Since we're on the topic of Steph Curry and shooting, a piece today from Tom Haberstroh:
Hey, Stephen: More 3s please
On Tuesday, Stephen Curry put on a show for the fans in Beijing.
The Golden State Warriors trailed the Los Angeles Lakers by eight points with about 10 minutes to go in a preseason matchup. Hunched over at the hip, Curry ever so slowly dribbled the ball through his legs, trotting across half court as if to lull his backpedaling defender Darius Johnson-Odom to sleep. One dribble, two dribbles, three dribbles.
The hypnotism worked. Curry suddenly darted to his right to curl around Draymond Green's high screen, leaving Johnson-Odom pancaked against Green's chest. Then, Curry pulled up about 30 feet from the basket in front of Lakers guard Shawne Williams, who sat back underneath the 3-point arc before realizing his mistake: Did I just leave Curry open beyond the arc? By the time Williams sprinted out to meet Curry, the deep 3-pointer already had been released. Splash. Warriors now down by five.
A few possessions later, down three, Curry caught a handoff from Andrew Bogut 27 feet away from the basket. No one was near Curry. Release, splash. Tied game. Next possession? Curry, several feet behind the arc at the top of the key, juked Elias Harris with a crossover step-back and let it fly. Splash again. Warriors up by three with 6 minutes left. Curry's 14 fourth-quarter points helped wipe away the Lakers' 11-point lead entering the quarter, and the Warriors went on to win by five. Johnson-Odom got waived by the Lakers soon after.
Yes, it's just the preseason, but as Curry took over another game with several shots far behind the 3-point line, one question flooded my mind:
Why doesn't Curry do this more often?
Another 3-point threshold
At 25, Curry is just entering his prime and already shattering shooting records. In 2012-13, he set the single-season league mark for most 3-pointers made, with 272. That's even more impressive considering the uphill climb it took to get there. With about a week left in the Warriors' season, it looked as if the record would stay Ray Allen's -- he made 269 for the Seattle Supersonics in 2005-06. Curry's task was this: Make 17 3-pointers in the team's final three games, or about six per game, to tie Allen's mark. Curry drilled 20.
Curry is a transcendent shooting talent, the likes of which the NBA likely has never seen. No exaggeration. Curry's pseudo-breakout postseason didn't establish that notion as much as it simply confirmed it. Curry is the Pedro Martinez of basketball, making up for his lack of size in a big man's sport by wielding a weapon of unmatched skill. Martinez had his fastball/changeup combination; Curry has his shot. Curry topped Allen's record in early April, but if Curry's shooting gifts were truly maximized, he should have shattered it in March. He converted an obscene 45.3 percent of his 3-point attempts last season on a league-leading 7.7 attempts per game. Which begs the question: Why just 7.7 attempts?
Curry should be shooting way more 3-pointers.
Consider this: The one-point bonus of a 3-pointer means that every time Curry shoots from that range, it's the efficiency equivalent of taking a 2-pointer that goes in 68 percent of the time. Keep in mind, Wilt Chamberlain is the only player in NBA history to shoot 68 percent from the floor (minimum 500 shots). Having a 45 percent high-volume 3-point shooter at your disposal is like playing basketball with a cheat code.
And as the primary Warriors' ball handler, Curry can pretty much dictate how many 3s he takes. It's probably not enough as is. The most high-volume 3-point shooting season of all time belongs to Baron Davis, who shot 8.7 3-pointers per game in 2003-04, which is flat-out criminal because he made just 32.1 percent of them. It won't surprise you that Davis was traded the following season (to Curry's Warriors, actually), but it just goes to show how hard it is to make 3-pointers at a high rate when you're shooting so many of them. In NBA history, there have been 14 instances where a player shot as many 3s as Curry did per game last season and they collectively shot 36.6 percent. For perspective, Curry made 45.3 percent. And that wasn't a fluke -- he's a 44.6 percent 3-point shooter in his four-year career.
So why not take more? Here's my proposition: This season, Curry should aim to be the first to shoot at least 10 3-pointers per game.
From the looks of it this preseason, Curry is well on his way.
The track record
The usual preseason caveats apply, but Curry is shooting 3s more than ever these days. In Tuesday's exhibition, he shot 10 3-pointers and made three of them. In 100 preseason minutes, Curry is averaging 9.0 3-pointers every 36 minutes, which is higher than last season's rate of 7.2 attempts per 36 minutes and far higher than 2012-13's rate of 6.0 attempts per 36 minutes. This is good news for the Warriors because, generally speaking, when Curry launches tons of 3-pointers, good things happen for Golden State.
Let's take a look at last season. Curry shot at least 10 3-pointers in 19 games, propelling the Warriors to a 12-7 (.631) record in those games. The Warriors' offensive efficiency in those Curry 3-fests? Try 108.8 points per 100 possessions, which would have ranked third in the NBA behind the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. On the flip side, when Curry shot between five and nine 3-pointers, the Warriors' offense tended to hover around league-average (102.9 points per 100 possessions).
It might be the case that the Warriors' offense does better when Curry goes 3-happy because it's an indication that Curry is shooting well. But looking at Curry's data, that doesn't ring completely true. There are plenty of instances where the Warriors survived a Curry stinker (for example, last season's Dec. 30 win over the Thunder, when he missed 11 of 14 from 3-point range). Just the threat of Curry shooting from 30 feet affords the Warriors' offense better spacing to find open shots and keeps the on-ball defense more honest. The overall trend follows that the more Curry unleashes his 3-point arsenal, the better the Warriors perform.
Moreover, they generally don't unravel defensively when Curry feasts on 3s. Interestingly enough, the Warriors' defense was far more effective in games (99.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) where Curry shot double-digit 3s, lending credence to the idea that a freewheeling Curry likely wouldn't sabotage the team's focus overall.
What sets Curry apart
Asking Curry to find 10 healthy 3-point shots isn't the same as asking your average 3-point specialist to do the same. Unlike Kyle Korver and Steve Kerr, Curry combines both the necessary handle and the absurd range to pull off the double-digit feat.
How ridiculous is Curry's combination of range and handle? According to NBA.com data, Curry shot a mind-boggling 30-for-62 on shots between 28 feet and the half-court line last season. That's 48.4 percent. Compare that to the league average from that range, which is 21.7 percent. Furthermore, in the 57 games that Curry played in front of SportVU 3D-tracking cameras last season, he shot 39.5 percent (81-for-205) on 3-point shots off the dribble. That's even better than what catch-and-shoot 3-point mavens J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson and Jared Dudley registered last season standing still.
We haven't seen someone average 10 3-pointers a game because we've never seen a player like Curry -- an all-time great shooter who also has elite handle and can score well beyond the 3-point line. But this fact remains: The more 3-pointers Curry has taken, the better he and his team have become. Why not keep pushing the envelope? If Curry's 3-point frequency continues to creep past the double-digit mark, the rest of the NBA's fears would be realized: Stephen Curry, fully unleashed.