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Curry's Big Game Propels Warriors

The Cauldron

There are times when it feels like Stephen Curry is not human  --  that he is some sort of machine, a near-perfect cyborg designed to make three-point baskets in a manner that not only defies physics, but takes advantage of an inherently advanced geometry that mere mortals could never replicate. There are plenty of good outside shooters in the league, but Curry's long-range shot is a sublime triad of prolificacy, accuracy, and effortlessness.

As luck would have it, today's NBA is undeniably a three-point league.

Things have been creeping in that direction for quite some time, but we have enough data to prove the Association's metamorphosis is no longer just some theory, but indisputably now practice. The 1,147 threes the Memphis Grizzlies attempted last season - which was the lowest total in the league by a wide margin - would have been an above-league-average total in the 1999–00 season, and it would have led the NBA in 1989–90.

So it would be understandable  --  in the context of this cataclysmic league-wide shift  --  to assume Curry simply was a product of the times. Only, he is not. Curry is something else, entirely.

Ray Allen made his final three-pointer on April 16 of last year, against the Philadelphia 76ers. It was the 2,973rd of his career, the most in NBA history. No other active player is even within 900 three-pointers of Allen's tally.

Assuming he stays healthy (and that Allen stays semi-retired), though, it's hard to imagine the mark will not eventually be eclipsed by Curry - who at his current pace, needs just 715 more games to exceed Allen's total. Several other active NBA players are closer to Allen than Curry, but each of them would have to play well into their 40s to have a shot at setting a new mark. Among players age 30 or younger, Curry stands alone as having a chance to even sniff the record.

Even if you take Curry out of the mix - and he miraculously abstains from taking three-pointers over the rest of his career - Thompson, Anderson and Harden seem to be the only players with a realistic shot at passing Allen before they turn 40.

Further, projecting his totals, if Curry maintains his current level of long-range production, he will own the NBA's three-point record in 201 fewer games than it took Ray Allen to establish it.

Curry was the fastest player ever to 1,000 made threes, reaching the milestone in his 369th game, and breaking Dennis Scott's previous record of 457 by a whopping 88 games. If he's is able to replicate Allen's career longevity - the latter logged some 1,300 NBA games - and keeps splashing treys at his career-to-date rate, he will retire with a mind-blowing 3,536 made threes.

Yes, Curry's voluminous numbers do reflect a mountain of opportunities - given enough three-point attempts, anyone can break records by compiling - but the thing is, he is on such a torrid pace because he is prolific and accurate. Curry currently maintains the third-highest three-point field goal percentage in NBA history (among players with at least 1,500 career attempts).

But Curry's excellence is not just about quantity or accuracy, or the overlap between the two. It is the contextual nature of his three-point shooting that sets him apart. Curry carries an enormous offensive load for the Warriors, and the three-pointer is a huge component of that load.

When you look at Curry's four most recent full seasons (excluding 2011–12 when he played in only 26 games due to injury), you can clearly see a progression: usage and 3PAs are increasing season by season. He now rests on the outer fringes of this grouping. Of players who drive their teams' offenses, Curry is extreme in his reliance on the three-pointer.

Interestingly, there are only 17 player-seasons with a Usage Rate above 26 percent and a Three-Point Rate above 0.40. Allen's presence (twice) is unsurprising, but Tim Hardaway and Baron Davis also accomplished the same feat in two seasons apiece.

Curry, though, is the only player who appears three times.

It seems that this would create an added layer of difficulty. On a large scale, there is no misdirection in Curry's offensive game. The jump shot is his weapon of choice and everyone in the building knows that he's looking for the slimmest of openings to pull the trigger. Each night, opposing defenses operate with the knowledge that Curry will be running the Warriors' offense, trying to do everything in their power to chase him off the three-point line.

Still, Curry ensures that defenses fail, spectacularly, over and over again.

According to NBA.com, Curry is taking roughly four off-the-dribble three-pointers per game, making a cool 40 percent of them. That's four times per game where there are no interruptions or pit stops between Curry operating with the ball and Curry achieving his primary purpose. His efficiency in those situations are the catch-and-shoot envy of the entire league.

On average, Curry's three-point attempts are much farther from the basket than his peers or the rest of the league (anywhere from 6–12 inches). He is much more closely defended on those attempts than the league average and far more of them are off the dribble, more than twice the league average. This last number is significant. On average, the league shoots about six percentage points worse on three-pointers off the dribble - 30.9 percent to 36.2 percent. Curry is hitting 39.9 percent of his off-the-dribble threes.

In fact, this is what truly separates Curry from the Korvers, Kerrs, and Bonners - and even the Allens.

He is the Dubs' point guard, advancing the ball and initiating the offense in the half-court. He manages an entire set of offensive responsibilities that ensure he can't just break free off endless baseline screens in the pursuit of open space. The ball usually is in his hands, removing the advantage that a typical three-point specialist gets when a defense's attention is divided between shooter and ball in two different locations.

Curry is taking and making threes at historic rates, in perhaps the most challenging defensive context a three-pointer shooter can face. And still, he makes it look so easy. In a league that is taking and making more and more three-pointers every year, Curry still appears to be in a league of his own.

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For more sports coverage please visit The Cauldron and follow Ian Levy on Twitter: @IanLevy
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