If you asked me to, off the top of my head, name the top 3 scariest sights for an NBA defender, it would probably go something like this:
- Steph Curry sprinting to the corner following an offensive rebound
- James Harden rhythmically dribbling and rearing back at the top of the arc
- LeBron James cocking back for a dunk
With good reason (the reason being that 3 is a greater number than 2), the pervasive influence of the 3-point shot has fundamentally altered how coaches must think about defending and game-planning against offensive tendencies. Tropes such as “he’s going to be coming into the game looking to attack the basket” are no longer entirely valid. And Steph Curry’s merry band of Warriors have been the flag-bearers over the years for this wholesale weaponization of the 3-point shot, exerting its power in any situation possible to demoralize opponents and galvanize the Oracle Arena crowd.
Bo Schwartz recently covered how James Harden’s dribbling prowess has turned some of the most difficult shots in the game into routine plays for the Bearded One. On the flip side, after being inspired by Josh Hermsmeyer’s piece about play sequencing in the NFL, I intended to take a more situational approach to explore how 3-pointers are used. About halfway through that research, I arrived at the list above.
As a Pelicans fan, the image of Steph Curry hitting a turnaround fadeaway 3 over Anthony Davis following an offensive rebound, thereby snatching victory in overtime in Game 3 of the first round series in the 2015 playoffs will be forever etched into my memory.
I’m sure that I’m not the only fan that has complaints. Unsurprisingly, Golden State ranks near the top of the league this season in percentage of shots following offensive rebounds that come from beyond the arc. They’re fifth in the NBA, with 3-point attempts on 31 percent of their shot attempts following an offensive board, while converting them at a near 40 percent clip.
Setting aside the insane outlier that is the Moreyball Rockets, it’s this utilization of 3-pointers in what were previously considered non-traditional situations (following an offensive rebound, in transition, etc.) that helps make those classic Warriors scoring binges so effective. It’s one thing to watch the offense throw in a put-back layup. But once the ball instead starts to get kicked out to the arc, it completely shifts how defenders must think about their positioning and in turn breaks their will when arguably the greatest collection of elite shooters starts regularly getting multiple cracks each possession at raining 3-pointers.
And while the Rockets may be the systematic outliers, the Warriors still have the greatest shooter of all time, and he’s the biggest outlier of them all. Watch the recognition by Curry in the play below. Even while the other Warriors start tracking back towards the defensive basket, the second Durant’s jumper hits the rim, Steph immediately makes a beeline to the corner.
Jordan Bell knows better than to mess with that rebound once he sees Steph in the vicinity. While all the Nets are fixated on the ball, Curry uses the window to cut across the baseline. And once he gets to his corner, he’s inevitable.
On all 3-point attempts, which comprise 63 percent of his second-chance shot attempts, Curry is shooting a blistering 65 percent. But in the 25 percent of the time he runs to the corner specifically? Steph Curry has made an eye-watering 87.5 percent of his corner 3-point attempts following an offensive board. That is not a misprint. That’s something beyond lapping the field. For comparison, Kevin Durant doesn’t have a single corner 3 following an offensive board this season. We are in an era where teams are shooting more 3s than ever, where even Brook Lopez has fashioned himself as a legitimate asset from beyond the arc, and still, there’s no spectacle quite like an engaged Steph Curry.
It’s not just offensive rebounds either. Thirty-eight percent of the Warriors’ transition shot attempts are from 3-point range, and they are shooting 40 percent on those attempts. For his part, Curry pulls up from deep 63 percent of the time in transition and puts in 43 percent of those. Second chances, quick hits — that’s how a tied game turns into a knockout in no time against the Warriors.
Curry also doesn’t get deterred by the flow of the game, unlike his contemporaries among the top scoring charts. No matter what happened on his previous possession, Curry is second only to Paul George in maintaining his 3-point discipline, regardless of whether his previous three went in the basket.
Among the top ten players in the NBA in points per game who also take at least five 3-pointers a game, Curry has the most prolific 3-point attempt rate. While players across the board tend to be more shy about taking a 3 following a miss than they are following a make, Curry’s differential is relatively small. On one hand, his counterpart Kevin Durant is on the other end of the spectrum in favoring the mid-range and interior game. There’s also Damian Lillard with by far the largest gap among elite scorers, a tendency to go as his confidence goes. It’s understandable that after missing a jumper, players will try to be more aggressive on the following possession, stepping in closer to the basket. Durant and Klay Thompson, the other Splash Brother, in fact favor the mid-range following a missed 3.
But Steph Curry is there, above it all. Make or miss, regardless of situation, Steph Curry is inevitable. And as surely as Thanos came for the Avengers, the greatest shooter of all time is unafraid to bury opponents from deep, again and again.
*All data from NBA play-by-play logs