Looking at Steph Curry’s shooting problems in the 2016 playoffs

Posted on November 2, 2016

(Last Updated On: May 20, 2017)

Let’s get this out of the way- too often on the internet you either want to suck someone off or kill them. Steph Curry went from golden child to getting shit on in every respect since the NBA Finals. People even went after his family, including his three year old daughter. The schadenfreude got pretty wild. It’s why I’ve waited to post this (though with Durant it’s only continued).

-> Highly recommend Dr. Drew’s The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America. Discusses how we build celebrities up, and why we tear them down.

I don’t have any allegiance to any NBA team or player, beyond rooting for California teams because I live here and actually get to see them play. (The majority of the NBA is done playing by the time I can put a game on.) Further, I’ve purchased zero merchandise from any team, yet I’m sure I’m going to get the “You just wanna suck Curry off” crowd. The reason for this post is because there are some interesting applications to movement / injury, and how we view athletes. Not because I want to defend Curry. For instance, one thing I won’t be trying to explain is how poor his passing was throughout the entire playoffs. That’s something he’s routinely lax about. Don’t see any way to justify that.

What is fair to debate though is why the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA, who had the greatest shooting season any player has ever had, by a lot, suddenly couldn’t shoot as well.

Within that, the primary impetus for this post is…

“The easy shots have become difficult”

“Curry’s true shooting percentage in the Finals is .603 while using 31 percent of the Warriors’ plays. That’s an incredible mark. Since 1997, 24 players have taken at least 75 shots in the Finals with a usage rate above 30 percent. How many have shot more efficiently than Curry’s current rate? Just one: Kevin Durant in the 2012 Finals, when he posted a .650 true-shooting percentage. Even in this Finals, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are not as efficient on their shots as Curry.”


This hits the “the stage is too big for him,” “the pressure is too much” argument pretty hard, though not completely. Because there is no doubt things were different:

Curry wide open three point percentage regular season compared to playoffs

Effective Field Goal %

(Same source as above.)

Originally thinking of this article, I thought I should check his performance verse the guards he played in the playoffs compared to the regular season, because it seems people, without any evidence, immediately jump to “He’s not as good as Russell Westbrook.” “He’s not fast enough for Kyrie Irving.” “Damian Lillard is too athletic for him.”

For the hell of it, we’ll get into that below, but let’s be clear, the above negates the need for that. The above is open shots. Defense is irrelevant. I knew something was up with Curry when the open shots weren’t falling. On an absolute basis, we’re talking a guy who shot ~16% worse on open shots. Relatively speaking, he shot 27% better in the regular season on open shots. That’s an extraordinary difference. Whenever something like this is going on, it’s almost always explained by one factor.


“His competition was just better.”

Even ESPN seems to think so now:

espn top point guards graphic no steph curry

Suddenly Curry can’t make a graphic of the top nine point guards in the league. Few days after the Finals and ESPN is already like “Damn homey, in high school you was the man homey.”

Curry played Lillard, Westbrook, and Irving (all pictured above) in the playoffs. How’d he do against these guys in the regular season? We’ll look at strictly shooting. Using basketball reference,

  • Lillard / Portland
    • FG 8-18 (.444), 3P 4-11 (.364), 26 points, 28 minutes
    • FG 12-23 (.522), 3P 7-13 (.538), 31 points, 26 minutes
    • FG 13-23 (.565), 3P 7-14 (.500), 34 points, 29 minutes
    • FG 13-21 (.619), 3P 9-13 (.692), 39 points, 34 minutes
  • Westbrook / Oklahoma City
    • FG 10-26 (.385), 3P 1-9 (.111), 26 points, 37 minutes
    • FG 14-24 (.583), 3P 12-16 (.750), 46 points, 37 minutes
    • FG 12-25 (.480), 3P 5-15 (.333), 33 points, 37 minutes
  • Irving / Cleveland
    • FG 6-15 (.400), 3P 1-4 (.250), 19 points, 36 minutes
    • FG 12-18 (.667), 3P 7-12 (.583), 35 points, 28 minutes

To be fair, basketball is a team sport. This is why it’s player / team above. How many of these points were directly scored on the player is not indicated, nor needed.

Point is…Curry destroyed these people / teams, in an average, if not below average, amount of minutes. We’re talking nearly a point per minute with multiple career shooting games for almost any other player. In fact, Curry tied the NBA record for threes in a game against OKC / Westbrook.

The competition argument doesn’t hold either.

“If you’re on the court, there are no excuses”

I’ve never understood this argument. When Andre Iguodola couldn’t walk but was trying to play, nobody was saying he had an off game because of something else. It was because of his back. Like duh. Isaiah Thomas is heralded for his finals performance back in the day because he was playing on an injured ankle. Michael Jordan is remembered for his flu game…because he had the flu! Physical ailments matter. Injuries matter. Whether they’re as readily apparent as somebody limping or not.

I think it was before game six they announced Curry got an injection in his elbow. If you’re getting an injection, something is really bothering you.

Luke Walton did an interview with Dan Patrick a couple days after the Finals.

“Can you share how banged up he was and is there surgery in the off season, do you think for Steph?”

