Friday, December 11, 2015

Stephen Curry - the Human Cheat Code

So continuing my posting on sports...if you aren't watching the Golden State Warriors play every chance you get, you are missing something amazing.

Have you ever played a sports video game on "rookie" level, or created a player with impossible gifts, and then destroyed every record ever? Basically, it's a cheat code--you are entering a code or a special cheat that lets you be impossibly good. Sometimes it even takes the fun out of the game because it seems that the numbers you have put up are impossible.

Well, the Warriors are 23-0 to start the season (by far the best start ever), and now that more than a quarter of the season is in the books, we have a sufficient sample size to say that this isn't a fluke. They are going to go down as one of the most dominant teams in history unless injury gets the best of them.

Why are they doing so well?

Because Stephen Curry is the Human Cheat Code.

Despite being a small point guard, Curry is doing things that no one has ever done.

There are so many numbers I could show you.

I could tell you that Curry is on pace to make 50% of any basket (which is elite for a guard), as well as 40% from three point land (which is crazy elite), and 90% from the free throw line (which is elite).

I could point out that he is second in the league in shooting percentage in the lane (the only one other than a seven-footer to make the top five).

I could point out that he has a better shooting percentage from almost halfcourt (15-of-20, 75%) than anyone in the league has on layups.

Think about that one for a second. Curry shooting from halfcourt is a higher percentage shot than anyone in the league at shooting layups.

I could point out that Curry has hit more threes last year and this year than Larry Bird did in his entire career added together.

But I think some graphs are needed to show just how eye-popping this year's statistics are...otherwise you just can't get how crazy it is. If I did this in a video game, I would probably get bored and say, "Nah, too unrealistic."

So here are five ways that Steph Curry is the Human Cheat Code so far this year:

1.  He is beyond doubt the greatest shooter in the history of the league

Coming into the year, Curry was already held the all-time record for three pointers made in a season--as well as the #2 and #5 spots, to boot. This year he is on pace to top any of those totals (more on that in a moment).

What is amazing is to look at the other greatest shooters of all time. How many other people have more than one appearance in the Top 25 best shooting seasons from downtown?

Only 7 other players in NBA history have more than one spot in the top 25; no one has more than 2 spots except Curry. And of those, as you can see most of them had many, many years where they didn't put up top-25 totals.

Curry, however, will end this seasons with 5 out of his 7 years being among the top 25 seasons ever produced from downtown. Even if he retired this season, leaving another 10 years on the table, he would already be beyond doubt the greatest shooter in league history.

2.  He is on pace to beat his own record by nearly 50%

I don't think I can oversell the craziness of this next stat.

Curry's current three point shooting pace is 50% higher than his currently-held record. Not only will he end with yet another top-25 shooting performance, this one is so much higher than all the others that the statistics barely compare.

The best season ever by a player not named Curry was Ray Allen's incredible 2005 season in which he hit 269 three pointers.  Curry's pace this year is for 424 three pointers...meaning he will add another 155 on top of the best non-Curry ever.

How can I put this in perspective?

Remember when Mark McGwire beat Roger Maris' record for 61 home runs?

Imagine that McGwire beat that record by hitting 62 homers. Then the next year he hit 64.  Then the next year he hit 90. That is what Steph Curry has done...he beat the record by 1%, then by 5%, then that new record by 48% (on his current pace).

3.  Curry might hit more 3 pointers than four entire teams

So far this year, Curry has hit more 3 pointers than Brooklyn or Minnesota, and is just one behind Miami and Memphis.

Think about that--each team has 15 players and has five players on the court for every minute of every game...meaning that there are 5*48 = 280 minutes per game * 82 games = 22960 man-minutes played by each team.

By comparison, Curry is currently averaging only 34 minutes per game * 82 games = 2788 man-minutes expected this year.

So each of these teams has players on the court 10 minutes for every 1 minute Curry is on the court...and he is STILL out shooting all of them.

4.  Curry has invented an entirely new form of deadly three point shooting

Traditionally, three point shooting is all about spacing. You run a sharpshooter through screens and motion to get open. The rate at which people make three pointers when guarded is very, very low historically. Space is needed, and you run it through offensive sets.

Sometimes, players are feeling "hot", and do what is called a "pull up three"...that is, they are dribbling while guarded and just shoot anyway. Most people do this once or less per game; Curry does it nearly five times each game.

For most people, they don't do that great--something less than 30%.

Curry hits closer to half of them than he does to the league average.

The crazy thing is that this graph from Fivethirtyeight undersells the point.

Do you see that line at 35%? That is the average three point shot for all threes, including the far-more common wide open variety.

Curry is better just shooting while dribbling than most players are with wide open space.

And finally...

5.  According to advanced metrics, Steph Curry's season is 10% better than the best season of all time.

Probably the most important statistic for measuring a player's performance is the PER statistic. Player Efficiency Rating is an all-in-one statistic that takes into account all types of shooting, minutes played, rebounds, and value of possessions and gives a single number.

An NBA average player is a 15. An MVP season is 25 or higher.

The PER stat holds up over time. Looking at retired players, it would rank the all time best players as:  1. Michael Jordan, 2. LeBron James, 3. Shaquille O'Neal, 4. David Robinson, 5. Wilt Chamberlain.

Robinson is underrated by most people, but the other four are no surprise.

By this method, the all time best season was Wilt Chamberlain's 1962 season. In that year, Chamberlain led the league in points (44.8/game) and rebounds (24.3/game), while shooting 53% from the floor and adding 3.5 assists per game.  It has remained the best season in history by a player...until now.

Steph Curry's season so far is 10% better than that season. 

Despite only playing 34 minutes out of every 48 minute game (because they are winning by so much), Curry is averaging 32 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2.3 steals per game, while shooting 53% from the floor, 47% from three point range, and 90% from the free throw line.

How do you game-plan against a guy who averages nearly one point per minute, can shoot from anywhere, is even better if you foul him, and oh-by-the-way happens to be top-five in the league in steals as well?

It's amazing.

If he keeps this up, Curry will go down as one of the all-time greats. (Just look at the list of other players on that chart:  all of the best seasons ever have come from either Chamberlain, Jordan, or LeBron...and now Curry.)

If he plays another ten years, it is likely (not just possible, but likely) that he will surpass Magic as the greatest Point Guard of all time. He might have already done so.

And I think it's very possible that twenty years from now, when people talk about the "Mount Rushmore" of NBA history, it will have four faces:  Wilt Chamberlain; Michael Jordan; Lebron James; and Stephen Curry.

Pay attention so that you can say, "I saw it happen."

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