39 percent. That’s what Warriors PG Stephen Curry’s field goal percentage is at the season. It’s only 9 games, and as many fans will remind others, SSS needs to be considered. What they will also remind fans of, is Stephen Curry’s past performance. In all of his NBA seasons, Curry, has shot 46 percent or better from the field. He’s also made 40 percent or more beyond the 3-point line. This season from long range? Slightly better than 30 percent. So what’s wrong with Steph? Is it simply a cold streak that will even out over time? Or is it something Warrior fans should be concerned about going forward?
We must all remember, Curry is coming off a long string of ankle injuries, and a surgery that was intended to correct the problem. He is also stepping into his role as the leader (and best player) of the offense. So he’s working through two new developments: a still strengthening ankle, and a league that understands he’s the Warriors biggest offensive threat. Both of these could have played heavily into his poor shooting percentage through 9 games. He’s definitely taken a fair amount more shots off the dribble, and the number of baskets he’s been assisted on has dropped significantly, especially from beyond the arc. It’s no surprise, then, that his shooting percentage has taken a significant hit as well. But even with those changes, I don’t think anyone expects Curry to continue shooting this poorly.
A thought for concern: Curry has only had one other shooting stretch this bad in his career. Even as the volatile shooter he is, susceptible to hot and cold nights, shooting this poorly over a stretch of games just hasn’t happened very often. The other bad shooting stretch came early in his rookie year, when he shot 9/33 (28 percent) from beyond the arc and 44/106 (41 percent) overall over a 9 game stretch. There’s also good news, though. In any month consisting of more than 3 games, Curry has NEVER shot below 34 percent from beyond the arc, and never below 41 from the field. In fact, the month of November shows Curry to be right at those numbers, since it’s without his awful 2-14 opening night performance at Phoenix. As bad as his numbers look, they’re on the rebound, rather than on the decline. So it would be more or less shocking to see his numbers to remain where they are at now, both because his career tells us he’ll rebound and because he’s already in the process of getting on the right track.
But there’s a more telling problem that can’t be discerned from looking at Steph’s box scores. The majority of his misses have been short, especially coming off the dribble. With the lingering ankle injury, that’s concerning. It suggests that his shooting form isn’t getting the full power it usually has, meaning either the ankle isn’t healthy, or that Steph doesn’t trust it enough yet to push off of it full-force. The former is more worrisome, as it would mean the ankle is still vulnerable, which is something no Warrior fan wants to hear. The off-season surgery was meant to correct that problem, and hearing otherwise would validate some fans’ deepest concerns: The Warriors’ training staff doesn’t know what’s wrong with it.
Of course, assuming the short shots is a product of the ankle could be jumping to conclusions as well. Leaving the ball short of the rim is also regularly a product of fatigue. Meaning, perhaps, that Steph’s conditioning isn’t yet up to the 36 minutes a night he’s been playing. One problem with that idea, is that he’s been missing both early and late in games, sometimes more in the first quarter than in the fourth. If it was an issue of stamina, you’d think we might see regularly worse performances late in games, and we haven’t. Another de-bunker: Curry has shot better in games where he plays more minutes. In the 5 games where he’s had more than 36 minutes played, Steph has made better than 53 percent of his field goal attempts and nearly 43 percent from distance. So essentially, it seems that the problem isn’t likely poor endurance.
The last factor is his change in role. Last season, and for most of his Warrior career, he played alongside Monta Ellis, who over the last 3 seasons had been the Warriors most ball-dominant and aggressively defended player. Perhaps more importantly, he was and is significantly better than any current Warrior at getting into and creating chaos in the paint. His drives to the rim helped set up many 3-point shots for the Warrior over the last couple seasons. In fact, over the previous 2 seasons among players with 5+ assists, only Jameer Nelson recorded a ratio of 3-point assists to 2-point assists than Ellis. Point being, Monta opened up a lot of open 3-point shots for his teammates, including Steph.
This year, Steph doesn’t have a lot of open spot-up attempts to fall back on when he’s not hitting off the dribble. That’s a concern, because as good a shooter as Steph is, he’s not the kind of player you want shooting a lot of 3′s off the dribble. In his career, Steph has averaged about .5 3-point makes off the dribble per-game, and this year that’s more than doubled. Worse yet, he’s taking more shots from deep overall, as is teammate Klay Thompson. It’s Thompson’s numbers, actually, that make me most concerned for the future of the team. Both of the perimeter scorers have struggled heavily early in the season, with Andrew Bogut or without, and it’s hard to thinking the team’s limited penetration has had a lot to do with it. There simply isn’t a whole lot of room on the perimeter for Steph and Klay to create, and they’re forcing more contested shots than they did a season ago. While it may not be fair to say the Warriors miss Monta, it seems almost certain that they miss his ability to get into the lane. His quickness often made things a lot easier on teammates who were struggling to find open shots otherwise.
It’s still too early to assume any of this will continue throughout the season, and even as one who thinks there’s more at play here than a cold streak, I don’t doubt Steph’s numbers will climb at least a little. He’s a great shooter. One of the best pure shooters in the NBA. His numbers won’t stay this bad. But I’m also afraid they won’t get much better. I expect him to put up career lows in both categories, and probably see a significant drop off for the foreseeable future. As long as he’s being asked to create his own shot this often, the Warriors offense is likely to struggle. I don’t think that it can get much worse than it’s been, though. They’re still finding their way as an offense, and eventually we’ll start to see Thompson, Curry, and David Lee (who’s numbers have also been poor) return closer to their career averages. It’s just extremely clear, that in dealing away Monta, the team also dealt away the balance between penetration and jump shots, and they now need to find a way to replace that. The team’s shooters are dependent upon it.