“I’m not sure. I mean I know his knee was obviously hurting him…he was getting treatment twice a day, every day…”

Shocker, he wasn’t healthy. I’m not sure we really needed someone to tell us that coming back from an MCL sprain that looked like below, in two weeks, isn’t going to be fully healed-

Steph Curry knee sprain

medial and lateral collateral knee ligaments

Notice his knee caved inside his foot:

Steph curry knee injury MCL sprain

The twice a day treatment gives more insight though. If you’re doing that, you’re not practicing like normal. That can influence anybody. Who will this influence the most? The skill type players. If you’re Shaq, practice isn’t as important when you can physically dominate anybody. If you’re Steve Nash, losing practice means losing rhythm.

But notice it’s his right leg above. His right knee gives way inwardly. Then notice how he shoots a set up (open) shot:

His right knee caves in. One of the surest ways to irritate an injured area is to recreate how that area was injured. He happens to do this every time he shoots.

Sort of.

He doesn’t get this degree of the knee getting pushed in on contested shots, nor would you expect him too, because he can’t dip and set up like normal. For instance, on a contested shot, he may have the right leg up in the air.

Stephen Curry shooting right leg up

Or because he’s having to shoot quicker, he can’t bend as much / in the same way:

Or it’s a different angle e.g. he’s not squared up initially.

Stephen curry chris paul shot form

Notice below the leg is leaning in, but the knee is not caved inside the hip.

Steph curry contested shot 2

Same thing here:

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 12.35.12 PM

In contrast to this:

Steph Curry shooting form 2

Left knee is turned in some here, but right knee is less:

Curry Contested Shot

The foot is also much more under the knee (this was off the dribble and contested too),
Curry Contested Shot with line

Compared to this: Steph Curry knee placement shooting with line

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 1.06.51 PM

His leg is angled, but his knee is not.

Notice here, his left leg was fine, but his right was not:

Steph curry knee injury MCL sprain

His left leg is straight; his right knee is caved inside the foot.

Counterintuitively, Curry places more stress on his MCL -the ligament he sprained- on an open shot than a contested shot. I don’t think it’s a coincidence then that:

“The craziest thing is Curry has been better on contested 3s than wide-open ones in the postseason. When a defender is within 6 feet, he’s effectively shooting 59.2 percent on his 3-pointers, compared to just 56.9 percent on the easier opportunities.”



“For instance, we can look at Curry’s average speed in games and how much time he spends running quickly since he got hurt in the first game of the postseason. In the regular season, he averaged 4.32 miles per hour and spent 6.7 percent of his time running quickly, according to SportVU analysis. In the postseason? Those numbers are 4.35 mph and 7.0 percent.”

The MCL is a ligament dealing primarily with side to side motions. As indicated above, Curry was fine going forward and back. Running wise, and to some degree, shooting wise. It’s when that knee needed to bend and turn inward -how he shoots open shots- he was noticeably different. The exact way the knee moved when he got hurt. It wouldn’t be surprising if on open shots Curry felt his knee more, or changed his shot to avoid feeling his knee, which negatively impacted his efficiency.

This also gives reason for why the injury was lingering for so long. Besides the obvious of playing on it, he shoots in a manner which consistently strains the MCL. The only way that thing was getting better was for him to not shoot, or shoot significantly differently. (Again, wouldn’t be surprised if in practice his volume of shooting was way down to try and get the knee to calm down, effecting his rhythm.)

We love to go after athletes mental prowess whenever something goes awry. When Lebron cramped up a couple years ago but nobody else did, we blamed him. “He’s either soft or isn’t doing what’s necessary to prepare for a game.” In reality, his body is, for multiple reasons largely outside his control, worse at handling the heat. (Note to those thinking I’m on the Curry bandwagon- that’s a link to a post of mine defending Lebron.)

-> Another post defending Kyrie Irving’s knee injury in the 2015 finals.

And another one criticizing the Warriors golf hobby and what it does to their ankles.

The golf world loves to say “Tiger has never been the same since that night.” In reality, Tiger has never been the same since having four knee surgeries, having parts of his back cut off, and trying to compete with guys 15 years younger than him. Who would be???

Physical preparation largely dictates mental preparation. Getting the body ready will get the mind ready. Losing the body will lose the mind. Tiger lost his confidence because he lost his ability. He didn’t lose his ability because he lost his confidence. There are exceptions when athletes truly crap the bed mentally, but the majority of the time we are denigrating a person when their body is just not right.

Last year, the Cavs lost Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. This year the Warriors lost Andrew Bogut, Draymond for a game, Iguodola for a game, and Curry wasn’t healthy. I’m not a diehard, but I’ll root for the Patriots. Last year when they played the Seahawks vaunted defense, Richard Sherman had a torn ulnar collateral ligament (Tommy John), Earl Thomas dislocated his shoulder two weeks prior, Kam Chancellor hurt his knee bad enough two days prior he needed a brace to play, and their nickelback broke his arm early in the game. Tom Brady lit the Seahawks up.

Are we really going to say these things didn’t impact the games? It’s not excuses, it’s reality. Luck and timing play a role with winning. They play an enormouse role when we’re dealing with the 99th percentile of performance.

Heaven forbid we give an athlete or team some leeway though. If you don’t play, you’re a pussy. If you play hurt but don’t play well, you’re mentally flawed. It’s an impossible situation for an athlete.

-> Not only true of professionals. This happens at every level.

Kevin Love was called soft because he had a CONCUSSION and the NBA wouldn’t let him play. Meaning he failed an assessment for his brain. Does anybody think he really did this on purpose?

Hey, works well for the click bait. What’s Stephen A. yelling about today?

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Posted in: Knee Pain, Pain, Sports