Stephen Curry is undeniably the NBA’s best marksman.
He owns the single-season three-point record, and he’s on pace to shatter it this season while shooting a ridiculous 45% from three-point range.
However, what makes Curry so unstoppable from beyond the arc is not just his accuracy.
Curry is helped, of course, by his unbelievable range and masterful handle, but Curry has also quietly improved one of the biggest factors that allows him to get so many three-pointers — his ability to score near the basket.
This was once one of Curry’s biggest weaknesses. While Curry’s range and handle allows him to create opportunities from deep, one of the methods of trying to stop Curry was to run him off the three-point line entirely. Defenders could either push up on Curry as soon as he crossed half-court, or in pick-and-roll situations, have big men “hedge” out on him, limiting his space, and pushing him inside the arc. From there, he’d either be forced to take a tough pull-up jumper, dish it off to a teammate, or attack the basket.
In his early seasons, this wasn’t Curry’s greatest strength, but it’s clear that he’s steadily improved it. Here’s a look at his field goal percentage from the restricted area (the semi-circle beneath the basket) in the last four seasons:
- 2012-13: 54%
- 2013-14: 60%
- 2014-15: 66.5%
- 2015-16: 72.7%
Likewise, here are his shooting percentages from less than five feet over the last four seasons:
- 2012-13: 52%
- 2013-14: 57%
- 2014-15: 66.5%
- 2015-16: 70.7%
This is a huge improvement. Curry’s 72.7% shooting from the restricted area this season is the best mark among guards who have taken at least 40 attempts from that zone. Consider that even two years ago, there were 15 starting guards who had taken at least 150 attempts from the restricted area with better shooting percentages than Curry, per NBA.com/Stats.
That mark is important when you have teams that guard you like this:
Curry’s handle and quickness allows him to get off that three, but Zach Randolph uses the exact aforementioned strategy to try and deny Curry the three-pointer off the pick — he hedges out to about 30 feet from the basket.
However, when Curry wants to attack the basket, not only does have the handle and speed to get there, but the touch he has on the ball allows him to make some ridiculous shots.
When asked about Curry’s ability to hit shots near the basket, he jokingly told “The Starters” and NBA TV’s Trey Kerby, “I gotta be creative because I can’t dunk.”
He continued, “I gotta be creative, get the ball on the glass to get it in when I’m in the paint. That creativity is — I watched guys like Steve [Nash], my teammate Leandro Barbosa, guys that are really clever around the basket without being above-the-rim kinda guys.”
In doing so, this is how Curry becomes a living picture of the preferred analytical shot chart — tons of green spots with a high concentration of three-pointers and shots near the basket, with a low concentration of difficult long twos and midrange shots:
Right now, Curry and the 12-0 Warriors are a force of nature. He has no visible weaknesses, having improved what few faults he had, and he’s staking a claim for best player in the NBA.
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