All records are meant to be broken. Right?
But is that really true?
Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive games, UCLA’s 88-game win streak, MJ’s 866 consecutive games with 10-plus points… Those seem far from reach. But what about Wilt’s 100-point game? Could that ever be broken? I know you might be thinking, ‘Well, Wilt played in a time when his nightly matchups were the equivalent of Shaq backing down Muggsy Bogues in the post.’
Understandable, still an amazing performance, of course. For the time being we will put Wilt’s 100 on the back burner. That makes Kobe Bryant’s 81 on January 22, 2006 against the Raptors the top of the totem pole. 81 points in 42 minutes. Can that ever be touched in today’s NBA?
The answer: Yes. And it will. Sooner than you think.
The man for the mission: Stephen Curry.
As we all know, Curry is off to a scorching hot start (to say the least) leading the defending champion Warriors to the best start in franchise history. Through the first 10 games of the season, Curry had three 40-plus games (three of his first four games he had 20-plus points in a single quarter). Curry currently holds a true shooting percentage of 68.7 percent and is playing with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Grand Canyon.
Just for fun, let’s keep looking deeper on how Curry is making the NBA his playground so far this season.
In the top three areas where Curry spends 62.9 percent of his offensive allocation – pick-and-roll, transition, and off-screen – Curry ranks in the top six percent of the league and is converting at a ridiculously efficient 1.40 points per possession, easily making Team Stephen Curry the most efficient offense in the league.
It’s tough to argue the potential for an 82-point outburst is within his reach. But 82? That’s basically sandwiching all of those ridiculous 20-point quarters into one game. It’s going to happen, and here’s how…
First, let’s take a look at Lakers’ box score from that monumental January game so we can put in full perspective what Steph will need to do:
Kobe’s shot allocation: 46 field goal attempts (13 threes), 20 trips to the foul line.
Grand total: 81 points.
Curry’s shot allocation (based on 46 field goal attempts set up in the percentages that he takes per game of each allocated area).
- 12 attempts in catch-and-shoot (6 three-point attempts): Steph shoots 43.9 percent in catch-and-shoot two-point field goals and 42.6 percent in catch-and-shoot threes = 5 made two-pointers, 3 made three-pointers = 19 points in catch-and-shoot.
- 21 pull-up jumpers off the dribble (10 3’s): Steph shoots 56.4 percent in his comfort zone off the dribble (3-6 dribbles) = 6 made two-pointers, 6 made three-pointers = 30 points off the dribble.
- 12 attempts at the hoop: Steph finishes at a 72 percent rate around the rim = 7 makes = 14 points at the hoop.
- 20 free-throw attempts: Steph shoots 93 percent from the line = 19 makes = 19 points from the charity stripe.
Grand total: 82 points.
Curry’s shot allocation breakdown: At 21.1 field goal attempts per game, even if those were all three-point Curry bombs, that would still only give him 63 points for the game, falling well short of 82.
As great of a shooter as everyone knows Curry is, he’s only averaging 7.6 attempts in catch-and shoot opportunities and shooting 47.8 percent. Very low number of attempts for any high-level shooter in the NBA.
Based on Kobe’s ratio of shots, Steph would attempt 12 catch-and-shoot jumpers with six of them being three-point attempts. We’ll round up or down accordingly on each number, as I can’t remember the last time a player shot a fraction of a shot in a game. Twelve attempts in catch-and-shoot, 6 being threes while shooting 43.9 percent from two and 42.6 percent from threes would account for 19 points.
Shooting off the dribble is where Curry is the most lethal with less than 0.4 second release utilizing his dribble actually more effective than the equivalent of a perfect pass into his shooting pocket, mixed with a rhythmic hesitation freeze, and the fact that he releases the ball out of his fingertips actually before his feet even leave the ground. Don’t believe me? Watch his shot off the dribble in slow motion breakdown hundreds of times.
We’ll take his top allocated percentage area off the dribble – 3-6 dribble range – in which he is shooting 56.4 percent. Curry attempts 9.5 pull-up jumpers off the dribble per game (42.2 percent are threes). Based on Kobe’s ratio it would raise to 21 field goal attempts off the dribble (11 would be threes). Steph is shooting a 56.4 shooting percentage in his 3-6 dribble comfort zone. Curry would convert on six threes off the dribble and six pull-up jumpers in the mid-range accounting for 30 points.
Ever wondered how Curry finishes with such grace around the rim on such a high degree of difficulty shots? Welcome to the club. No analytical breakdown answer for you there other than he has the best feel, body control, readying angle ability, and deceptiveness combo the league has ever seen. There’s your answer.
Curry is averaging 5.2 attempts per game around the rim in the allocated area of inside 10 feet from the hoop. Based on Kobe’s ratio, he would attempt 12 shots around the hoop, being very aggressive on this night and deciding to attack the rack and not settle for a mid-range floater. Those 12 attempts at a 72 percent rate would account for 14 points.
Curry gets to the free throw line at an average of 6.5 attempts per game and he is basically automatic there shooting 93 percent. Curry draws a foul 18.8 percent of the times he comes off a screen, the highest rate in the NBA. Basically this shows that defenders are trying to literally be in Curry’s back pocket all night long and also that Curry utilizes his change of pace game better than anyone in the league.
Kobe got to the free throw line 20 times in his 81-point game. So we’ll send Curry there 20 times. Converting at a 93 percent rate, that would account for 19 points.
For those of you doing the math at home, that equals 82 points. Sayonara to Kobe’s 81. As you can see through the analytical breakdown and the type season Curry is having, it is within his reach.
Predicting the game where it could happen
Mark this date down: February 9, 2016. Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors.
I’m just going to break down what that special 82-point night will look like in terms of shot allocations, scoring trends, and maybe a little Curry magic.
Of course, everything is predicated on whether Steph and the Warriors want to make this happen. Playing time obviously matters. Kobe played 42 minutes, Steph is currently averaging 35.5 minutes. We’ll have to cross our fingers that the Rockets keep the game close through the fourth quarter. So here is why this game is The Game:
- Rest: Curry and the Warriors would be coming off three days since their last game without having to travel. Curry has currently played one game this season with more than two days of rest. The result: 40 points on 53.8% shooting.
- The Harden matchup: Remember these quotes from? “I know I was the MVP. That’s 100 percent given all the things that happened last season. I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” Harden told NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury. “I thought I was last year, too.” Yeah, Curry remembers those quotes too.
- Houston: Currently the Rockets are second-to-last in defensive efficiency at 106.5 and giving up a league-high 32 three-point attempts per game. I’m not saying it’s going to happen on this night, but with the best fan base in basketball rocking Oracle Arena, the setup for the magic to happen couldn’t be more ideal.
So is it even possible to stop Curry? Or, for a more reasonable term, contain? Just cover him as tight as possible and put a hand in his face, right? Well, considering 52 percent of his shots come in contested situations (defender within four feet of space) and he is converting at 1.615 ppp and shooting 57.7 percent, you tell me if that is going to stop him. But there is a way to possibly contain him.
I do analytical player tendency breakdown and matchup strategy for select All-Star level players in the NBA and have studied every player in the league and their tendencies inside and out for the past four seasons. But… Unfortunately we are out of time on this article. Maybe that’s for another day. For the time being, the NBA world is Curry’s and we are just living in it.
David Nurse is a professional shooting coach. You can learn more about him at PerfectShotsBasketball.com, the best shooting and skills basketball website in the world. You can also follow him on Twitter @davidnurse05.