It is past time that we recognize the fact that Wardell Stephen Curry is unlike anything we have ever seen.
His team is on a path of destruction, making fools of the entire league over the course of a schedule that proves grueling for every team that is not the Golden State Warriors. Curry has continued to engage in an all-out war with the records, statistics, and conventions of old-time basketball.
If you don’t believe that stat, click here for yourself. Don’t worry, I’ll do the math for you. Curry is making 4.9 threes per game. If he were to play in every game the rest of the way, (he’s missed two so far), he’d be on pace to make 392 threes this season.
That is insane, because no one has ever come that close to 400 threes. BECAUSE NO ONE HAS EVER EVEN MADE 300.
No one other than Stephen Curry has ever made more 269. At his current pace, Curry will make 123 more threes in a year than anyone else ever (other than himself).
If right now, he went into disguise and played the rest of the season as his State Farm fake twin brother Sebastian Curry and continued to shoot at that pace, Steph would stay at 29th all time in threes made in a season, while Sebastian would tie for 78th.
I wanted to compare Curry’s season to the greatest shooters before him. Until he stepped onto the scene, the two most prolific three-point shooters of all-time were Reggie Miller and Ray Allen. Neither was capable of anything near what Curry is doing. Both relied on incredible shooting, but couldn’t dream of Curry’s elusiveness, ball-handling, or court vision. Neither ever was the centerpiece of his team in the way that Curry is. To further that point, I culled stats from the highest usage seasons by Allen and Miller to compare to Steph’s current campaign:
For those unfamiliar, usage rate measures the amount of a player’s team’s possessions they “used”, either by shooting, assisting, or turning the ball over. It’s essential a measure of how much a team relies on a specific player. The other stats measured below are true shooting percentage (which factors in the respective values of free throws, 2-pointers, and 3-pointers), 3-point attempt rate (the % of a player’s shots that were from beyond the arc), assist rate (% of teammates’ baskets assisted), and free throw rate (free throw attempts per field goal attempt).
Curry, despite having the ball in his hands more, is shooting more effectively and finding teammates at higher rates. He’s getting to the line more often than either Allen or Miller, while also shooting more than HALF of his shots from outside the arc.
A shooter, at Curry’s volume and success rates, is more than impressive or even historic.
Steph Curry is a gamechanger.
Conventional rules, strategies, and conceptions of basketball need not apply in dealing with Curry. Like the greats before him, the entire NBA, and potentially the entire sport, will need to shift in his wake.
His former coach Mark Jackson theorized that his success will hurt the future of the game, since he will inspire young players to try to shoot too many threes, ruining their shooting form and youth basketball in one fell swoop.
That’s such an absurdly blunt and stupid theory that we’ll simply forget it, and instead look into the more direct ways that Stephen Curry will change the NBA.
They widened the lane for Wilt and called handchecks for Jordan, so why not try something to level the playing field with Curry?
The obvious idea would be backing up the three point line, but we’ve all seen Steph making 40 footers in warm-ups, so that might actually help him.
The actual changes the NBA could look to enact would be more subtle. The first would be to renege on the handcheck rules of the Jordan era. Allowing defenders to have a hand on Curry’s hip will certainly slow him down.
The other would be a change of a more unwritten rule. NBA bigs have been “allowed” to set moving screens for years now. Kevin Garnett has not set a stationary screen since the 1990s. The rule doesn’t allow it, but the refs give a lot of leeway on the pick and roll. Get stingier with Steph’s screeners and you give the defense a better chance.
Thing is, the NBA will never do either of these things. Everything Curry does results in a fan friendly product. He makes deepballs and dances through defenses. I can’t see the league ever wanting to stop behavior like that.
“Welp, we aren’t winning this year…or next, so let’s tank.”
People act like tanking is a black plague of the NBA. But right now, it’s only really affected the lowest of the low.
If you were a middling team, and saw the mountains needed to climb to overcome Curry and the Warriors, isn’t it a tad more enticing to try to stock the warchest before making your attack?
