Another Golden Year in the books for our Golden Boy
The transformation of the Golden State Warriors really started with Steph Curry. He was the initial force that propelled the franchise into greatness. And the arch keeps getting higher every year. Three-time all-NBA team, a pair of consecutive NBA MVP awards, and two championship rings in the last three years – and he’s likely to crest even higher still. There’s just no knowing how long the flight can be sustained, but he just turned in another season that proved once again that he’s still getting better.
At 29 years old, Curry is in his prime – and Prime Curry is impressive.
You want a TL;DR version of Steph Curry’s season that’s it. He was phenomenal all year and orchestrated one of the best teams to ever play in the NBA. He didn’t shoot the three ball as well as we have become accustomed to, but the rest of his game advanced while he steered the team through its various iterations.
At first, Curry deferred to Durant, working more as a traditional pass-first point guard to initiate the offense and generate good looks for his team. Then, once Durant went out for a month with a knee injury, the assassin version of Curry appeared to remind the league why he was the NBA’s first unanimous choice for MVP. And finally, it all came together perfectly in time for the season to end. The team waltzed through the post season dancing along confidently behind the lead of Curry and Durant.
Curry would go on to sign a $201 million contract.
Going deeper – a look at Curry’s shooting
Let’s just get this out of the way right out of the gate: Curry did not shoot the balls like we expected him to. Don’t get me wrong, he still had one of the greatest shooting years of all time, but he shot a career low 41.1% from behind the arch. Here, I made us a pretty graphic so you can see his true shooting percentage in comparison to his three-point shooting over the course of his career.
Remember those quaint times when the world wondered if Steph Curry could hit 300 three-pointers in a season? He annihilated that record last season when he hit 402. An annihilation so severe, that almost everyone overlooks the fact that he has hit over 300 now in two consecutive years (324 deep ones in 2016-17). All of this actually fits into the story line mid-season, as Curry endured his first ever shooting “slump” that still left him second all-time in the history books, chasing only himself.
Continuing to look at his shooting, we can see that Curry was impacted by the arrival of Durant. But as far as sacrifices go, now that Kevin Durant plays here too, Curry taking four less field goal attempts per 36 minutes is something I think we can all accept.
So was it an off year for Curry? I’d say no. This is just what it looks like when you add another superstar to Steph Curry’s Warriors. As Klay Thompson so eloquently described back prior to the start of the season, this isn’t what the team considers a sacrifice:
“I feel kind of disrespected that people keep using the term sacrifice to describe me and describe us,” Thompson told The Vertical. “We all want to see each other do well. But I’m not sacrificing [expletive], because my game isn’t changing. I’m still going to try to get buckets, hit shots, come off screens. I want to win and have a fun time every game we play.
Curry didn’t change his game in that sense of the word; it was more of an evolution/adaptation and I think it’s important to understand that context when looking at his 2016-17 season statistics.
The Curry effect – trying to articulate his net impact
After (heck, during) his unanimous MVP season in 2015-16, the case began to emerge that Steph Curry may have turned in the best offensive performance of all time. This year his Real Plus-Minus (RPM), a measure of net impact on the court, was third-best in the league, but on offense he was the best in the NBA.
I’m definitely not the first to talk about the gravity that Curry causes when he’s on the court, but watch what happens in this one play during the Finals. Curry is so good, he gets an assist just by standing near the three point line. You see, this is how efficient Curry is – he’s such a good shooter that it breaks down defenses – even without him getting anywhere near the ball.
Durant gets the bucket; Curry gets nothing on the box score even though he’s the reason that the basket is so easy. We already talked about what an efficient scorer Curry is, but now we are talking about how absurd this all is.
Here, this next graphic shows a modified statistic called “true possession efficiency” that includes things like missed shots, ball handling turnovers, and who rebounds any misses.
Once again, here’s another metric showing Steph Curry out ahead of the competition. As per the author, “Nikola Jokic led all qualified players at 74.2 percent, but his volume was considerably lower than Stephen Curry (73.5 percent).”
Or, to translate: Curry is the best in the NBA at turning possessions into points, and he does so at a staggering volume. This isn’t any sort of catch and shoot tom-foolery. Curry is being leaned on as heavy as any player in the NBA – it’s just that he somehow manages to remain incredibly effective, no matter how big of a burden he’s asked to carry. And remember, this last metric includes turnovers, so the next time you hear anyone say “yeah but he turns it over so much, he’s so careless with the ball,” you can point them back to this graphic and tell them that it doesn’t matter. He’s still the best in the game.
I’m going to take the liberty of concluding with a long block quote. Here is Brian Whitt for NBA.com summarizing Curry’s 2016-17 season.
“Everything we do is based on Steph. From the very beginning of this run, you know, Steph was the guy who started it.”
That was Steve Kerr speaking about his All-Star point guard in a recent interview, where he would go on to add, “Literally our offensive system is built around the chaos that he creates for defenses.” Curry averaged a team-leading 25.3 points per game during the regular season, and ranked second on the team with an average of 6.6 assists per contest.
He shot 46.8 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from three-point range, and 89.8 percent from the free throw line and managed to convert 324 treys, the second highest single-season total of all-time. Believe it or not, each of those statistics was actually a minor regression from his previous record-shattering season; however, Curry saved his best for last.
He bumped up his averages to 28.1 points and 6.7 assists per game in the playoffs, and improved his shooting percentages at each scoring level in helping to lead the Dubs to the championship. He led all NBA players in individual plus-minus in both the regular season and playoffs, and the 1,260 points the Warriors outscored their opponents by while Curry was on the court over the entire 2016-17 campaign exists as the best individual plus-minus in league history.
What a year, huh?
I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do for an encore.