On February 3rd, 2016, the greatest pure shooter of all time, Stephen Curry, will march on the Verizon Center to take on the Washington Wizards. There were arguments last year during his MVP season about whether Curry’s shooting was truly the greatest, but he has laid those arguments to rest this season.
His ability to shoot off the dribble, and his ability to shoot with range, are honed gifts that the game of basketball has never witnessed. His ability is so great that it has led some to question whether it could damage the game as a whole, and how his style fits into the “purity” of the sport.
Mark Jackson, his former coach, commented on Curry, albeit with poorly chosen wording:
“Steph Curry’s great. Steph Curry’s the MVP. He’s a champion. Understand what I’m saying when I say this. To a degree, he’s hurt the game. And what I mean by that is I go into these high school gyms, I watch these kids, and the first thing they do is run to the 3-point line. You are not Steph Curry. Work on the other aspects of your game. People think that he’s just a knock-down shooter. That’s not why he’s the MVP. He’s a complete basketball player.”
What he really was getting at at the root, was this:
Curry's story is great and should impact kids coming up in a positive way, but some will only see the results and not the work.
— Nate Jones (@JonesOnTheNBA) December 26, 2015
Even highly respected and all-time great coach Gregg Popovich is not a fan of the 3-point line, a huge part of Curry’s game (Popovich’s comments are specifically about the 3-point line itself. You can be sure he has the utmost respect for Curry himself):
“I still hate [the 3-point shot]. I’ll never embrace it. I don’t think it’s basketball. I think it’s kind of like a circus sort of thing. Why don’t we have a 5-point shot? A 7-point shot? You know, where does it stop, that sort of thing. But that’s just me, that’s just old-school. To a certain degree, you better embrace it or you’re going to lose. And every time we’ve won a championship, the 3-point shot was a big part of it. Because it is so powerful and you’ve gotta be able to do it. And nobody does it better than Golden State, and you know where they’re at. So it’s important. You can’t ignore it.”
But what if we did? What if we took Steph Curry’s phenomenal year thus far, and completely disregarded the extra value of 3-point shots? What if we compare Steph’s numbers to some DC greats (this is a Wizards site, after all), but while removing his added 3-point value, but keeping it intact for his competitors, and then see how he stacks up? Is Curry’s shooting so great, that the shots he takes are STILL valuable and efficient shots, even without counting for an extra point?
Well…you tell me.
I’ve used a simple method to conduct this exercise. Curry’s stats will be altered to reflect his scoring as if all of his 3-point makes counted for only two points. His standard overall shooting percentage will be used as his “True Shooting Percentage.” (This actually also negates Curry’s abilities to draw free throws, which he shoots at over 90%). All other players will keep their regular stats, and we will use their actual “True Shooting Percentage,” a stat that factors in the added value of three-point shots and free throws, as a measure of their shooting and scoring efficiency.
We will be using Steph Curry’s 2015-2016 season. Obviously he has had past years where he was not as good. However, as his trajectory continues to be UP, we will assume he will plateau or get better, not worse. For consistency, we will select players chosen for comparison by their best years or best career stretches as well.
We will refer to Curry’s adjusted stats simply as “2-Point Curry.”
Let’s start with current guys we’re familiar with, and work from there:
2-Point Curry vs. John Wall, 2014-2015 Edition
2014-2015 John Wall was absolutely spectacular. We all know this. We all witnessed this. And yet, without the advantage of a three-point line, 2-Point Curry’s numbers compare favorably to Wall (we also removed the value of his teammates’ three-point shots when looking at points created via assist). Curry’s scoring is still superior, and his shooting equally efficient. Wall wins out when totaling points created via scoring and assist, with 40.7 points accounted for per game, compared to 38.4 for 2-Point Curry. However, if we allow Curry’s teammates’ shots to count for three points, Curry’s assists then create 15.3 points, leaving Wall and 2-Point Curry in a tie at 40.7 points accounted for per game.
Without the advantage of the 3-point line, Curry still performs at the level of an All-Star starter, perennial All-Star, and all-time Wizard great John Wall, at his peak.
Advantage: 2-Point Curry
2-Point Curry vs. Pre-Injury 2015-2106 Bradley Beal (aka the Bradley Beal that did this)
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) November 5, 2015
Pre-Injury Bradley Beal was on a rampage to start this season. He was clearly at an All-Star level, and arguably the best player on the Wizards the way he was playing. And he was still an inferior player to 2-Point Curry. His shooting efficiency was superior, but at a lower volume, and easily countered by Curry’s passing ability, reflected by far superior assist numbers.
Advantage: 2-Point Curry
2-Point Curry vs. Agent 0 (aka Gilbert Arenas 2004-2007, his 3 DC All-Star Seasons)
AGENT 0 THO!! Peak Gilbert Arenas was an absolute monster. High scoring, efficient, and an excellent distributor. If only Arenas could have sustained these numbers over 7-10 years, instead of three, we’d be talking about him as one of the greatest shooting guards to ever play the game. If only…
Advantage: Agent 0 (but not by all that much)
2-Point Curry vs. 1992-1998 Mitch Richmond
Admittedly, 1992-1998 Mitch Richmond never actually played here in Washington, but that stretch was why we brought him here. Richmond made all 6 of his All-Star teams during that 6 season stretch with the Sacramento Kings. Three-point shooting was a vital part of his All-Star caliber game, and propelled him to induction into the NBA Hall of Fame. And yet, even discounting the value of the three-point shot, you’d probably take Curry, right?
