Should Stephen Curry’s shooting drop be a concern for the Golden State Warriors?
Despite Thursday’s blistering performance in a 124-115 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves (29 points on 10 of 20 shots, including six 3-pointers on 10 attempts), it was still the least effective full month of Curry from his NBA career. .
Given the high expectations of challenging for another championship that the Warriors generated with their surprisingly strong start, Curry’s performance is back under the microscope. Even with the return of fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson, Golden State needs Curry to be close to MVP caliber to come back and win the NBA Finals.
This week’s mailbag looks at whether Curry’s recent performance should make us think about his ability to play well.
Throughout the NBA season, I answer your questions about the latest and greatest in basketball. You can tweet me directly at @kpelton, tweet your questions using the hashtag #peltonmailbag or email them to [email protected]
This week’s Mail also addresses the accuracy of NBA pregame injury reports and the players who scored the highest percentage of all total points in a single game.
“Is Stephen Curry’s shooting drop unusual for him? Is it something that should change our opinion of the Warriors’ title chances going forward?”
As stated earlier, the answer to the first question is yes. Not only is this the least effective month of Curry’s career — based on a minimum of 100 field goal attempts in a month — we have to go back to his early pre-All-Star days to find something. something similar.
The most recent month in the last 10 by eFG% came at the start of the 2013-14 season, when Curry made his first All-Star appearance. Worse still, the lowest eFG% for Curry since then came in December 2021 (53%).
A takeaway here is that while Curry has been inconsistent from game to game due to his addiction to 3-point shooting, that usually goes away over the course of a full month. He has never experienced such a long depression.
My first thought was that teammate Draymond Green’s injury was a factor in Curry’s slip. Aside from Green’s seven-second “start” in Thompson’s opener, the two Warriors stars haven’t played together since Jan. 5. For all the obvious symbiosis between Curry and Green, it’s not really confirmed this season. During 2021-22, Curry shot slightly better in terms of eFG% with Green on the bench, according to NBA Advanced Stats. And Curry shot 16 of 59 (27%) in the three January games he played with Green.
According to Second Spectrum tracking data, Curry’s shots were a bit more difficult in January based on location, type and distance to nearby defenders. However, this difference only explains about a 2.5 percentage point drop in eFG from Curry’s torrid November. His eFG% has actually dropped 14 percentage points since then.
Ultimately, I’m not sure there’s a better explanation than a combination of aging and fatigue. It may not be realistic for Curry, who turns 34 on March 14, to be as effective as he was last season (and November) while continuing to carry such a heavy load offensively. This is where Thompson’s return can help. Curry’s January usage rate (30%) was also his lowest in a full month since Kevin Durant’s departure, according to Basketball-Reference.com. This should be positive in the long run.
Still, I’m a bit lower on Golden State’s title chances than a month ago, when I considered the Warriors the favorites following an impressive Christmas Day win over the Phoenix Suns. It’s not that I think Curry will continue to shoot as badly as he did in January. It’s more that I’m not sure he will play as well as he has for the past 12 months.
Before matches, players are listed as “doubtful” or “probable”, etc. While I’m sure there is a hierarchy of probabilities, do we have any data on how often players listed as “doubtful” end up playing?
This model came to the NBA when injury reporting was made mandatory beginning in the 2018-19 season, presumably due to the league’s adherence to sports betting partners, but is based on weekly reporting of the NFL on the pre-game state, which have long preceded them. Before removing the probable designation in 2016 and redefining the others more loosely, the NFL said it should be at least 75% chance of playing, doubtful at 50% chance, questionable at 25% chance or less and (obviously) 0% chance.
The NBA has never been more explicit about its injury reports, released multiple times a day with the final update at 8:30 p.m. ET, but the natural assumption is that they follow a similar distribution. But, do they? Last year, Jake Flacer – who now works in the Houston Rockets’ analytics department – set up an R package to scrape injury reports (published in an inconvenient PDF format) and group them together.
I was able to cross-reference data from this season’s injury report with my own injury database to see how often players were actually available.
The nine “available” players who missed the game and the three “out” players who played are not typos. The first group is officially listed as DNP-CD (did not play, coach‘s decision), but by my assessment they would have played had it not been for the injury or illness. The three players listed as absent were later upgraded to available. Curiously, this happened twice with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (November 26 and December 6); Zeke Nnaji is the other game.
Besides these notes, the big takeaway here is that in practice, probable players almost always play and questionable players almost never do. Players listed as questionable are closer to a true draw, with a slight tendency to be available.
What is the record for the highest percentage of points scored in a game by a single player?
This question arose from the discussion of whether Boston Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown could beat the Sacramento Kings on their own in Tuesday’s blowout 125-78 victory. (The Kings eventually got the upper hand, 75-66.) The closest I’ve come to two teammates getting past the opposition in the stopwatch era was another Celtics victory, albeit with a Underscoring: Paul Pierce (45) and Eric Williams (11) combined for 56 points while the losing Denver Nuggets combined for 58 on January 24, 2003.
Josh noted that Pierce’s 33% of all points scored in the game was actually a higher proportion than Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game (32%). So let’s take a look at this unconventional ranking.
The all-time leader is the reason I previously deleted the pre-shot clock era. Playing against a stall, George Mikan’s 15 points weren’t enough as the Lakers lost 19-18 to the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons. But Mikan made a more legitimate effort the following season, when he scored 61 in a 91-81 win over the Rochester Royals (which required double overtime to produce a relatively modern scoreline).
Still, Mikan’s best no-stall effort is topped by Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game, who I would consider the true record holder. It’s pretty remarkable how low Chamberlain’s 100-point game is on the list. I’m not sure it diminishes accomplishment, but it puts it in a different context.