Stephen Curry has stepped up his game this season to become the best basketball player in the world, and yet, his current numbers still don’t do his game justice until we put them in perspective.
Curry is averaging an NBA-leading 29.8 points per game to go along with 6.6 assists — which does not include his league-leading 2.4 hockey assists per game (passes that lead to assists) — 2.1 steals, and a kazillion 3-pointers.
What is amazing is that he is putting up these number while playing just 33.8 minutes per game, and often sitting for entire fourth quarters in blowouts. Curry’s 31.7 points per 36 minutes, are 3.5 points more than any other player this season, and it is the highest in the NBA since Michael Jordan averaged 33.4 points per 36 minutes during the 1986-87 season.
If Curry played as many minutes as the next ten players on this season’s list of top scorers (35.9 min. average), he would be averaging closer to 32 points per game. Only one player (Kevin Durant, 32.0 ppg in 2013-14) has averaged at least 32 points per game in the last ten seasons.
Here are the most points per 36 minutes in a single season all time, via Basketball-Reference. Curry currently ranks fifth:
But let’s take it a step further. While the Warriors play an uptempo pace of basketball, it is actually still extremely slow when we consider how the NBA used to be played, and the number of shots Curry can take is impacted by the pace of the league in general.
This season, NBA teams are averaging 84.3 shots per game. That is good, because after two decades of teams averaging a boring 79-81 shots per game, it means pace of play is on the rise in the NBA. This season’s shots per game is the highest in the NBA since the 1993-94 season (84.4 shots per game). However, it is still a far cry from the days when teams routinely averaged over 100 shots per game.
In 1961-62, the year Oscar Robertson famously averaged a triple-double, teams averaged 107.7 shots per game, the third-most in NBA history, and 27.8% more than this year.
If the Warriors were attempting 27.8% more shots per game, it is reasonable to assume that Curry would also be shooting 27.8% more often. If that happened and he was making making shots at his current rate, Curry would be averaging 38.1 points and 8.4 assists per game.
Now let’s take that increase and also give Curry more playing time: If Curry were playing as many minutes as other top players today, and the league were as uptempo as it was in the 1960s, Curry would be averaging 40.3 points and 8.9 assists per game.
That’s pretty good.
Of course, there is also the fatigue factor that needs to be considered which would likely slow him down to a degree. Still, it is not unreasonable to think that Curry is actually playing more like a 35-38 points per game player than the 29.8 points per game he is actually scoring. Instead, Curry is putting up great numbers that are skewed downward because the Warriors are so good and he doesn’t need to play as much, and the league has slowed down with teams play more defence than they did in decades past.
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