Steph Curry May Be the Best Shooter to Ever Play in the NBA

03_09_steph_curry_numbers_01
Diego Patiño

Stephen Curry has made more 3-pointers this season than any player has made in any other season in NBA history. He broke the record—his own—during a February 27 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. His team, the Golden State Warriors, won 121-118 in overtime, bringing their record to 53-5—the best ever through 58 games. Curry scored 46 points, 36 of which came by way of the 3-point shot, tying the single-game record. His final shot, a game-winner that went through the hoop with only 0.6 seconds remaining in overtime, was launched 38 feet away from the basket, over 10 feet beyond the required distance for a shot to count for 3 points. It was not a desperate heave. It was a jump shot, and pretty much everyone watching expected it to go in.

None of this is normal, but the most remarkable part of Curry's exploits is that after he broke the record for most 3-pointers in a season against the Thunder, the Warriors still had 24 games remaining on their schedule. That means Curry could have sat out almost a third of his team's games and still have had the greatest 3-point-shooting season in history. The second-, third- and sixth-greatest such seasons also belong to the 28-year-old. He has, essentially, broken the game of basketball.

Curry represents a seismic shift in our understanding of how the game should be played, and it's happening so abruptly that no one is sure how to react. Current players can do nothing but watch with a mixture of disbelief and admiration, while former players have attributed the jagged anomaly to the sorry state of the game, not to Curry's transcendent talent. Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson has blamed modern coaches for not knowing how to play defense. Several other former players have echoed this sentiment. The game is soft. No one plays defense anymore. Of course a player like Curry would come along.

This season, teams are taking nearly 24 3-point shots per game on average. Ten years ago, that number was 16. Twenty-five years ago, it was 7.6. When Robertson won his only MVP award in 1964, the 3-point shot didn't exist. The game evolves naturally, but when a transcendent individual forces that change to a degree that seems unusual, it's received not as a measure of progress but as a borderline affront to all that came before. It happened when Michael Jordan turned the flashy slam dunk into a cultural phenomenon in the late '80s and early '90s, and it's happening now with Curry and the 3. Change is good, and with Curry it's also fun as hell.

Steph Curry May Be the Best Shooter to Ever Play in the NBA