Steph Curry (and Klay Thompson): A Season For The Ages

In the 2015-16 NBA season, Steph Curry recorded the greatest shooting performance of all-time, shattering the record for 3-point field goals made in a season. But how truly amazing was his performance last year?

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After starting the season with a blistering 24-0 record, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors caught everyone’s eye. Their fast-break oriented offense, led by the “Splash Bros” (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson), was highly entertaining to watch and nearly impossible to stop on the court. And until the 25th game of the season, when the Bucks stunned the Warriors in Milwaukee, it didn’t appear like anyone could figure out a way to stop them. As we all know, Golden State eventually fell just short of the title, losing in 7 games to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

The Golden State Warriors’ phenomenal performance last year was driven primarily by the play of the eventual 2015-16 MVP, Steph Curry, and his 3-point shooting accomplice, Klay Thompson. In fact, their 3-point shooting performance last year was so spectacular that Curry and Thompson alone made more 3-point field goals during the regular season than 13 teams did!

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By any metric, it is obvious that both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson had phenomenal shooting performances last season, especially in terms of 3-point shooting. But exactly how extraordinary were they? Let’s analyze!

In terms of field goal percentage (min 100 attempts to qualify), both Curry and Thompson were above average, but neither was spectacular. Curry finished the year shooting 50.4%, which was 1.2 standard deviations above the mean, effectively putting him in the 88th percentile. Thompson finished a fair bit lower as he shot 45.0%, which was only 0.54 standard deviations above the mean, effectively putting him in the 61st percentile.

In terms of 3-point field goal percentage (min 10 attempts to qualify), Curry finished with similar numbers, while Thompson finished much better relative to his competition. Curry finished the year shooting 45.4%, which was 1.14 standard deviations above the mean, placing him in the 87th percentile. Thompson finished the year with similar numbers, as he shot 42.5%, which was 0.95 standard deviations above the mean, placing him in the 83rd percentile.

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Although Curry’s and Thompson’s shooting numbers indicate that they are elite shooters, especially when in 3-point range, they don’t make it obvious that Curry and Thompson were responsible for 2 of the 3 best 3-point shooting performances of all-time.

However, when we look at 3-point field goal attempts (min 10 attempts to qualify), it becomes much more clear why Curry and Thompson recorded two of the best 3-point shooting seasons in history (Curry had most 3-point field goals made in a season while Thompson had 3rd most).

Last season, Curry attempted 887 3-point field goals, which was 200 more attempts than any other player since 1997. This puts Curry 6.0 standard deviations above the mean, which effectively gives a 99.9999999% chance of the feat not happening again (unless repeated by Curry) if history is a guide.

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Thompson also attempted an impressive 649 3-point field goal attempts, which was the 4th most attempts during a season since 1997. This puts Thompson 3.96 standard deviations above the mean, which effectively gives a 99.996% chance of the feat not happening again. However, since 4 of the top 5 finishers in 3-point attempts have achieved the feat in the past 2 years, it is much more likely than the odds would suggest.

The sheer number of 3-pointers the “Splash Bros” attempted last season while performing at an elite level, was seriously impressive. But how impressive was the number of 3-point field goals they made? Let’s analyze!

Last season, Curry made 402 3-point field goals, shattering his previous record of 286, which he had set in the previous year. This puts Curry at an unreal 7.288 standard deviations above the mean, which effectively gives a 100% chance of the feat not happening again unless by Curry. The odds of this feat are so low that the record should stand forever unless Curry repeats his performance.

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Despite making 126 less 3-point field goals than Curry, Thompson still made 276 3-point field goals, which is extremely impressive. This puts Thompson 4.54 standard deviations above the mean, which effectively gives a 99.9997% chance of the feat not being broken again (with the exception of Curry).

In conclusion, Curry and Thompson both had spectacular seasons that we are unlikely to see again unless repeated by themselves. While Thompson’s mark may be broken in the near future (by Damian Lillard or James Harden potentially?), Curry’s mark of 402 3-point field goals made in a season should last for a very long time (given that he doesn’t break it himself).

What is most impressive about their records isn’t the number of 3-point field goals they made; it was their ability to maintain their status as elite shooters while taking so many shots. While shooting ability and accuracy might have been a key factor behind their success, their long-run accuracy while attempting hundreds of 3-point field goals is what truly made them spectacular.

Data courtesy of Basketball Reference, ESPN, and FiveThirtyEight. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Photo Credits: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images, http://blogs.mercurynews.com/, FiveThirtyEight, Marcio Jose Sanchez — Associated Press, EZRA SHAW/GETTY IMAGES

 

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