I don’t really follow basketball. But since I’ve been hearing a lot about this Steph Curry guy in the news, on Facebook, and on podcasts, I decided to look into his stats. And since I’m trying to teach myself about data science and visualization, I thought I’d visualize some of his stats to see what I could learn.

From what I could tell Steph Curry had a decent start to his career, but while his was above-average, he didn’t seem to be a star. Then after he got injured during the 2011-12 season, he must have had a revelation because he came back the next season and made a name for himself.

The next season he started taking radically more three point shots and it paid off for him. His overall points went up as he made more three point attempts:

Here are the number of three point attempts vs three point shots made by season with the circles scaled by the number of overall points he made that season:

01002003004005006007000501001502002503002009201020112012201320142015

Even though he took more shots, his overall shooting percentage and percentage on three-pointers has increased recently, but not dramatically. It has fluctuated over his career:

Many current players have him beat on overall shooting percentage and a few guys are rivaling him on three point percentage (Jason Kapono, Steve Novak, Kyle Korver.)

So if you can’t stand out by being more accurate than everyone else, what can you do? In a game that is driven by the final overall score instead of percentages, being about as accurate as everyone else but willing to shoot more pays off. Curry is willing to take more long shots than anyone else in the league, by far.

Here are Curry’s 3 point attempts vs 3 point shots made compared with the other top shooters in the league for the past four years:

480500520540560580600620640660680700180200220240260280300320Damian Lillard, PGDamian Lillard, PGDamian Lillard, PGDamian Lillard, PGGerald Green, SFJames Harden, SGJames Harden, SGJames Harden, SGKlay Thompson, SGKlay Thompson, SGKlay Thompson, SGKlay Thompson, SGPaul George, SFRyan Anderson, PFStephen Curry, PGStephen Curry, PGStephen Curry, PGStephen Curry, PGTrevor Ariza, SFWesley Matthews, SG

2012 2013 2014 2015

Here is the same data visualized as a bump chart. You can see the other top shooters jostling positions, but Curry has been king for the past four years:

Winter 2012Spring 2013Winter 2013Spring 2014Winter 2014Spring 2015Winter 2015Damian Lillard, PGGerald Green, SFJames Harden, SGKlay Thompson, SGPaul George, SFRyan Anderson, PFStephen Curry, PGTrevor Ariza, SFWesley Matthews, SG

I realize that there is more to the game than just taking more shots. You need incredible talent and skill to keep up a percentage like Curry's from anywhere on the court. Given his success, I'm willing to bet that we'll see more players trying to emulate his approach next season.


Side note: James Harden seems to be using the same strategy, except with two point shots and free throws. It is paying off for him, too. He is currently the number two leader in the NBA, right behind Steph Curry.

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