FanPost

Is Steph Curry the NBA's Best Shooter? Steph, Shooting and Some Stats

In light of Andy's great article regarding statistics and how we use them, I thought I'd attempt to contribute a little more to this discussion using Steph and some numbers.

Last season, Stephen Curry shot his way into the NBA record books by making 272 3-pointers in the regular season.

During the playoffs, he became a nationwide sensation after scoring 22 points in the third quarter of Game 4 of the Western Conference's first round.

Through his four seasons in the NBA, Curry is shooting 45 percent from behind the arc while averaging 196.3 made 3s per season in the three years in which he has played at least 70 games.

A quick glance at Curry's shot chart last season is all one needs to realize that he's quite the shooter.

Grant_r_currystephen_shotchart_medium

via a.espncdn.com

According to ESPN, Curry’s field goal percentage, 45.1 percent, ranked 23rd in the league among all qualifying[1] guards and small forwards.

Given the historic displays of shooting we've seen Curry put on, it’s only fair to ask: is he the best shooter in the NBA?

What Makes Someone A Good Shooter?

The debate over what constitutes a good shooter is a somewhat contentious topic. Some believe that it’s simply one who scores a lot (I’m looking at you Carmelo Anthony/Monta Ellis defenders), while others recognize that a good shooter must not only score often, but also do so efficiently.

Curry took 74 more 3-point attempts than any other guard-small forward[2], so using simple field-goal percentage is an inaccurate way of assessing Curry's greatness as a shooter.

With the 3-point field goal becoming a prominent component in a majority of NBA offenses, discussions regarding elite shooters must include a better way of accounting for the value of the 3-pointer. There are a few different statistics that do this:

Adjusted Field Goal Percentage (ADJ FG%)- this statistic, provided by ESPN, factors in the amount of points accrued per field goal attempt.

True Shooting Percentage (TS%) - true shooting percentage is calculated using the formula: Points / (2 * True Shot Attempts[3]) and accounts for field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws.

Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) - eFG% is calculated using the formula: (FGM + 0.5 * 3PM) / FGA, and adjusts for the fact that a 3-pointer is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal.

Steph Curry’s Numbers

Curry’s ADJ FG% - 54.9%

Steph Curry’s adjusted field goal percentage of 54.9 percent ranks him seventh in the league when compared to the ADJ FG% of all the guards and small forwards that qualify for consideration. However, out of the six players with a higher ADJ FG%, only two players, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, averaged more points and field goals made (FGM) than Curry last season.

Curry’s TS% - 58.5%

Curry’s 58.5 percent true shooting percentage ranked 10th in the NBA last season when compared to other guards and small forwards. In this category, three players scored more points per game than Curry (LeBron, KD and James Harden). Harden’s TS% can be explained by the fact that he led the league in free-throw attempts per game last season with 10.2 attempts.

Curry’s eFG% - 54.5%

With an effective field goal percentage of 54.5 percent, Curry had the 11th best eFG% among all other guards and small forwards. As it was with the players who had a better ADJ FG% than Curry, the only two players with a higher eFG% that averaged more points per game were Durant and LeBron.

Based on these numbers, Curry is undoubtedly one of the best shooters in the league, but they don’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that he is the BEST shooter.

The remainder of this post will use eFG% to compare Curry to other preeminent shooters, since eFG% is not skewed by free-throw percentage (which isn't necessarily indicative of a good "pure" shooter), and most accurately captures the value of the 3-pointer in relation to 2-point field goals.

Shot Location And Adjusted Effective Field Goal Percentage

Evaluating field goal percentages from different locations on the court gives us better insight into whether or not the players with higher eFG% than Curry are ranked above him due to an inflated number of "easier" shots (namely shots close to the basket).

Vorped provides shot location data by breaking down the court into three distinct sections. The three sections are the paint, mid-range (which it considers anything outside of the paint, but in front of the 3-point line) and beyond the 3-point arc.

Using data from Vorped and Basketball Reference, here is a breakdown of Curry’s shooting percentage from the three zones on the court:

Player

Paint

Mid-range

Three-point

eFG%

Adj. eFG%

S. Curry

146-309 (47.2%)

206-475 (43.4%)

272-600 (45.3%)

54.5%

57.1%

I've introduced the adjusted effective field goal percentage (eFG%), which is just a modified version of eFG%, to control for the players whose eFG% is higher due to them making a significant amount of shots in the paint, which is not truly reflective of how well they shoot the ball. The formula used for adjusted eFG% is:

(AFGM[4] + 0.5 * 3PM) / AFGA[5]

Next, is the breakdown of shot percentages for the players with higher effective field goal percentages than Curry. I have also included Kyle Korver, Matt Bonner and Ersan Ilyasova because they, along with Curry and Calderon, were the five best 3-point shooters last season (based on 3PT%):

Player

Paint

Mid-range

Three-point

eFG%

Adj. eFG%

K. Korver

16-33 (48.5%)

70-152 (46.1%)

189-414 (45.7%)

61.8%

62.5%

M. Bonner

30-56 (53.6%)

29-56 (51.8%)

53-120 (44.2%)

60.4%

61.6%

D. Green

86-169 (50.9%)

