How Stephen Curry Is Redefining the Point Guard Position Entering 2013-14

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 16, 2013

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 12: Stephen Curry 30 of the Golden State Warriors calls a play against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2013 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Stephen Curry took the NBA world by storm during the 2013 postseason, lighting up scoreboards and winning over crowds with his remarkable ability to make three-pointers look like layups.

But that's not enough for the 25-year-old floor general.  

During the 2013-14 season, he says he's going to be playing "the PG spot the way (he's) always envisioned it," as relayed by the San Francisco Chronicle's Rusty Simmons. That vision is likely different than what we've seen before, as Curry is starting to redefine what it means to play point guard in the NBA. 

He isn't a traditional 1-guard. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, he's still experiencing nothing but top-level success. 

Let's take a look at how he's changing things up. 


Ability to Succeed Without a Physical Frame or Explosive Athleticism 

October 5, 2013; Ontario, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry (30) dunks to score a basket against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Citizens Business Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Curry isn't exactly a physical specimen. He's not one of those guys who enters training camp to buzz about how he's gained 15 pounds of muscle and is more explosive than ever before. 

The point guard is fully healthy and checking in at 6'3", 185 pounds. He doesn't even hit 200 when soaking wet and holding a basketball.

Plus, when was the last time you saw Curry dunk? 

He's capable of doing so (we even have that video evidence), but it's not like the Dubs superstar is going to put other players on a poster.

I highly doubt you'll ever see Curry dunk in traffic, and he doesn't fit in with that new breed of athletic point guard. Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and so many others are explosive specimens who have springs for legs, but this particular floor general has become elite without that type of asset. 

Now that the ankle injuries appear to be a thing of the past, Curry has proven that he can take a beating and still play at a high level. He draws incessant contact and seems to get knocked to the ground whenever he drives in among the trees, but he gets back up to drill another three-pointer on the next possession. 

Before Curry emerged, the trend was all about athleticism. Just think about the young point guards who have been drafted lately. With the exception of guys like Trey Burke (who has surprising hops) and Kendall Marshall, athletic studs tend to be going in the first round. 

However, the Golden State standout is shaking that trend and offering hope to plenty of young guards who might not be able to hit impressive marks when testing their vertical jumps. 


Ultra-Valuable Nature of the Three-Point Shot

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 12:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors shoots against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 12, 2013 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO U
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The three-ball has been gaining popularity in recent years as the analytic community reveals just how valuable it can be. Here's a quote from Grantland's Zach Lowe in his piece about SportVU cameras: 

An example: The analytics team is unanimous, and rather emphatic, that every team should shoot more 3s—including the Raptors and even the Rockets, who are on pace to break the NBA record for most 3-point attempts in a season.

And one more quote: 

For Rucker and his team, this is a question that gets at the value of particular shots, the impact of the shot clock, and how coaches teach players.

"When you ask coaches what's better between a 28 percent 3-point shot and a 42 percent midrange shot, they'll say the 42 percent shot," Rucker says.

"And that's objectively false. It's wrong. If LeBron James just jacked a 3 on every single possession, that'd be an exceptionally good offense. That's a conversation we've had with our coaching staff, and let's just say they don't support that approach."

In fact, even players who can't hit 35 percent of their attempts from beyond the three-point arc should be taking more long-range looks according to the numbers. It won't happen because loss aversion dictates that the fear of failure trumps everything else, and clanging shots off the rim seven out of 10 times feels like failure.

But in a perfect, idealistic world, it would. 

Curry is starting to prove that by demonstrating the value of the three-point shot on a nightly basis. He did, after all, just submit the greatest long-range shooting in the history of the NBA. 

Not only did the sharpshooter hit more triples than anyone ever had in a single season, but he did so while shooting 45.3 percent from beyond the arc. 

Any guesses how many players have broken past 45 percent while taking at least 7.5 attempts per game (Curry took 7.7)? 

Just one. And I don't think I need to tell you who it is. 

In NBA history, there have been 16 seasons in which a player took 7.5 three-pointers per game. Only Curry (45.3), Ray Allen (43.4 in 2001-02 and 41.2 in 2005-06) and Dennis Scott (42.5) have ever topped 40 percent while doing so. 

So let's drop the benchmark to seven attempts per game now. At this point, we're working with 29 seasons, and Curry still has the top three-goal percentage. Only Jason Richardson and Mike Miller are new members of the 40-percent club. 

What happens if we drop the qualifier all the way to six attempts per game? Out of the 102 seasons, Curry still has the highest percentage. In fact, to find a percentage higher than Curry's, you have to go all the way down to 5.6, the number of attempts per game Dana Barros took in 1994-95 when he made 46.4 percent of 'em. 

At this point, do I need to justify any further just how good Curry was from downtown? 

Curry is changing how we think about sharpshooters. For the first time in a while, it's possible to have a true point guard lead a team to victory while doing the bulk of his damage from a different zip code. 


On-Ball and Off-Ball Excellence

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 2: Andre Iguodala #9 of the Denver Nuggets defense Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NBA Playoffs on May 2, 2013 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOT
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Point guards are supposed to keep the ball in their hands. Right? 

Well, not if you look at how Curry plays. 

He's remarkably adept off the dribble, displaying handles that leave defenders in the dust before he pulls up for an easy jumper. Just ask Gary Neal. 

But which elite point guard in the NBA can't create for himself like that? When they do so, it might not be as flashy as the moves that Curry just pulled. They can all still create, though. 

According to Basketball-Reference, 60.2 percent of Curry's legendary three-point total was assisted by his teammates. And that's what makes him different. 

Not only does he thrive with the rock in his possession—let's not overlook his remarkable passing ability, particularly off the dribble with only one hand—but he also loves playing off the ball. 

Synergy Sports (subscription required) reveals that Curry scored 1.34 points per possession in spot-up situations during the 2012-13 campaign. Only four qualified players in the NBA topped that mark. 

From the field, he shot 49.8 percent, and he was even better beyond the arc. When spotting up, Curry shot an insane 88-of-169 from downtown, checking in well above 50 percent. And that opens up a world of possibilities for the Warriors, as you can see from this single play against the San Antonio Spurs

All screenshots from Synergy's video database.
All screenshots from Synergy's video database.

Jarrett Jack and Curry are able to play together because the Davidson product is fully capable of thriving off the ball. Accordingly, it's Jack who dribbles the ball up the court while Curry starts to run along the baseline. 

As Curry sets up in the corner, Jack is penetrating into the interior of the defense. And this is where it's beneficial to have two point guards. 

You might not trust a strong ball-handling shooting guard or small forward in this situation. Not only is ball control vital when surrounded by the entire defense, but Jack must have good vision and decision-making skills in order to complete the play. 

As Jack finds the paint, Klay Thompson sets up on the wing and Andrew Bogut begins rolling down toward the hoop. 

Now we're all set up as Bogut continues to drift down and sets a de facto pin-down screen for Curry. 

The sharpshooter is about to be wide open with the ball in his hands. 

And he ain't going to miss in this situation very often. 

Curry's ability to thrive in so many different settings doesn't prohibit him from being a true point guard, but it does allow for a lot more positional versatility, and it opens up the playbook for Mark Jackson. 

The sniper is redefining how we think about point guards one three-pointer at a time, and it's a welcome change.

No longer does a modern floor general have to be a pass-first guy or explosive athlete. No longer does he have to hesitate before letting someone else handle the ball with a great deal of frequency. 

Curry won't let that happen.

And if he can improve his defense enough that we start universally thinking of him as one of the 10 best players in basketball, then his subtle argument will be even stronger. 


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