Are Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry Really the Greatest Shooting Backcourt Ever?

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Are Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry Really the Greatest Shooting Backcourt Ever?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Forget about Batman and Robin. Don't concern yourself with Lewis and Clark (unless your name is Sacajawea). Toss any dynamic duo you've ever heard of right out the window in a satisfying bit of defenestration. 

It's all about Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry

The Splash Brothers were on full display against the Toronto Raptors, sparking a comeback that turned a 27-point second-half deficit into a nine-point victory. Say what?

Yup, I know. It's just mind-boggling how quickly these two guards can put up points for the Golden State Warriors. Against the NBA's Canadian representatives, they produced 38 points and eight assists during the third and fourth quarters, doing so on only 19 shots from the field.

After the game, Thompson told the Associated Press via ESPN the following about himself and his point guard: "We're shooters. It just happened to be a night where we were all missing at the same time, and then it turned out we were hitting at the same time."

But Thompson was wrong. He was selling himself (and Curry) short.

He and Curry aren't just shooters. They're the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history. 


Forget About the Really Old Guys

Ken Regan/Getty Images

If anyone is about to scroll down to the comment section and leave comments about Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, please stop. 

Yes, they were fantastic. In 1971-72, they combined to average 51.7 points per game while helping the Los Angeles Lakers put together an NBA-record 33-game win streak. No backcourt in the history of the association has ever been able to average more points. 

But the game was different then. 

There was no three-point jumper to fall back on. Instead, teams had to rely on two-pointers and shots at the charity stripe to rack up points, and efficiency numbers faltered in a big way.

To put things in perspective, during the 1971-72 season, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks paced the league in effective field-goal percentage by recording 49.8 percent. Not so coincidentally, that's also the same as their field-goal percentage. The Lakers were in second at 49.0, and in third place was the Seattle SuperSonics, all the way back at 46.4.  

NBA Photo Library/Getty Images

In 2013-14, the Miami Heat are leading the NBA in effective field-goal percentage. Their mark? A gaudy 56.6. 

Those 1971-72 Bucks would currently rank 14th, and only the Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Bobcats have failed to surpass the number produced by the old-school Sonics. 

The league changes, and the players change as well. Shooters now are both better (that's what years of honing skills does) and aided by the addition of the three-point stripe. Without it, it's not possible to be one of the best shooting backcourts of all time because the numbers just aren't there. 

Is it fair? Maybe not. But it's also unfair that some players aren't put into opportunities that promote success. Fair just doesn't have anything to do with it. 

So, for the purposes of this historical breakdown, a lot of history just doesn't stack up. That's why everything prior to 1979-80, when the NBA instituted the three-point line, isn't going to be factored in. 

Sing Goodrich and West's praises as much as you want. Without a three-point line, they were incapable of rising to the top of the pile. Now, because I'm sure you're in search of a direct comparison, I'll appease you by looking at how 1971-72 Goodrich/West stacks up against 2012-13 Curry/Thompson: 

Duo PPG FG% eFG%
Goodrich/West 51.7 48.3 48.3
Thompson/Curry 39.5 43.7 53.0

It's that last number that does the trick. After all, we're more concerned with shooting than scoring, and there's a big difference. The lack of a three-point arc just dooms the older guys, and if West and Goodrich can't compete, no one can.  


What Have Thompson and Curry Done? 

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

During the three years that Thompson and Curry have played together, they've absolutely lit up the scoreboard from downtown. 

Here's the three-year breakdown for Thompson's numbers since leaving Washington State and joining the 'Dubs: 

Year Three-Point Attempts Per Game Three-Point Percentage
2011-12 4.1 41.4
2012-13 6.4 40.1
2013-14 7.5 47.6

How's that for untempered improvement? 

Thompson has hit over 40 percent of his triples every year of his career, even as a rookie. Despite taking 2.3 more attempts per game as a second-year player, his percentage barely declined. Now it's skyrocketing (and possibly unsustainable), despite another increase in volume. 

That shouldn't be possible, and yet Thompson is on pace to break Curry's record. What record? Well, it's time for the three-year breakdown of our resident Davidson product: 

Year Three-Point Attempts Per Game Three-Point Percentage
2011-12 4.7 45.5
2012-13 7.7 45.3
2013-14 7.6 44.3

Again, this shouldn't be possible. 

