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Putting Steph Curry’s talent in historical perspective

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Steve Kerr helped put Steph Curry’s talent in perspective with a comment before last night’s game.

Golden State Warriors v Atlanta Hawks Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For anyone who responded to Kevin Durant signing with the Golden State Warriors by yelling into a void that there’s only one ball, here’s a fun statistic from Anthony Slater of The Athletic: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson were averaging exactly 19.7 shots per game entering last Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Raptors.

Entering tonight’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies, it’s Curry — the two-time MVP and three-time NBA champion — who slipped a little, averaging 19.5 shots per game to Durant and Thompson’s 19.8 shots per game. That aside, this balance between three scoring All-Stars is really interesting.

I mean, yeah, anyone who actually knew anything about the Warriors probably figured that sharing the ball wouldn’t be a problem for a team whose success under coach Steve Kerr is predicated on, well, sharing the ball. Yet the naysayers took to social media, news outlets, and the television screens to tell us that there was just too much star power on that team to share the one ball allowed on a basketball court.

Mike Brady already debunked this nonsense here at Golden State of Mind back in 2016, but Slater’s stat almost exactly two years later underscores the veracity of his point: balance is a central feature of this team rather than a happy accident.

Durant added his thoughts about the random in his remarks before the Warriors’ game against the Toronto Raptors last Wednesday, noting this is just a function of how the team operates.

So, to me, this stat indicating how much Curry has to share the load with two other dynamic scorers makes it all the more amazing that he is putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season.

Curry’s impressive stats to begin the 2018-19 season

Despite sharing the load with both Durant and Thompson, Curry entered the Raptors game on pace to match his career-high 30.1 points per game that he scored in his second MVP season (2015-16) while shooting career-highs of 51.3% from the field and 50% from the 3-point line.

For those into advanced stats, Curry has an astounding .689 true shooting percentage (a stat that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws) through 17 games this season. For perspective, only four players in NBA history have ever hit that mark (Tyson Chandler, Wilt Chamberlain, Artis Gilmore, and Kyle Korver) — most of them were centers and none of them shot more than 10.5 shots per game.

Putting Curry’s hot start into historical perspective

In other words, we’ve never seen someone shoot this efficiently on nearly 20 shots per game. In fact, we’ve never really seen anyone come all that close... except two-time MVP Steph Curry — only 10 players in NBA history have managed an TS% over .600 on 19.7 shots. It’s a list of Hall of Famers (and future candidates) as well as Khloe Kardashian’s ex-boyfriend who said that the Warriors would struggle because there’s only one ball.

Query Results Table
Crit Crit Tota Shoo Shoo Shoo
Rk Player Season Age Tm TS%
FGA G 2P% 3P% FT%
1 Stephen Curry 2018-19 30 GSW .689 19.7 17 .529 .500 .938
2 Stephen Curry 2015-16 27 GSW .669 20.2 79 .566 .454 .908
3 Kevin Durant 2013-14 25 OKC .635 20.8 81 .549 .391 .873
4 Karl Malone 1989-90 26 UTA .626 19.8 82 .567 .372 .762
5 Adrian Dantley 1980-81 24 UTA .622 20.3 80 .560 .286 .806
6 James Harden 2017-18 28 HOU .619 20.1 72 .531 .367 .858
7 Kiki Vandeweghe 1983-84 25 DEN .618 20.6 78 .562 .367 .852
8 Michael Jordan 1988-89 25 CHI .614 22.2 81 .553 .276 .850
9 James Harden 2018-19 29 HOU .612 20.4 23 .528 .373 .829
10 Larry Bird 1986-87 30 BOS .612 20.2 74 .547 .400 .910
11 Larry Bird 1987-88 31 BOS .608 22.0 76 .546 .414 .916
12 LeBron James 2018-19 34 LAL .607 20.0 27 .584 .371 .699
13 Kevin Durant 2009-10 21 OKC .607 20.3 82 .506 .365 .900
14 Michael Jordan 1989-90 26 CHI .606 24.0 82 .548 .376 .848
15 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1970-71 23 MIL .606 22.5 82 .577 .690
16 Michael Jordan 1990-91 27 CHI .605 22.4 82 .551 .312 .851
17 LeBron James 2009-10 25 CLE .604 20.1 76 .560 .333 .767
18 Michael Jordan 1987-88 24 CHI .603 24.4 82 .546 .132 .841
19 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1971-72 24 MIL .603 24.9 81 .574 .689
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/12/2018.

Yes, those are numbers through about a third of a season of which Curry has played 17 games — who knows if he can keep those up — and, sure, maybe there’s an argument that some people on that list might have boosted their efficiency with threes had they been as trendy as they are now.

But the bottom line is this: Stephen Curry is an extremely special player who’s a stunningly willing team player given his talent. And that’s even more on display now that the Warriors have won five out of six games after looking straight lost in his absence.

A legendary impact despite persistent doubts

When asked before their loss to the Raptors on Wednesday about why the Warriors look so good, Kerr compared Curry to a couple of his former teammates to help put things in perspective for us.

We’ve said this numerous times on this site, but we’re witnessing something really special right now. It only bears repeating due to the type of numbers this two-time MVP is putting together while people try to drum up all forms of ridiculous “controversy” around this team and continually try to slight Curry relative to his NBA peers despite all the evidence of his impact.

Let’s be clear: these “Top X players in the NBA” conversations get tiresome to argue about. And someone is gonna get left out when you’re asking about a top four. And, yeah, it’s just Charles Barkley spouting off on TMZ. But to say that Curry is not even in the same tier as Durant, Giannis Antetokuompo, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard is a little much when it’s pretty clear that his impact is closer to Kerr’s characterization than Barkley.

Curry might not win MVP this year due to a lack of games — it’s not hard to imagine the Warriors strategically resting him near the end of the season in addition to those he has already missed — but this level of efficiency at this volume from a guard is completely unprecedented. And it’s a shame that it takes an extended absence for some people to recognize how special he is while haters continue to hate.