Stephen Curry exploded for 51 points Wednesday night as the Warriors beat the Wizards 134-121.
Even more impressive was Curry’s efficiency — he shot 19-28 (68%) and 11-16 (68%) from three-point range, coming one shy of his own NBA record for made three-pointers in a single game.
On Thursday, ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh noted how incredible Curry’s shooting was. Against the Wizards, Curry was averaging a whopping 2.4 points per possession.
“As crazy as it sounds, you’re better off just fouling him,” Haberstroh said. “Hack-a-Steph is a reality when he’s scoring 2.4 points every time he shoots.”
Haberstroh said that Curry, who shoots 91% from the free throw line, averages 1.8 points when he shoots foul shots, so mathematically, it would be a more sound strategy to just send Curry to the line.
Of course, that’s the last thing anybody wants to see — the NBA’s most entertaining player being sent to the free throw line, bringing the game to a halt, because he’s too hot from the field. But when he’s hitting demoralising shots like this, what is a defence supposed to do?
The idea of intentionally fouling Curry first started surfacing at the beginning of the season, when Curry had clearly taken his game to another level. However, the idea was more about the intangible effect of Curry’s three-pointers. Fouling Curry would quell the momentum of the Warriors — once Curry gets hot, it fires up him, his team, and the crowd. Bringing the game to a grind at the free throw line would at least temporarily slow that down.
Similarly, fouling Curry wouldn’t always create a statistical advantage. While Curry’s shooting is otherworldly, he is far from averaging 2.4 points per possession (ppp) on a regular basis. According to NBA.com/Stats, Curry averages 1.1 ppp as a ball-handler, 1.26 ppp in transition, 1.03 ppp in isolation, and 1.45 ppp as a spot-up shooter. Those are eye-popping averages, but fewer than his 1.8 ppp at the free throw line.
What makes his latest onslaught more noteworthy is that rather than fouling Curry for the aforementioned intangible effect, he actually produced a performance where it was mathematically sound to intentionally foul him.
It’s a radical idea to intentionally foul a 91% free throw shooter to stop the offence, but next time he heats up like he did Wednesday night, it will be interesting to see how defences react.
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