Advantage: 2-Point Curry
2 Point Curry vs. 1990-1991 Bernard King
I was 6 years old, living in California, and rooting for a guy named Michael Jordan, when Bernard King had his best season for the Washington Wizards. By all accounts, peak Bernard King was one of the most unstoppable forces in NBA history. And yet, in his best season as a Bullet, and in his second best season overall, King only edges out 2-Point Curry by the narrowest of margins.
Advantage: Bernard King, I think, depending how you feel about assists.
2-Point Curry vs. 1967-1971 Earl “The Pearl” Monroe
Earl Monroe played before the advent of the 3-point line, for the Baltimore Bullets, and was one of the best guards of his era, and one of the better guards of All-Time.
Who knows what Monroe’s stats would have looked like had he had the possibility to shoot threes, or the spacing provided by the line’s existence. Still, chances are, he wouldn’t have bombed away from 30 feet the way Steph Curry does. And yet, even if Curry bombed away the very same way he does today during Monroe’s era, his numbers would be superior in both totals, and efficiency, to Monroe’s peak. Incredible.
Advantage: 2-Point Curry
2-Point Curry vs. A Former DC Great Guard
This Former DC Great led the league in scoring 4 times. He made the All-Star Team 11 consecutive seasons, and won an MVP Award. He is considered by many as the best “pound for pound” player in NBA history. He is Georgetown’s own, Allen Iverson.
Iverson is a sure fire Hall of Famer, and one of the most beloved scorers in NBA history. His stretch from 1999-2007 is truly remarkable, and his David vs. Goliath match-up vs. the LA Lakers in the NBA Finals is one the NBA will never forget (even though David only won one game):
Still, Iverson was a volume shooter who attempted 24.4 shots per game over his peak stretch, compared to just 19.5 for Steph Curry this season. His tremendous ability to get to the free throw line boosts his True Shooting to a respectable 51%, and helps give him the advantage here over 2-Point Curry. However, given the undeniable greatness of Allen Iverson, the fact Curry keeps this remotely close, EVEN WITHOUT THREE-POINT SHOOTING, is truly remarkable.
2-Point Curry vs. 2000-2007 T-Mac
Yea, I know T-Mac’s not really related to DC. Now we’re just having fun. But c’mon. Peak T-Mac? 7 consecutive All-Star game T-Mac? 2 time Scoring Champion T-Mac? You’re telling me that Steph Curry is such a tremendous, otherworldly basketball player, that he can put up numbers comparable to PEAK T-MAC, even if his threes only counted for two’s?? You’re telling me he compares to this??
Yup, that’s what I’m telling you. In fact, I think I’ll give 2-Point Curry the edge, just for assists.
Advantage: 2 Point Curry, over Peak T-mac, not China T-Mac, PEAK T-MAC.
Ok, let’s do one more, and we’ll even make it a former Wizard this time:
2-Point Curry vs. Michael Jordan, Bulls edition
Finally, a one-sided massacre! 14 All-Star Teams. 5 MVPs. 6 Championships. 6 Finals MVPs. The greatest post-season numbers of All-Time. And his numbers would be even crazier with the modern NBA rules. Advantage Jordan, and it’s not even close.
Of course it’s not. Obviously, Steph Curry without the three-point line is not going to be comparable to the Greatest Of All Time, or even the greatest players. Without the three, he’s not going to be comparable to Kobe, or Wade, or Kevin Durant, or Chris Paul or Steve Nash.
But that’s kind of the point. You can call the three a “circus shot”, or think it’s a gimmick, or consider it to be outside the fold of “pure basketball.” Fine. Do that. Suit yourself.
Just remember, Stephen Curry doesn’t even need the three-point shot. Revert the rules 50 years, erase that revolutionary line, it doesn’t matter. Steph Curry could still take the same damn shots. He could still pull up in your face from 30 feet off the dribble, he could still shoot 75% percent from the corners, he could still shred you with his handle and dish to open teammates. Take away Steph’s greatest advantage, and you’d still be dealing with an elite weapon, a perennial All-Star, and a future Hall of Famer.
Keep his greatest advantage, and you get this:
Steph Curry vs. Michael Jordan
A player who’s level of basketball can only be compared to some of the greatest players of all time. SIXTY-NINE PERCENT TRUE SHOOTING?!
No, Steph is not Jordan. Or Kobe. Or Wade. Or Bird. Or Magic. Or LeBron.
One or two seasons doesn’t get you anywhere near the top of the pyramid. But at the present moment, that’s the caliber of basketball we are witnessing: A shooter so great, that if we remove his greatest advantage, he is still performing like a Hall of Famer. A shooter so great, that if he maintains his caliber of basketball for years to come, we will no longer be discussing him among the greatest shooters of All-Time; We will be discussing him among the greatest PLAYERS of All-Time.
On the 25th of January, he took down the Alamo.
On Wednesday night, he invades the Verizon Center.
Should we expect an early, packed, raucous, rowdy, and electric atmosphere? Because if Steph can make that happen, then THAT is truly transcendent.