It’s difficult to know how to react to the news that Stephen Curry broke the NBA record for 3-point baskets this week.
The good news: Curry is a wonder.
The bad news: Curry has played a role in changing the NBA game into a one-dimensional bombfest.
Back to Curry and the good news. Curry not only has made 2,977 3-point shots (as of Tuesday night) to surpass the career record of 2,973 set by Ray Allen, but he accomplished it at an alarming rate. Allen played in 1,300 games (a total of 46,344 minutes) en route to his record; Curry has played in 789 games (27,077 minutes). In other words, he broke the record while playing in 511 fewer games than Allen — or six full seasons.
Allen attempted 7,429 3-point shots, Curry 6,903.
Curry has made at least nine 3-point shots in 38 games. He holds the NBA season record for 3-point shots made in a season (402), and consecutive games of making at least one 3-point shot (157 — 30 more than his nearest rival).
It might be one thing if Curry were simply breaking records through sheer volume of shots, but he’s shooting accurately. Allen made 40% of his 3-point shots; Curry 43%. Curry is seventh on the career list for 3-point accuracy and none of the six players ahead of him had more than 2,000 attempts. In other words, they took about 5,000 fewer shots.
Curry will be the most prolific 3-point shooter in the history of the game — but he is also the most accurate 3-point shooter in NBA history for any player who has taken more than 1,700 shots.
There’s not much anyone can do to stop Curry, who is playing better than ever in his 13th season while putting Golden State atop the NBA standings with a 23-5 record (and this is without co-star Klay Thompson, who still hasn’t returned from injuries suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals).
As Scott Cacciola of The New York Times put it so well, “Curry does not merely shoot 3-pointers. No, he makes them with three defenders draped all over him like a cheap table cloth. He beats buzzers and crushes hope. He drains 3s on the run and from the general vicinity of the food court. He smiles and dances and points and preens, turning each field-goal attempt into a telenovela.”
Many of the great long-range shooters get their 3-pointers largely by playing away from the ball and coming off screens. Curry, a lithe 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, can do that, but he also creates many of his own shots with his dazzling ballhandling skills, his quickness and his overall athleticism. For defenders it’s like trying to corral a squirrel.
Reggie Miller, a great 3-point shooter himself, told writer Bob Kravitz, “I think Steph has changed the game.”
Which brings us back to the bad news. If you’re a purist, you can’t be happy with the turn the game has made. The percentage of shots taken from beyond the 3-point line has increased annually for 10 years and will do so again this season.
Three-point shots accounted for 22.2% of all shots during the 2010-11 season; they accounted for 39.2% of all shots last season. It is likely to come in at 40% this season. During the 2020-21 season, the Utah Jazz set an NBA record by sinking an average of 16.7 3-point field goals per game.
The NBA is no longer the team game it once was; it’s no longer a game of passing and working for the best shot. The mid-range shot is disappearing. This is not to say that anyone wants a return to the plodding style of play in which big men leaned on each other in the paint, but it might be a case of too much of a good thing. The NBA has been taken over by shots taken anywhere from 24 to 30 feet, just as the NFL has been taken over by the passing game.
Do an internet search for “Stephen Curry revolutionized” and you’ll find endless posts discussing the way the guard has changed the NBA. It remains to be seen if this is a good thing for the league, but meanwhile it’s the best show in the game.