I’m really thinking of one team in particular. There’s one player in the NBA capable of making a spectacular leap in the coming years, Anthony Davis. Now, once his team started 1-10 and then drifted to 11-26, shouldn’t there at least be the temptation to punt this season to think long term?
Trade free-agent-to-be Ryan Anderson and test the market for guys like Omir Asik and Tyreke Evans. Try to secure a top 3 pick and strengthen the core around Davis.
For certain teams, this has to be more attractive than low playoff seeds and a sweep courtesy of Steph and company.
Teams will acquire players who are capable of “stopping” Steph Curry
Stopping is in quotes because no one has yet to do so really. In his career, Curry averages at least 16.9 points per game against every team in the NBA. Only seven teams have held him to an average under 20 per game in his career. Teams like Atlanta and Boston may point to the defense of their guards, like Jeff Teague and Avery Bradley, for their very relative success against Curry.
Back when Shaq was pounding every defense inside, teams searched for potential Shaq-stoppers. The Sixers and Nets both acquired Dikembe Mutombo while they were contenders. Both oddly also gave a shot to Todd MacCulloch, who was useless elsewhere but was a big body and six fouls against The Diesel.
If Curry continues to light up the Western Conference, shouldn’t the other contenders look for their Dikembe (Avery Bradley?) or MacCulloch (Matthew Dellevedova?).
Let’s return briefly to the idea of the Pelicans tanking. What if they were to acquire Kris Dunn, future top 5 draft pick and an absolutely savage defender? Dunn may not enter the league and stop Curry in his tracks, but it reminds me of another past draft pick. The Houston Texans selected Mario Williams over Reggie Bush in an effort to counteract the strength in their division, Peyton Manning. Williams and Bush never reached great heights as pros, but the idea is what matters.
Basketball may not be as compartmental as football, but teams should be looking past their own rosters and to those of their greatest threats.
If you can’t beat him, join him.
Every team is already hoisting more and more threes in today’s NBA. It’s a large reason Curry’s 3-point rate is so much higher than Allen or Miller before him. The value of the longball has been discovered and Curry is the best at exploiting it.
What can everyone else do, short of finding themselves a Curry (which is impossible…sorry, Sacramento)?
They can do their best to approximate Curry in amalgam form. You may not have the greatest shooter of all time, but maybe you can assemble a team of all above average to elite shooters.
Look again to the draft, where someone like Buddy Hield could be of greater value. Perhaps even the shooting of Brandon Ingram makes him a legitimate challenger to Ben Simmons’ hold on the top pick.
Break up the Warriors!
Without taking away any of what Curry has accomplished, clearly he has not done so alone. Golden State has other special players and coaches who help make Curry’s life a tad easier.
Every team in the NBA ought to be looking to poach those players and coaches away. Help yourself and hurt the Warriors. Win-win.
Prime targets start with the Dubs interim head coach. Luke Walton can’t return to the Golden State bench next season without being offered a bigger job elsewhere. If you’re a Western Conference rival and Walton doesn’t work out for you, at least you took something from the Warriors.
An even bigger coup would be stealing away upcoming future free agent Harrison Barnes. He’s been somewhat lost as the 4th or 5th fiddle in the beautiful orchestra in Oakland, but could look for a big payday this summer with a team that allows him to be the man. Sam Hinkie probably already has a max contract with Barnes’ name on it, ready for the exact second he’s allowed to offer it, though you are right to be wary of Barnes jumping from the NBA’s best to…the Sixers. Outside of Philly, every team with cap space, which is everyone as the cap jumps again this year, should at least kick the tires on swiping a member of the vaunted Warriors killer small ball lineup.
KIDNAP RILEY CURRY.
I don’t know. If nothing above works, maybe try that?
Eh, she’s too cute. Leave her out of it.
Header image via Ezra Shaw (Getty)
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to email@example.com.