The Whiteboard: 4 charts to explain Steph Curry’s shooting slump

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports /

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Another night. Another win for the Golden State Warriors. Another rough shooting night for Steph Curry.

He finished 18 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists in a 38-point blowout of the Dallas Mavericks but shot just 7-of-16 from the field and just 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. That dropped his season-long 3-point average to 37.7 percent, a strong number for anyone else but, by far, the lowest mark of his career.

We’re now 43 games into this season, long enough to feel fairly confident that we’re looking at something more than just random variance (even if variance is perhaps making things look worse than they are). Again, Curry’s slump is relative — his slumping numbers would be pretty damn good for anyone else and the Warriors still have the second-best record in the league. But their offense is outside the top-10 in efficiency and Curry being merely human does lower the ceiling on this team to some degree.

Exactly what this slump is and what it means is hard to wrap your arms around when you’re talking about one of the greatest shooters of all time. To try and contextualize what we’re actually talking about, I put together four charts to look at it from different angles.

What shooting zones is Steph Curry struggling from?

This first chart is from Positive Residual and compares his true-shooting percentage by zone, compared to the league average. You can see just how different his performance from this season looks compared to the past six seasons.

You can see that his shooting percentages have declined a bit from everywhere beyond the arc but particularly straightaway above the break and from the left corner.

How does this slump compare to the rest of Steph Curry’s career?

This next chart shows the 10-game rolling 3-point percentage average for Curry’s entire career, regular season and playoffs.

Curry has certainly had rough stretches before, but over his last 100 or so games, his peaks have been a bit lower and the curry drop-off is one of the worst of his career. The current trough in his rolling 10-game 3-point percentage is the second-lowest of his career and has now been below 40 percent for 19 straight games. The previous low lasted 29 games and bottomed out at 25.2 percent, however that run was stretched over multiple seasons. It began in the 2018-19 playoffs which ended with the Warriors losing in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors. It crossed his injury-shortened 2019-20 season and carried into the beginning of the 2020-21 season. He’s never really had a streak this long or this bad contained entirely within a single season.

How does this season compare to other high-volume seasons from Steph Curry and his peers?

In NBA history, there have been 67 seasons in which a player averaged eight or more 3-point attempts per game (seven of which belong to Curry). Compared to the rest of that field by 3-point percentage, Curry’s accuracy this season is far from the worst but it’s a far cry from the personal standard he’s set for himself.

You can see here that Curry’s numbers this year are way down from his previous seasons but his volume still makes him an enormous outlier. His closest comparables for this season would be James Harden in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but Curry is still more efficient than Harden was in either of those seasons. And it’s not like Harden’s shooting percentages were problematic in those years. The gravity Curry exerts and his effect on a defense is still considerable, even if he’s shooting worse than he has in the past.

Could Steph Curry have broken Ray Allen’s record shooting like this his whole career?

In the midst of this career-worst shooting season, Curry still broke the record for career 3-pointers made, establishing himself as the greatest shooter in NBA history. Breaking that record at all was a testament to his accuracy. Breaking it at the age of 33 with several good seasons ahead of him was a testament to his accuracy and his volume. The graph below shows how Curry’s career 3-pointers made total would have progressed if he attempted the same number each season but made 3-pointers at the same rate he has this season.

All else being equal, if Curry has shot 37.7 percent on 3s for his career he wouldn’t be atop the all-time leaderboard … yet. But he still would have made 2,666 3-pointers to this point, enough to put him ahead of Reggie Miller and every other player in NBA history except for Allen. And even at that, decreased rate, he would likely pass Allen at some point next season.

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