With increased health would come an increased role for Steph Curry this season, and with shouldering a bigger offensive load – in most cases, at least – comes a drop in efficiency.
It makes sense. Shot creation is a skill, one that can be honed but something still closer to nature than nurture. So when a player is counted on to score more often than he has in the past, that naturally means he’ll be taking more difficult shots because he’s learning the nuanced, inconsistent art of “finding” a basket for himself as opposed to playing through offensive sets or his teammates. The same goes for players transitioning from playing more minutes off the ball to on it, a needed development for Curry this season without Monta Ellis at his side in the Warriors backcourt.
Basically, the more a player shoots, dribbles, or passes the ball the greater chance there is for him to make or be forced into a mistake. That’s why the guys that take on a bigger role without sacrificing efficiency are so few and far between, and why they rank as the game’s most effective offensive forces.
Curry isn’t the only young player in the league with more shot-creating and shot-making expectations heaped upon him this season. Paul George and Jrue Holiday are two notable examples of the many, and are experiencing a change in role similar to Curry’s in varying degrees. Predictably, they have produced different outcomes, too.
George was abysmal at the beginning of the season, trying to find his way as Indiana’s primary creator while Danny Granger was, and still is, sidelined with an injury. He shot 39.2% from the field in November and turned the ball over at an alarming rate, forcing Frank Vogel to design different ways for George to function as his team’s lead ballhandler in pick-and-roll situations. Since the change – mentioned here by Grantland’s Zach Lowe – he’s been much better, posting shooting numbers from all areas of the floor more closely aligned with his career norms while maintaing a usage rate far higher. So George, early bumps in the road not withstanding, is evolving as a first option and seems primed to get better.
Holiday, on the other hand, has been stellar from the get-go. Without Andre Iguodala to do the lion’s share of orchestrating this season, his burden was always going to be bigger; the question was whether or not he was ready for it or ever would be. Evidence gleaned from his first three years in the league gleaned an optimistically inconclusive answer, but with his play thus far Holiday’s put any concerns to rest. He’s currently setting career highs in points, shooting percentage, and free throw attempts all while nearly doubling (4.5 to 8.8) his assists per game mark from last year. Holiday, clearly, has the chops needed to be a team’s top creator and has shown it from the season’s opening tip.
George is coming around and Holiday never had to, but both now look locked in for the remainder of their careers as one of a team’s main offensive options. Curry, like Holiday, did for Golden State from the beginning of the season, but like George, experienced some growing pains, too.
Look at his November. Curry shot 43.0% from the field in the season’s opening month, hardly bad but not up to his career standard as a shooter, either. He was taking almsot four more shots per game than he did in 2011-2012 with a usage rate slightly higher as well, so it was easy to assume his relative struggles were a corollary of his expanded offensive role. And if that was indeed true it would have been disappointing. Curry’s November true shooting percentage of 57.1 still put him in the top 10 among point guards, but was firmly below his history-threatening career marks.
That’s changed now, of course, as even with a bigger burden Curry has maintained and begun to surpass the incredible shooting numbers that he’s compiled since his rookie season. Consider: Curry’s career percentages currently read 46.6% FG, 44.6% 3PT, 58.2% TS, marks that take his underwhelming start to 2012-2013 into account. He’s gone comparatively gangbusters to November since then, posting a crazy shooting line of 45.2% FG, 50.0% 3PT, 58.9% TS since December kicked off while taking 1.8 more shots per game and upping his usage rate.
More impressive? The numbers get better the closer we get to present day even as his shot attempts and usage rate have stayed on par. Since December 19th: 46.7% FG, 53.9% 3PT, 61.1 TS%. January: 48.3% FG, 55.3% 3PT, 61.8% TS.
Obviously, the small concerns over Curry’s start are a blip in the rearview mirror. It’s obvious now he’s the type of player that can not only handle but deserves carrying a team’s offensive weight, questions we weren’t sure the answers to before the season began. And considering the increased comfort he’s shown with his new role by the month begs a different one entirely: just how dominant can he eventually become?
Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com and basketball-reference.com
Follow Jack Winter on Twitter @armstrongwinter.