Warriors vs. Grizzlies: How Stephen Curry’s 3-point struggles have served to reinforce his greatness

Warriors vs. Grizzlies How Stephen Curry's 3-point struggles have served to reinforce his greatness

Stephen Curry has blazed a road through NBA history, establishing himself as the best 3-point shooter of all time, both in terms of shot creativity and consistency of outcomes. Nobody has ever had to make more difficult 3s, and Curry’s conversion rates over the years have been incredible. But that is no longer the case.

As always, any discussion of Curry’s shooting “struggles” has be qualified by his own absurdly high standards, but even with that qualifier, the 38 percent Curry shot from 3 this regular season was by far his best work mark of his career. It hasn’t gotten any better in the playoffs.

Curry is hitting just under 36% from deep in nine postseason games. He’s at 31% for the Memphis series and 27% for his past three appearances. When Golden State had the second-highest true-shooting % for a single game in postseason history in Game 3, connecting on 53 percent of their triples as a team, Curry shot only 2 of 8 from deep.

Despite this, he led the Warriors with 30 points that night. He followed it up with 32 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter, in Game 4, while shooting only 4 of 14 from outside the arc. Curry has now had five 30-point games this playoffs. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ja Morant have done so. That Curry is accomplishing this despite trying greatly to establish his distance shooting form by his standards is the latest testimony to his still-evolving brilliance.

So, how is he going about it? The traditional way: inside the arc and at the free-throw line, where the great scorers of the past made their livelihood. Curry is averaging 7.6 free-throw attempts per game in the playoffs, the most in his postseason history and a 62-percent increase over his regular-season free-throw frequency. Curry is driving the action downhill because the threat of his 3-point jumper, whether he hits it consistently or not, always creates routes for penetration.

When he isn’t getting fouled on these ventures, he’s just getting baskets. Consider Curry’s 2-point % in the playoffs thus far, which is by far a career best.

Curry is doing the most of his damage outside the restricted area, with over 20% of his shot attempts coming between three and ten feet, a career high and more than twice the frequency he registered in 2018-19, his previous playoffs.

Curry is connecting on 3-10 footers at an astounding 67 percent clip, whether they are floaters, short jumpers, or even the rare fallaway, a 17 percent improvement over his next-best playoff performance (2015-16, when he shot 50 percent from the 3-10 foot zone).

Curry was pursuing 3-pointers all over the court early in the season. Whether it was because he was chasing the all-time 3-point record, which he eventually and inexorably broke, or because he sought what he perceived to be a more efficient shot diet at 33 years old, it came at the expense of some of the rhythm mid-range shots that used to sustain or re-spark him during colder streaks.

In the regular season, Curry attempted only 6% of his shots from the analytical death zone (between 16 feet and the 3-point line), but he’s increased that to 9% in the playoffs, and he’s sinking these deep mid-range bombs at a remarkable 56.3 percent, a career postseason best.

That’s how Curry has ended up with an exceptional 61.4 true-shooting % in these playoffs, despite his relative 3-point troubles. That total outperforms his MVP postseason totals from 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Indeed, there are several ways to define greatness, but for me, the ability to be great when you don’t have your finest stuff stands out. When Curry is shooting from the concourse, it’s simple for him to collect 30 points and lead the Warriors to victory. It’s the equivalent of a pitcher throwing 100 mph.

But to see Curry stay the course without his best fastball, to see him keep working, forcing his way into the paint, drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line, simply keeping an even keel despite what you know has to be great frustration seething beneath, has been so incredible.

You were always mistaken if you thought Curry was merely a shooter. This postseason, though, is proving it twofold. He’s a goal scorer. He’s a game changer. He is, indeed, a defender. This man can defeat you in a new way every night, and even though he’s 33 years old and doesn’t have a reliable 3-point shooting to rely on, he’s still finding the same success he’s always found by delving deeper into his basketball toolkit than ever before.