The Warriors are now 22-0 after blowing past the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday night, the best start to an American professional sports season after eclipsing the 1884 St. Louis Maroons by defeating Toronto on Saturday. So how is Curry so much better this season, after it seemed like he pushed the limits last season on offense?
As corny or cheeky as it sounds, Curry said that it all begins with imagination.
“I have to have great imagination on the floor. Whether it’s my shot or trying to get other guys involved or with my ball-handling,” Curry said. “I’m not the fastest guy, to be able to just blow by somebody. I have to be deceptive and find different ways to make it happen and create space. Creativity and imagination and seeing a play before it happens is something I rely on.”
Curry’s on-court maneuverings and acrobatics appear to be improvised, but they’re actually etched into his muscle memory within his offseason training, he said.
“Even now with off-season workouts and things I do to prepare for the season, you just try stuff,” Curry said. “You get out on the practice floor and imagine what a situation might be like. So stuff that I do on the floor in games, it’s not the first time I’ve tried it.”
NBA teams and their fans surely could not have imagined how much better statistically Curry would be right after an MVP season, but his current numbers are absolutely eye-popping.
|Steph Curry||FG %||3s||3FG %||Points||Assists||Steals||FTA||PER||O Rating||D Rating||True Shooting||WS/48|
For a guard like Curry who attempts so many shots so far from the basket, a 53.2 field goal percentage is astounding. His PER and per-48 minute win shares right now are at levels never seen before in the NBA. And to have that percentage while taking 11 3-pointers per game while improving defensively and getting to the line more is simply incredible.
Curry is first in the league in at least nine statistical categories and in the top five in several others, which is outlined below.
|Curry League Leaders||Number||League Rank|
|Points Per Game||32.4||1|
|Made Field Goals||236||1|
|Offensive Win Shares||4.8||1|
|Win Shares Per 48||.379||1|
|True Shooting %||70.7||1|
|Effective FG %||66.2||2|
|3-Point FG %||47.2||4|
|Steals Per Game||2.2||5|
|Free Throw %||91.2||5|
Curry is on pace to shatter his own record for 3-pointers made in a season (286 last year), and at this rate would break Wilt Chamberlain’s 53-year-old record for single-season PER and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 44-year-old record for win shares per 48 minutes in a season, according to Basketball-Reference. He’s also close to Tyson Chandler’s 2011-2012 record for single-season true shooting percentage and could end up with a top 10 historical season in terms of offensive rating.
To Curry’s teammates, his practice and pregame routines seem to be exactly the same even though his offensive game is clearly improving and evolving.
“I don’t believe he changed a whole lot of things,” Golden State center Andrew Bogut told SheridanHoops. “He’s diligent with his shooting routines…He’s a pretty routine guy, so he likes to do everything the same every single night.”
One key for Curry, according to center Marreese Speights, is that he works hard whenever he gets the chance.
“He’s just a year older and a year more mature,” Speights told SheridanHoops. “He worked on his game a lot. I’ve never seen anybody work as hard as him.”
Curry’s backcourt mate Klay Thompson marveled at how Steph has actually become a better shooter. “Which is pretty amazing to think about,” Thompson told SheridanHoops. “The shots he’s making and taking have probably never been seen before.”
So where is Curry actually improving in terms of shooting? First, let’s check out his shot chart from last season when he won the MVP award.
Curry is obviously an elite shooter from three and he was over eight percentage points above league average on shots in the restricted area which, again, is extremely impressive for a guard. But his mid-range game was at or below the league average, as indicated by the yellow and red areas you see. Those five areas in that second level in the chart accounted for 16.3 percent of his shots last season. Now take a look at this year’s chart.
The percentage of Curry’s attempts in that mid-range area now account for only 9.4 percent of his total shots, and he’s hitting them at a much higher rate. He’s even more efficient at the rim despite attempting them at a nearly identical rate to last season. And now more than half his attempts, 54.9 percent, are threes, compared to 47.6 last season. So he’s taking more threes than last year and hitting them at a higher rate and cut back taking shots in the areas where he was least efficient a season ago.
“When you shoot the ball as well as Steph does, none of those are bad shots,” said Warriors interim coach Luke Walton, who’s leading the team while Steve Kerr recovers from back surgery. “By shooting and making those threes, it opens up the court for everyone else. Defenses have to put two guys on him 25 feet from the basket. It allows our other guys to get open looks and driving lanes. It’s not like we went up to Steph and told him to shoot more threes. He’s just gotten better and he’s choosing to do that.”
With Curry on the court, Golden State is beating its opponents by 21.6 points per 48 minutes, according to NBA.com. While Curry sits, the Dubs are being outscored by 1.9 points per 48 minutes.
Bogut, and probably millions around the world, still astonished at how Curry has gotten so much better this year.
“What he’s done last season with the MVP and be better, clearly better than last year,” Bogut said, while still in amazement. “And last year he won MVP? So do the math and at the end of the season he could be the MVP and the Most Improved Player in the same year.”
Curry ranks first in our current Most Improved Player rankings and our MVP rankings, and if it seems like winning those two awards in the same season is impossible, think again. When it comes to Stephen Curry, it seems like absolutely nothing beyond the imagination.
Shlomo Sprung is a national columnist for SheridanHoops who focuses on analytics, profiles and features. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. You should follow him on Twitter.