Steph Curry: Hot Shot for the Ages?

Published on 18-Apr-2013 by Colin Chiles
Basketball - NBA / NBA Daily Review

This shot is actually being taken from downtown Berkeley

What is it that makes a great shooter?

And for now, leave tequila out of this.

Is it a guy who picks his spots, shoots a high percentage but only takes wide open shots? Or is it a land-shark type guy who shoots every time he touches the ball, scores often but suffers a worse percentage because of it?

Most people would say that a great shooter walks the delicate balance between these two categories. I would agree. But the greatest shooter does both. The greatest shooter would hit the most threes and pop the highest percentage. It might also come as a surprise that he's right in front of you.

Meet Wardell Stephen Curry II (yes, that's his real name). In his four-year (and counting)NBA career, he has gained the reputation of being an ace behind the arc. This year, for example, he broke the mark for most treys made in a single season. This has led to some talk about Curry being the listed among the hoop immortals, if not at the head of their class.

I'm here to support that contention with stats.

Ask around for a short list of the greatest three point shooters of all time and you will most likely get a list that looks a little something like this: Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Glen Rice, Steve Nash, Peja Stojakvic.

There are definitely other great three point shooters, but those are the most common guys listed in conversations like these. So those five guys will be the ones I compare to Mr. Wardell Curry.

First, some guidelines:

To be considered one of the greatest long-range bombers ever, a variety of data must point in a player's direction.

  • First, what is his career three-point percentage? This separates guys who have had a great year or a great couple of years from the guys who did it their entire careers (remember, we are looking for the greatest shooter, not just a great one).
  • Second, how many treys did he launch per game in his career? Again, this ensures a player racks the rock enough times to secure a strong sample size.
  • Third, how long did he play? This gives us historical context for what Curry is doing and excludes those who didn't play long enough to really be considered.
  • Next, what was his best single-season record from behind the arc ('Best 3PA'), and how many attempts did he take per game during that season (3PA)?
  • And last, the inverse; what was his worst single-season shooting the three ('Worst 3PA') and how many attempts did he take per game during that season (3PA)? This gives some context to just how impressive a high shot percentage is. Conversely, it can tell us just how unimpressive a low mark is. It alsoinforms us how consistent a player was and whether his career percentage contains notable outliers.

Just one more thing to explain before we break it down: the seasons in which the player did not record at least 100 treys were omitted. For example, this saves Glen Rice from having to include his shortened 18-game 2003-04 season in which he was 5/28 from three (just 18%). I'm making the assumption that with more attempts, Mr Rice would have improved that mark.

With those guidelines in mind, lets look at the stats!

 

  Yrs Career 3P% Career 3PA   Made   Best 3PA   Worst 3PA
Ray Allen 17*        40.0          5.8   2855   45.3 - 5.0     35.0 - 7.7
Reggie Miller 18        39.5          4.9   2560   42.9 - 4.7     32.0 - 4.4
Steve Nash 17*        42.8          3.3   1677   47.0 - 4.7     37.4 - 3.3
Peja Stojakovic 14        40.1          5.5   1760   44.1 - 6.8     32.0 - 5.5
Glen Rice 15        40.0          3.9   1559   47.0 - 5.6     36.7 - 2.9
    * active        

Before we focus on Curry, a couple of quick notes about a personal man-crush of mine, Steve Nash. Nash has only shot under 40% from beyond the arc three times in his career, and those were 37.4%, 39% and 39.5%. The man is incredibly consistent. He is also an incredibly consistent free throw shooter. It's not three-point shooting, but as a friend pointed out to me recently, he has only missed 322 total free throws in his career. He's 3,038/3,360. Dwight Howard missed 366 free throws this year alone. Need more proof Steve Nash is amazingly consistent? Consider this: twice in his career, Nash took exactly 343 threes and incredibly, made exactly 156 in both seasons (45.5% shooting).

And finally...

  Yrs Career 3P% Career 3PA Made Best 3PA Worst 3PA
Stephen Curry  4*        45.5          5.6 640 45.5 - 7.6 43.7 - 4.8

Highlighted in red is what Curry did this year, en route to breaking the single-season record for treys made. It's not just that he shot nearly 46% from behind the arc, it's that he did it shooting 7.6 threes a game. Those are numbers land-sharks drool over. Someone please inform Mr. Curry that he's not supposed to be able to hit that many threes while shooting at such a high clip.

The incredible thing is that this is only Curry's fourth year in the NBA. Unless he gets injured, he can only improve. All the other shooters on this list reached their highest three-point percentage mark at least eight seasons into their career:

  • Rice in his 8th season,
  • Miller in his 11th,
  • Nash and Stojakovic in their 12th seasons, and
  • Ray Allen didn't reach his peak until last year, in his 16th season. 

It's hard to imagine that Curry could have a better season than 45.5%, shooting 7.6 threes a game, but I can't believe we've already seen his best season. How good can he really get? Is a 50%-from-hree season possible? How many can he shoot per game while still maintaining a percentage over 40%?

Only Wardell knows what is possible. And I think he intends to find out.

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