'21 Season Review: Peak Curry (again)
The gravitational chaos, fulfilled promises, and a peak that keeps going
No athlete has fulfilled a promise as boldly as Stephen Curry.
The year was 2009. 21 year-old rookie Stephen Curry fired off this now famous tweet, promising Warriors fans that “we” would figure it out. The team was off to a 2-5 start after a loss to the Pacers and though the team would indeed win their next game, Curry played less than three minutes. It wasn’t yet his time to save the franchise. Not many people knew at the time, but now? There’s no question of Curry’s greatness, or his value to the team. His uniqueness extends both on and off the court:
“I might not have known what I was talking about at the time, but the confidence and the fact that it’s ‘we,’ it’s ‘us’ what we were able to accomplish. I love to buy into that and help lead that.”
It’s quite a story that he has led, but one that is far from complete.
Now a 33 year-old veteran, Golden State’s elder statesman just won a scoring title [EFFICIENCY HISTORY]. With a heavy list of responsibilities and a ton of pressure, Curry just let everyone know that he did indeed “figure this thing out” but it’s far from the last thing he’ll do.
One of the challenges about writing on a player in the tier of Curry is that even objectively describing his deeds comes off as hyperbole - and even that somehow falls short of capturing the visceral impact of Curry’s generational talent. Not only did Curry change the entire upper limit design of the league, he continues to break the newly perceived ceilings.
This entire article could just be a list of his accolades from the 2021 season. Instead, here’s a graphic that the Warriors put out:
Those 32 points per game made him the oldest player to win the scoring crown since Michael Jordan did it way back in 1998 (when Curry was 10 years old). That was Jordan’s last scoring title - he stepped away from the game before coming back to the Wizards four years later - but Curry shows no sign of slowing down.
This is the second time in his career that Curry led the league in scoring, and though he didn’t get a matching MVP award this time around, his impact and efficiency are as good as ever (if not better).
Normally, as players are asked to do more, their efficiency goes down, but Curry seems to defy the limits. Not just defy them, but live a life in direct opposition to them. Look at the confluence of his highest scoring seasons and his most efficient ones.
The efficiency is one of the parts of Curry’s game that unites the spreadsheet nerds and basketball purists alike. In a category dominated by big men that don’t stray far from the basket (remember Andris Biedrins led the league in scoring efficiency at one point in his career) Curry’s position among the trees is one of the more staggering statistical truths. He is 9th on the all-time eFG% career leaders list, and the only non-center in the top-15.
How he does it somehow makes the accolade even more impressive. If there’s such a thing as safe offense, then Curry embodies the “running with scissors” offense. This guy thrives on shots that get most players benched for even attempting them.
His sliders are all set to 99!
How can Curry be such an elite performer, while also conducting his “running with scissors” approach? At the most basic level, it’s due to an unknown combination of inherited fine motor skills that were intrinsic at birth and an insane work ethic. You don’t become a great athlete in any sport at a truly elite level without being something of a psychopath and Curry has become just as famous for his preparation and work ethic as he is for his on-court bad assery. If you’re so inclined, here’s a video of him hitting three pointers for around five minutes without a single miss.
Or, you can watch this video of him cooking people for 10 minutes straight:
His per game line this season: 32 points (a career-high) on shooting splits of 56.9% on two-pointers, 42.1% from three, and 91.6% from the line. That’s his second season joining the silly and arbitrary (but exclusive) 50-40-90 club. Putting him in an even more select group of players that have done so at least twice; alongside NBA greats Larry Bird and Steve Nash. That’s the whole list.
Scoring is, and likely always will be Curry’s primary claim to fame, and the statistics certainly support that claim. Looking at Cleaning the Glass, Curry scored around 134 points per 100 shot attempts (PSA). That puts him in the 100th percentile.
It’s not the first time Curry finds himself in the 100th percentile, either. Go ahead and ogle at the sustained excellence:
What’s even crazier is that he does it while shooting a ton of threes, and running with his proverbial scissors. These points scored per attempt numbers are generally entirely dominated by big men. The fact that Curry is ranked as high as he is is completely nuts on it’s own… which brings us to his usage. As anyone that watched any Warriors game over the past decade can attest to, Curry is the Warriors offense.
Defensively, he’s also fixed what used to be his most glaring flaw. Curry had the lowest rate of fouling out of the whole team, which is just one indication of his overall improvements on the defensive end. All told, it’s really tough to find a weakness in Curry’s game, as befitting a player that regularly finds himself in the GOAT conversation.
Looking ahead, Curry’s priority will be mostly to maintain the status quo. No one knows how long he can keep plugging in seasons like this, but for a player as elite as Curry, there’s a whole lot of room on the useful but downhill side of his career. Curry isn’t the “coast across the finish line” type, so with Klay Thompson returning and a new era on the horizon, this is still Curry’s team. Now, and in the future.
There’s also something else to Curry, something that can’t be objectively defined or measured. Every time he steps on the court, it feels like the team has a chance. In boxing terms, Curry has heavy hands. This season wasn’t it, but with Curry, Klay Thompson, and the rest of the crew, it’s always going to feel like the Warriors have a puncher’s chance at the title. Not only does Curry make that a reality, but he also makes it fun.