35-81 (43.2%)

177-413 (42.9%)

58.4%

60.8%

J. Calderon

52-86 (60.5%)

131-271 (48.3%)

130-282 (46.1%)

59.4%

59%

R. Allen

100-185 (54.1%)

49-131 (37.4%)

139-332 (41.9%)

55.3%

55.6%

E. Ilyasova

156-310 (50.3%)

122-281 (43.4%)

95-214 (44.4%)

51.8%

53.4%

C. Parsons

261-430 (60.7%)

42-115 (36.5%)

152-395 (38.5%)

56.4%

52.9%

K. Leonard

134-224 (59.8%)

56-116 (48.3%)

65-174 (37.4%)

56.9%

52.9%

J. Dudley

111-184 (60.3%)

93-211 (44.1%)

106-271 (39.1%)

54.7%

52.3%

K. Durant

359-590 (60.8%)

226-501 (45.1%)

139-334 (41.6%)

55%

52%

L. James

466-663 (70.3%)

175-403 (43.4%)

103-254 (40.6%)

58.6%

50.2%

M. Barnes

175-286 (61.2%)

24-61 (39.3%)

111-325 (34.2%)

54.9%

49.4%


What Does It All Mean?

When using adjusted effective field-goal percentage, Curry comes in fifth on our new list. While this might seemingly prevent us from concluding that Curry is the best shooter in the league, there is still more to be gleaned from these numbers.

When combining field-goal attempts from the mid-range and 3-point sections of the court, Curry attempted more than 500 more shots than Green, Calderon, Korver and Allen, and nearly 900 more shots than Bonner. Due to the limited number of field-goal attempts for Bonner, his adjusted eFG% does not hold much weight because the numbers behind it are not anywhere near Curry’s. Absent evidence that Bonner could continue shooting at that pace, the sample size is just too small to make his result significant.

Danny Green’s and Kyle Korver’s adjusted eFG% fall prey to the same problem as Bonner’s.

Although Green and Korver took significantly more 3-pointers than Bonner, the difference in the number of mid-range attempts explains the difference their adjusted eFG%. While Korver shot a higher percentage from mid-range last season, over the past three seasons Curry has outperformed Korver, shooting 46.8 percent (460-for-982) compared to Korver’s 44 percent (229-for-521).

Given that the mid-range shot is the least effective shot in the game, there’s a good reason to believe that Korver would be unable to keep pace with Curry were he to take an equivalent number of mid-range shots. This is especially true once you acknowledge that, while Korver is a deadly spot-up shooter, something he did on 31.5 percent of his possessions per Synergy, he and Curry both averaged 1.34 points per possession on spot-up jumpers.

When you also consider that Curry is a devastating shooter coming off picks, which Korver only did 0.8 percent of the time, as well as off the dribble, Curry is a more prominent, versatile shooter.

Calderon shot a better percentage than Curry from both mid-range and behind the arc, however, a deeper look into Calderon’s numbers reveals that there is a strong, historical reason to believe that Calderon’s production last season might be an out-lier. When Calderon was traded to Detroit midway through the season, his 3-point shooting made an inexplicable jump.

In 28 games with the Pistons, Calderon made 51 of 98 3-point attempts, or 52 percent shooting from the 3-point line, a 9 percent jump from his first 45 games in Toronto. On the other hand, every season where Calderon has attempted more than 150 3-point field goals, only twice has he shot better than 42 percent and throughout his career he is a 39 percent shooter from 3.

While these are still very good numbers, Curry has proven himself to be a much more consistent shooter over the last four seasons, with a 3-point percentage of 44.6 percent (644-for-1443), compared to Calderon’s 40.8 percent (314-for-768).

Curry also attempted nine more field goals per game than Calderon and also made 3.5 more shots this past season. Moreover, while Calderon averaged 3.5 3-point attempts per game, Curry made 3.5 3-pointers per game.

Accounting for all of this, it is reasonable to conclude that Curry is a better shooter than Calderon due to Curry’s high adjusted eFG% while attempting and making significantly more shots and because Calderon’s career percentages indicate that his shooting this season was somewhat out of the norm.

Conclusion

What makes someone the best shooter in the NBA will probably always be up for debate. Nevertheless, using adjusted effective field goal percentage in the context of a number of other shooting statistics, we are able to make a strong, objective argument in favor of Stephen Curry being the NBA’s most elite shooter.

Curry didn’t lead the league in scoring or field goal percentage (FG%), but when you look all of Curry's numbers in comparison to other distinguished shooters, the argument that Curry is the best of the best is very compelling.

Footnotes:

[1] To qualify, a player must be on pace to make 300 field goals.

[2] Ryan Anderson, a PF, took the 2nd most 3PA: 557

[3] FGA + 0.44 * FTA.

[4] Adjusted Field Goals Made (AFGM) = total field goals made minus field goals made in the paint

[5] Adjusted Field Goals Attempted (AFGA) = total field goals attempted minus field goals attempted in the paint

This FanPost is a submission from a member of the mighty Golden State of Mind community. While we're all here to throw up that W, these words do not necessarily reflect the views of the GSoM Crew. Still, chances are the preceding post is Unstoppable Baby!

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