Stephen Curry is having one heck of a season. He’s shooting like a mutant descendant of Annie Oakley and Robin Hood or something. I mean, he literally made a 35-foot shot accidentally, and he did it while being fouled!!! So, you’re not going to get a lot of arguments from people about him being a great shooter. But one piece of rhetoric that gets sort of casually tossed about is the dismissal, “But…” You know the verse: “Steph is the greatest shooter of all time, but…”
If you’re watching him play right now and you’re only seeing him as a shooter, you’re not doing your watching right. It’s a low-key downgrade of Curry. As, though, he’s really “just” a shooter. Let’s set aside for now that there should be no “but” that follows being the greatest shooter of all time. I mean, with that shooting comes mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, planet-of-his-own efficiency.
I think most of us would agree that Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant qualify as some of the greatest all-around players ever to put sneaker to court. And if you don’t, you’re wrong, but that’s an argument for another day.
Curry may actually be so good it hurts his numbers because he’s putting his team out so far in front. He’s usually sitting for the end of games. And that’s not hyperbole. He’s 157th in fourth-quarter minutes per game. His reduced minutes actually undervalue his per-game averages, which at 32.0 points, 6.0 assists and 5.1 rebounds are actually pretty insane. The other players who’ve done that are Jordan, James, Rick Barry, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Dwyane Wade, according to Basketball-Reference. That’s some pretty good all-around company, no?
But here’s the thing: they all played at least 38.6 minutes per game when they did it. Curry is averaging 34.3. That’s four minutes a contest. And many of them played a faster pace than Curry is playing. Here’s what Curry’s 27-year-old season looks like stacked up against James, Jordan, Durant and Kobe, adjusted for 100 possessions:
OK. So that’s pretty impressive, right? But maybe you’re thinking, “That’s kind of neat, but all stats aren’t the same value, so it’s skewing Curry’s scoring.” OK. Let’s look at some of the advanced stats. Here he is in True Shooting Percentage, Box Plus-Minus, Win Shares per 48 and Player Efficiency Rating compared with our aforementioned greats at age 27:
Curry is on pace to be just the third player, other than Michael Jordan and Russell Westbrook, to average 40 points, 8.0 dimes, 7.0 boards and 3.0 steals per 100 possessions. Declaring him as a mere “shooter” is to diminish that. That said, don’t undervalue what his shooting means either.
You’ve heard of the 50/40/90 club for players who shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from three. That can be misleading because players who shoot a higher percentage of their shots from three are going to lower their overall field goal percentage. What’s more telling is to look at two-point, three-point and free throw percentage.
Curry is shooting 60.2 percent from two, 45.9 percent from three and 94.3 percent. He’d be the first player in NBA history to reach a 60/40/90 slash. His true shooting percentage of 70.0 would also be a new NBA record. And on top of all that, he can be the first player in NBA history to lead the league in true shooting percentage and scoring in the same season.
And he’s doing that while posting some of the best all-around numbers ever when you account for possessions.
So, the next time you want to say, “I know he’s a great shooter, but…” change your but to an “and.”