Steph Curry steadied into a rhythm dribble as a nervous hush fell over Chesapeake Arena. The clock ticked down on an overtime thriller between two of the NBA’s best, but Curry was about to add another chapter to the masterpiece. A mere handful of steps over the half-court line, Curry flung an incredible dagger into the Oklahoma sky as the ball ripped the nylon and Thunder hearts. Curry was left in sheer jubilation as commentators searched for the words to do justice to the incredible feat.
It was simply another highlight on the crazy ride that was Curry’s 2015/16 unanimous MVP campaign. In arguably the greatest shooting season of all time, Curry put up absurd percentages from all over the court. However, it was his long-range shooting ability that became his trademark.
Time and time again Curry would unleash a three-point barrage from uncharted territory on a basketball court. He stretched defenses to breaking point with his unmatched gravity and left entire stadiums in silence with his breathtaking shooting displays.
It’s almost two years since Curry’s signature game-winner against the Thunder and while Steph is still Steph, there is a noticeable difference to the now two-time MVP.
Familiarity has become Curry’s main nemesis.
The shock and awe of Curry’s exploits have become expected. He has set the bar so high that even incredible performances can pale into a shrugged shoulder and ‘yeah that’s Steph for you’ tagline.
After a slight drop in his numbers last year, largely due to the acclimatisation of Kevin Durant, Curry is producing another MVP caliber season.
Curry’s game and success is still predominantly based around his three-point wizardry. He leads the league in three-pointers made per game, while connecting on over 43% of his attempts. Since his return from the scary ankle injury that saw him sidelined for 11 games, Curry has connected on over 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc.
He is still the same lethal gun-slinger, but Curry has added a new weapon to his arsenal. Or to be more specific, he has added another layer to his game, by taking away one of his trademark moves.
Curry spent most of his unanimous MVP season re-writing the definition of bad shot selection. The lasers that Curry would fire from unguardable distances were terrible shots for every other player in the NBA.
On attempts from 30 feet and beyond, Curry shot 21-of-45 or just under 47%. That same season (2015-16) the rest of the league combined to make just 13% of those shots, even after you subtract the desperation heaves from outside of 35 feet. Nobody else in the league made more than three shots from 30 feet or beyond that season.
Not only was he lethal when he was set from beyond the arc, but Curry made over 50% of his pull-up triples in transition. He connected on 39-of-73 of the head-scratching threes that generally put the final touches on a devastating Warriors run.
Enter Stephen Curry – 2.0.
After a humbling campaign from beyond 30 feet last season, shooting just 13 of 54 (24%) on such attempts, Curry has almost entirely cut out the long-range bomb from his seemingly endless shot wheelhouse.
This season he is on pace to finish with roughly a third as many attempts from 30 feet or beyond than in his unanimous MVP campaign. More than twenty players sit above Curry when it comes to 30 plus footers attempted, in fact, Curry made more of the outrageous shots in three separate games in 2015/16 than in the entire season so far.
The steady diet of pull-up threes has also waned off, as Curry is on pace to take just 30 triples on the fast-break, compared to 73 two seasons ago.
The result of this shot selection shift has been profound. Curry has managed to use the unparalleled magnetism he still possesses to create opportunities in the mid-range and around the basket.
Put simply, Curry has become less breathtaking, but more efficient.
Curry leads the league in true shooting percentage (67.2%), which is ridiculous for a point-guard who takes over ten threes per game.
He is having a career year from inside the arc, tied with Karl Anthony Towns in seventh spot for two-point percentage in the league. The six players above him combine for an average height of 6-foot-10, while Curry is challenging the leagues tall-timber at 6-foot-3.
Curry is shooting 91% from the line and is getting to the charity stripe at a career-high rate. Prior to this season, Curry was averaging one free-throw for every 4.3 shot attempts. This season that number has nose-dived to one free-throw for every 2.6 shot attempts.
All of this and Curry is shooting 49% from the field (second highest mark of career), averaging 6.5 assists, grabbing 1.7 steals per contest and is putting up 28.1 points per game as he leads the Warriors to the best record in the NBA.
Curry is still legitimately in the MVP discussion, which considering he has missed 14 games this season through injury, highlights the magnitude of the campaign he is piecing together.
Curry is still the same dynamic scorer who can break a team’s back with a pull-up triple from the locker-room.
But he has refined his game and maximised his output through the threat of his shooting prowess.
Curry has used his unanimous MVP season to evolve into the player he is now.
In a scary proposition for the league, this may be the best version of Curry we have ever witnessed.
The version that is just as deadly from 10 feet as from 30. The one who might not dominate the highlight reel on a nightly basis, but is steering his team towards a fourth straight Finals appearance.
Less breathtaking, but more complete.
Addition through subtraction.