Stephen Curry is turning the NBA upside down
Curry is so good now that teams are going to have to get creative when he gets hot and that could mean the birth of the Hack-A-Curry.
Coming off an MVP season and a championship, Curry has somehow gotten even better, staking a strong claim for best player in the NBA while improving all of his skills.
It’s not that Curry is doing anything new — he’s still a lights-out shooter with impossible range, a hypnotising ball-handler, and clever passer — but he’s simply gotten better at everything.
Through ten games he’s leading the NBA in scoring, averaging 33 points per game with a ridiculous 53% shooting, 47% from three-point range, with five rebounds and five assists per game. Additionally, his efficiency is through the roof: he has a ridiculous 65.9% eFG (effective field goal percentage, weighted for three-pointers), higher than any other starting point guard in the NBA and eighth among players who play at least 20 minutes per game. (Curry has also taken more field goal attempts than any of the players above him).
As anyone who’s ever watched Curry knows, this is an astounding number for someone who takes some of the most ludicrous shots in the NBA. According to NBA.com’s player tracking, Curry has 56 more points on pull-up shots than anyone in the NBA, and he’s hit 49.5% of his pull-up attempts. This coincides with his league-high 52 possessions in transition, in which he’s scored 1.67 points per possession. To put that in perspective, LeBron James and James Harden are second and third, respectively, in transition possessions, averaging .96 and 1.06 points per possession, respectively.
A quick peek at some of Curry’s highlights this season show how crazy some of his shots are:
And these shots usually come in scoring bunches. Curry already has four 20-point quarters this year. Not only does he get hot, he becomes impossible to stop, and when the momentum swings like that, it’s demoralising for opponents, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said.
This begs the question: how do teams stop Curry? There’s no easy answer. Basketball players are taught not to chase players too far beyond the three-point line because they aren’t legitimate threats. Steph Curry breaks that rule. Ask DeAndre Jordan:
Yet when teams push up on Curry or send multiple defenders, he can either bust by them and into the paint for a higher-percentage shot, or kick the ball to an open teammate for another high-percentage look.
One idea that’s been casually mentioned, but never implemented (to our knowledge) is the Hack-A-Curry, where defences could intentionally foul Curry, put him on the free throw line, and get the ball back. Intentionally fouling is one of the most divisive strategies in the NBA. It brings the game to a halt, bails out the defence, and drives fans crazy. It’s been used with several other big men who are bad free throw shooters as a way to slow down offenses, most recently with the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan in the playoffs last season.
For a player like Curry, this is borderline unprecedented, but it may be something teams experiment with when he gets going. As was the case against the Clippers this season, when Curry scored 13 points in five minutes in the fourth quarter, rallying the Warriors from a late deficit. His hot streaks can be game-changing.
Teams can try to run Curry off the three-point line, but he’s proven so adept at getting any shot he wants, or breaking down the defence within the three-point arc that he often just creates another good shot. NBA TV’s “The Starters” briefly mentioned this on a podcast, noting that teams may have to start fouling Curry hard to throw him off or simply just give up the two instead of three-pointer. Not only is a three obviously worth more, Curry’s onslaughts from downtown fire up him, the team, and the crowd.
Curry is shooting 94% from the free throw line this season, so intentionally fouling him more than likely will result in two points. This strategy isn’t about the maths as much as it’s about the intangible effect — stopping the flow of the Warriors offence and taking Curry out of a rhythm.
There are still a few hurdles to clear before the NBA would likely to turn to this. First, teams may look to foul a worse free throw shooter on the Warriors than Curry. However, fouling away from the ball — that is, fouling someone like center Andrew Bogut — only works for so long. The Warriors would likely sub out Bogut and go with their deadly small-ball lineup if he was getting fouled, and after a certain point in the game, rules prohibit teams from fouling away from the ball. If they do, the team that was fouled just gets the ball back after the free throws, thus negating the point to the strategy.
If Curry keeps up this torrid pace, it’s worth monitoring how teams begin to scheme against him. Defences are in uncharted waters with Curry; there isn’t a more dangerous player in the NBA with the ball in his hands. When Curry gets on a hot streak, single-handedly changing the momentum and demoralising opponents, teams may try the Hack-A-Curry just to slow him down.
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