By: Scott Horlbeck
As we all know, Steph Curry is having the best season of his young NBA career. Averaging career high’s in both points (22.6) and assists (6.8) per game, and shooting career high’s from both the three-point line (45.5%) and the field (44.9%), Steph is having a monster year.
But instead of dissecting mounds of advanced metrics that everybody swears they understand unless they were in court with a hand on the book, I thought it would be interesting to take a different approach to Steph’s season – heat map style.
If you aren’t familiar with heat maps, they’re awesome. And being the “visual learner” I am (math and I get along about as well as the Starks and the Lannister’s do), they’re even cooler. Based on the color of the cluster, with red being the most frequent and blue being the least, heat maps show where a player scores the majority of his points. It’s like a back-stage pass to a player’s offensive tendencies.
And thanks to www.basketball-reference.com and their beautiful heat maps, I was able to break down Steph’s monster season, quarter by quarter, and see where and when he’s doing the most damage.
With only 287 shots attempted, the first quarter happens to be Steph’s quietest, or most passive quarter. I guess Steph missed JR Smith’s lecture on how to play basketball like a human sentry gun. Steph is attempting less three’s in the first quarter than in any other quarter—which among other things, could be a manifestation of the coaching staff urging Steph not to settle for three’s, but instead, to attack the basket and get others involved early. And when you factor in Steph’s smoldering 53.3% from deep in the first quarter—the uber-efficiency makes a lot of sense. You know the saying, sometimes less is more.
The second quarter for Steph checks in as his most aggressive quarter (maybe he caught Mr. Smith’s lecture after all). With 323 shots, Steph attempts more three’s and 16-22 foot jump shots in the second quarter than in any other quarter. But interestingly enough, he’s not necessarily “just settling for jumpers.” In fact, Steph took his highest number of shots “at the rim” in the second quarter—which explains the large red cluster on top of the basket in the heat map.
Surprisingly enough, the third quarter for Steph is noticeably his worst quarter (as dumb as that sounds). Not only does he shoot his worst percentage from both the three-point line and the field, he takes the second most shots of any quarter. He continues to shoot well from the left corner, or as it’s commonly referred, Ray Allen Corner, but for whatever reason, struggles mightily from that 3-10 foot “floater” range, shooting just 23.5% on 51 shots, as shown on the map in light green. What I found most interesting however were the red clusters on the right side of the floor just inside the three-point line—spots right-handed shooters often settle for off the high pick and roll. These spots don’t become red until the 3rd quarter, which make speak to fatigue on Steph’s part, thus maybe an explanation for his low shooting percentages in the quarter.
Steph’s fourth quarter is a bit hard to make sense of. With Steph being one of the best shooters in the NBA, the left corner in his heat maps should stay consistently red, and for the first three quarters, they do. According to Kirk Goldsberry, Bob Voulgaris and many others, the left corner is the most efficient jump shot on the court—which explains why it’s no coincidence the Rockets, Heat and Spurs, in that order, lead the league in three-point attempts from the left corner. So why would a shooter like Steph all of a sudden stop scoring as many points from the most efficient spot on the floor once the fourth quarter rolls around? Beats me. Instead, the majority of his three’s come from the right wing, which makes sense when you consider where a right-handed shooter might end up when coming off a high screen. But make no mistake; Steph is still shooting almost 47% percent from three in the fourth quarter. In terms of shots inside of 10 feet, Steph takes the least amount in the fourth quarter, which, again, probably points to defenses cranking it up and not allowing as much dribble penetration as usual.
Steph starts out a little slow, with the first quarter being his lowest in terms of three-point attempts; however, it also stands as his most efficient. His second quarter comes in as his most aggressive shooting quarter, not only from the three-point line, but also from 16-22 feet. Steph gets into the lane most effectively in the third quarter, with more shot attempts coming from inside of 10 feet than in any of quarter. The fourth quarter is Steph’s most transitional quarter in terms of shooting location, with his most effective spot on the floor moving from the left corner to the right wing. He attempts the second most three’s (only one behind the second quarter) in the fourth quarter, and attempts the least amount of shots from inside 10 feet.