Not only did Curry set the all-time record for most three-pointers made in a single season during the 2012-13 campaign, but he did so while shooting a scorching 45.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Any backcourt with Curry in it is automatically in the conversation. And he gets to play alongside Thompson. 

Not fair. 


Has Anyone Come Close?

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

According to Basketball-Reference, there have been 188 qualified seasons in which a player has shot at least 40 percent from beyond the arc while attempting at least four triples per game. But how many of them have been teammates

  • Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson, 1994-95
  • Glen Rice and Dell Curry, 1995-96 and 1996-97
  • Joe Dumars and Allan Houston, 1995-96
  • Chuck Person and Sean Elliott, 1995-96
  • Joe Dumars and Terry Mills, 1996-97
  • Steve Nash and Raja Bell, 2005-06
  • Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, 2006-07
  • Luther Head and Shane Battier, 2006-07
  • Steve Nash, Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa, 2006-07
  • Damon Jones and Daniel Gibson, 2007-08
  • Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy, 2007-08
  • Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, 2007-08
  • Steve Nash and Raja Bell, 2007-08
  • Eddie House and Ray Allen, 2008-09
  • Troy Murphy and Danny Granger, 2008-09
  • Stephen Curry and Anthony Morrow, 2009-10
  • Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14
  • O.J. Mayo and Vince Carter, 2012-13
  • Shane Battier and Ray Allen, 2012-13
  • Kevin Martin and Kevin Durant, 2012-13
  • Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake, 2013-14
  • Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard, 2013-14
  • Martell Webster, Al Harrington, Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza, 2013-14

A few things should stand out here. 

There are only three repeat duos: Curry and Thompson (three times), the older Curry and Rice (twice) and Nash and Bell (twice). You can also be impressed by the unsustainable play of the current Wizards and Blazers, as well as the ridiculous desert-based trio in 2006-07 (thank you Mike D'Antoni). 

But let's make the criteria even more stringent. 

How many qualified pairs of teammates have shot 40 percent from downtown and also attempted at least five triples per game? Here's the full list: 

  • Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson, 1994-95
  • Chuck Person and Sean Elliott, 1995-96
  • Raja Bell and Leandro Barbosa, 2006-07
  • Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, 2007-08
  • Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, 2012-13
  • Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, 2013-14
  • Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews, 2013-14
  • Martell Webster, Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza, 2013-14

Notice how there's only one repeat offender? 

We can also eliminate the Wizards since we're talking about backcourts. John Wall hasn't made the cut, nor will he until he figures out how to make his shooting stroke much more efficient. So that leaves us with seven candidates for the greatest three-point shooting season of all time by a backcourt.

Let's break it down:

Duo Average Member's Triples Made Per Game 3P%
Scott/Anderson 2.82 42.1
Person/Elliott 2.24 41.1
Bell/Barbosa 2.5 42.3
Turkoglu/Lewis 2.4 40.5
Curry/Thompson ('12-13) 3.02 42.9
Curry/Thompson ('13-14) 3.49 46.0
Lillard/Matthews 2.81 45.1

If Lillard and Matthews can sustain their production, they'll be in the conversation on a single-season basis. But does anyone really believe that Matthews is going to continue drilling 51 percent of his three-point attempts?

Curry and Thompson's 2013-14 production is a bit more sustainable, though that percentage will likely drop when the shooting guard goes through an inevitable slump. But they're still on the list twice, and the 2012-13 campaign is by far the most impressive completed season. 

Are Curry and Thompson the greatest shooting backcourt of all time?

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And remember, they were also on the first list three times, and they combined to average—as individuals—1.8 three-pointers per game on 42.7 percent shooting in 2011-12. 

So, I'll ask again: Are Curry and Thompson the greatest shooting backcourt in basketball history? 

How can the answer be anything other than a rather definitive "yes"? And the scary part is that while Curry is 25 years old, Thompson is only 23. They have plenty of time to add to their already stellar résumés.

I'd call them a slam dunk as the greatest shooting backcourt, but that phrase just seems wrong at this point. How about a swish?

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