Stephen Curry does two things better than the majority of guards in the league -- shoot and dribble.
Curry is partially a victim of his talents, with shooting being an innate talent and dribbling (at his current skill level) adopted over time. Typically when a player does one thing in extraordinary fashion, other active elements of his game become under-appreciated. And so it goes with Curry's tight handle.
However, a well-balanced game is what pushed him to victory in the 2011 All-Star skills challenge. It's also what's propelled the superstar guard into being one of the league's best ball handlers.
An indispensable skill
Ball handling is one of the most central and indispensable skills in the NBA for guards -- proficiency at holding on to the pill can make a player invaluable. We've become accustomed to celebrating the handles of guards like Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and Brandon Jennings, to name a few. All of the aforementioned (including Curry) are great ball handlers, and they all can get their shots off without any help. What places Curry a step ahead is that he's doing the same while serving as the league's most dangerous shooter.
The simple truth is that Curry's ability to make defenders look silly off the dribble is overshadowed by his pinpoint shooting, yet it's Curry's ability to gain separation for his jumpers that actually highlights his dribbling skill and how gifted of a ball handler he is.
There's nothing taboo or mysterious about being the league's best shooter -- it's the culmination of hard work and muscle memory, the remarkable ability to shoot with consistent form for all of his attempts (16.6 per game). Yet considering defensive intensity, and the multiple defenders thrown at Curry every game, he deserves more respect for his handles. To stay on the ball and navigate his way to open shots repeatedly is a work of art.
The mechanics of Curry's shot
Defending the all-time single-season leader behind the arc is a top priority for teams facing the Warriors. Containing shooters is a terrible task within itself. Stifling the league's biggest threat from deep while he's constantly on the move is an even more grueling task and there are numbers to prove it.
At the time of his release, Curry is defended within 0-2 feet of space barely 14 percent of the time. The majority of Curry's shots are put up with 2-6 feet of space from the defender. Shooting 4-6 feet away accounts for 30 percent of his shot selection per game.
Curry is also a turn shooter, which allows him to dribble more decisively. Traditionally, guards and forwards were instructed to shoot with feet shoulder length apart facing the basket. However, shooters are now turning their feet slightly away from their dominant hand for better accuracy. With his feet slightly set at an angle, Curry's in a better position to make moves off the dribble.
Allowing for greater mobility on the floor, Curry's style as a turn shooter allows for greater creativity as a ball handler. While some players struggle with the increased responsibility of getting their shots off, Curry excels. When his touch time increases per possession, Curry's shooting percentages rise. In fact, Curry averages his lowest percentage from the field (46.2) and three (37) when shooting off the catch.
When taking between 1-7 dribbles, Curry's shooting percentage stays pretty consistent -- typically above 46 percent. But upon taking those same 1-7 dribbles, Curry shoots an average of 41 percent from three. Considering he's dribbling off screens, in isolation and routinely double-teamed, Curry’s ability to hoist at that rate is phenomenal.
As such, that's what Stephen Curry has been in this league -- a phenom. He's currently having the best season of his career, and he'll continue to draw attention for his shooting touch. That is what's made him one of the most celebrated players in the league. However, it's time he's equally recognized for handling the rock.