that keeps players employed through their late thirties, I prefer to remember him for exactly what made him Jason Kapono – his three point shot. In his era of less outside shooting, less switching on defense, and less emphasis on versatility, that meant a lot more than fans today will ever remember.
One final question remains
What is Kapono’s allure? Calling him a fan favorite may be a bit of a stretch, but I was not the only one following him in every stop he made throughout the league. There are flashier, similarly talented shooters in the league today with bigger profiles and more complete skillsets. But he made the game seem accessible. Watching him thrive in the league without the defense prowess or supreme athleticism was refreshing to a high school kid whose friends could run at Mach 5 and play like the Monstars.
In the unlikely case you haven’t read it, here is a tidbit from the sports section of the March 2nd, 2007 Sarasota Herald Tribune: “’No one invites me to any parties’ Kapono told the Chicago Tribune. ‘Even [Heat teammate Alonzo] Mourning. He’s having a thing in Vegas, and I never got [an invitation]. He doesn’t even know who I am, and I’m on his team.” Though I don’t throw parties like Alonzo Mourning, I know who you are, Jason. And the league is not the same without you.
Check out our #ForgottenFridays coverage of Von Wafer last week!