Steph Curry is one of the best shooters in the world. Warriors fans have known this since his rookie season and college basketball fans knew it back in March 2008, when Curry single-handedly took a ragtag group of scholars from Davidson College within inches of the Final Four. So his proficiency as a shot-maker this season shouldn’t surprise on the surface; as far as pure shooting goes, he’s been one of this game’s best for many years.
But even that doesn’t mean Curry’s amazing 2012-2013 is being given its proper due. For there’s an easy argument to be made that he’s enjoying the best year-long campaign ever when it comes to the combination of abundance and accuracy from long range.
After Saturday night’s 39-point virtuoso performance that saw him connect on seven of 12 attempts from beyond the arc, Curry’s hit an astounding 236 three-pointers this season. That mark leads the league by 37 triples and eclipses Golden State’s previous franchise best number – set by Dorell Wright in 2011 – by 42. Those feats impress without bounds considering there’s still eight games left in the regular season, and the sheer discrepancy between Curry’s numbers and those in second place makes it easy to think he must be on the verge of breaking the NBA’s all-time record for made threes in a season.
But you’d be wrong. At his current pace of 3.4 triples per game, Curry will end the season having made approximately 263 three-pointers. A historic accomplishment, no doubt, but one that falls short of Ray Allen’s record-setting performance of 269 threes set in 2006. Curry would trail Dennis Scott’s second-place single season mark in that scenario, too; Scott made 267 long-range baskets in 1996 for the Orlando Magic.
As with every raw total or per game statistic these days, though, Curry’s awesome season in relation to its past peers deserves more analytical scrutiny. A sheer number of three-point makes can’t be the only factor in measuring the historical significance of a player’s NBA calendar year; tangible context like attempts, percentage and type of shot is necessary here, just as intangible type like offensive role and quality of teammates is, too. And taking those components into account, it’s clear Curry’s 2013 deserves as much if not more acclaim than Allen’s 2006.
Below is a list of players that have made at least 230 threes in a season. It’s a short one, obviously, and Curry’s season-long total of 236 threes – with eight games remaining, mind you – ranks sixth among the eight players that have reached this hallowed threshold. That’s great, but doesn’t do his marvelous achievement justice. *Click to enlarge images.
Now let’s dig just a bit deeper, listing this esteemed octet from top to bottom by three-point percentage.
Curry’s alone at the top now, with nearly 1.5% percentage points separating him from second-place Peja Stojakovic. Anyone can bomb away from deep; what matters most is the efficiency at which one does. Curry, clearly, is a in a league of his own in that regard. Assuming he doesn’t significantly slump down the stretch, it’s safe to say Curry will have made at least the fourth most three-pointers ever in a single season and will have compiled the best percentage among that group while doing so, too. Not bad.
Taking that under consideration, Curry’s already had one of the best three-point shooting seasons ever. And once we dip farther below the archaic statistical surface, his prowess becomes even clearer.
Let’s pare this list down a bit more. Cutting the number of baskets off at Curry’s current total and establishing a floor of 41% from beyond the arc – a clip which five of the original eight players reached – gets this catalogue of shooters down to four.
Impressively, Allen and Scott – the overall top two in terms of makes – remain, as do vintage Peja Stojakovic and Curry. But, as stated above, we need more context. Scott, as brilliant a marksmen as he was in 1996, was not the offensive focal point of his three peers. Just look at his number of field goal and free throw attempts; they pale in relation to Allen’s, Peja’s and Curry’s, while his 19.9 usage rate does, too. With sincere apologies, Scott’s falls just short of real consideration for best three-point shooting season ever.
While we’re here, let’s take Stojakovic out of the running, too. His usage falls more than two points shy of Curry’s and three of Allen’s, while the awesome success of that 2004 Kings offense works against him, too. Playing with offensive talents like Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Bobby Jackson and the two-headed center monster of Vlade Divac/Brad Miller allowed made the burden placed on Stojakovic far less than that of Curry or Allen. Sacramento ranked second in the league with a 110.9 offensive rating in 2004, and while much of that is due to Peja’s extremely rare long-range success, all that ancillary offensive ability surrounding him made Stojakovic tougher for defenses to focus on. Bearing that in mind, he comes up bronze.
Now we’re down to the nitty-gritty. Fittingly, the record-setting Allen stands alone with Curry. How to decipher which shooter had the most impressive season from deep? There are many factors at play in support of both, many of which effectively cancel each other out. Number of makes will likely favor Allen at year’s end, percentage Curry by several points, while supporting cast (of lack thereof) strengthens Allen’s case, as well.
We’re really splitting hairs now, and whichever season one deems superior to the other can’t be met with much skepticism. These are the foremost three-point shooting campaigns ever; as the old adage goes, there is no loser. But there’s one more aspect that must be taken into account to properly pit the exploits of Curry and Allen against one another – percentage of makes assisted or unassisted.
In 2006, Allen was assisted on 75.1% of his three-pointers, meaning he made 24.9% of them off-the-dribble. Curry, meanwhile, gets just 62.3% of his triples via pass, while an astounding 37.7% come off the bounce. That’s a major difference in the vehicle behind all those baskets, and one that tips the scale significantly in Curry’s direction. When analyzing shooters and seasons of this magnitude that are so difficult to distinguish from the other, the difficulty of all those makes looms large. Connecting on some 250 three-pointers is hard enough; making hay with almost 40% of them unassisted is truly remarkable, and more than enough to offset the approximately 15 additional triples Allen’s 2006 will have on Curry by this season’s close.
So the next time Curry lines up an effortless shot from distance, know whether it hits or not that you’re watching history. Raw numbers and league-wide record books won’t show it, but in 2012-2013 Curry has nevertheless enjoyed the preeminent three-point shooting season of NBA annals.
*Statistical support for this piece provided by basketball-reference.com and NBA.com.
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