Is Stephen Curry Having the Best Individual Season in NBA History?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2015

Nov 27, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Warriors defeated the Suns 135-116. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry is having the kind of season that doesn't feel real. It's difficult to explain, let alone understand. The NBA, quite simply, has never seen anything like it—or anyone like him.

We know he's the reigning MVP and current favorite to earn the honor once again. And we freely accept that he's the best player for a Golden State Warriors team without peers. 

But Curry's performance is testing the bounds of reason, bearing more resemblance to a folk ballad than real life as it burns through, and simultaneously shames, every fathomable adjective used to describe its significance.

Initially considered a hot start, these exploits aren't a start at all. The numbers have surpassed small-sample theatre, and we can now reasonably consider that Stephen Curry may be having the best individual season in NBA history.

The Numbers—Oh My God, The Numbers

Curry's stat lines are something else.
Curry's stat lines are something else.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

With more than one-quarter of the season played, he's averaging a ridiculous 32.2 points, five rebounds, six assists and 2.3 steals per game. Only one other player has ever reached those benchmarks. 

Some guy named Michael Jordan.

During the three seasons in which Jordan matched Curry's output, though, he never averaged fewer than 22 field-goal attempts per game. Curry is clearing 30 points on fewer than 21 shots, something that has only been done by Adrian Dantley, Kevin Durant and Karl Malone—none of whom are point guards.

Curry is also challenging the player efficiency rating record books. Wilt Chamberlain's mark of 31.8 has paced the league for more than 50 years. Curry's PER stands at 34.7.

That 2.9-point chasm between him and Chamberlain is the same gap that separates the second-place Chamberlain from the 38th-place Charles Barkley and Malone. 

Curry's 2015-16 stands up against any one of Jordan's finest seasons.
Curry's 2015-16 stands up against any one of Jordan's finest seasons.Allen Einstein/Getty Images

As the Warriors remain perfect, Curry has racked up 6.1 win shares. The Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers don't even have six wins between them.

This doesn't leave Curry in line to set the win-share record. He's on track for fewer than 22 victory assists, which would rank among the 10 highest totals ever, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar collected north of 25 in 1971-72.

Except Abdul-Jabbar averaged more than 44 minutes per game that season. And no player has amassed 20 win shares while averaging fewer than 37. Curry represents more than 25 percent of Golden State's victories and isn't even logging 35 minutes per outing—which, in turn, has him shattering the league's record for win shares per 48 minutes:

Some might feel compelled to dilute Curry's history-rewriting projection. It's easier to sustain gaudier per-48-minute splits when you're not playing as much overall. But it's not Curry's fault the Warriors don't need him 40-plus minutes every night.

It's what he does when on the floor that counts most. And box plus/minus (BPM)—which measures how much better per 100 possessions the average team is with a given player on the floor—loves what he's doing.

A 24-year-old LeBron James owns the best BPM in league history (13). Curry, 27 years old, is right behind him (12.9), in second place, just ahead of the 25-year-old Jordan (12.6) and, well, every other possible version of every NBA player ever.

Reinventing the Game

A new play style is being championed by the reigning MVP.
A new play style is being championed by the reigning MVP.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Opponents of Curry's all-time status are often quick to explain that the game has changed. And they're not wrong. The game has changed. It's changing now more than ever, and a certain Golden State floor general is at the forefront of that evolution.

Curry is on pace to drill more than 425 three-pointers, setting him up to easily break the single-season record for made triples that he already owns. The Brooklyn Nets, by comparison, aren't even projected to drain 400 treys.

Since the introduction of the three-point line in 1979-80, 573 of a possible 1,014 teams (56.5 percent) have failed to average as many makes from deep per game as Curry is now. His reimagining of the relationship between volume and efficiency is flat-out absurd, as Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal wrote:

Curry isn't just averaging 32.2 points per game. He's doing so while knocking down 52.9 percent of his shots from the field, a career-best 46.3 percent of his three-point attempts and 90.1 percent of his tries from the charity stripe. Even more impressively, he's taking 11.2 treys during the average contest and still remains on pace to join the exclusive 50/40/90 club.

It all adds up to a league-leading true shooting percentage of 70.

Single-season true shooting percentages—measurements of two-point, three-point and free-throw accuracy—of 65 or better have been recorded 53 times, not counting Curry's 2015-16 crusade, during the three-point era. Only nine of them included as many successful long balls as Curry already has this season, and just one player (Kyle Korver) made half as many triples as His Sweetness is projected to splash home:

Towering over some of the most efficient seasons ever shouldn't be possible with Curry's shot selection. He's shooting 46.2 percent when squaring up 25 feet or more away from the basket at a time when the average overall field-goal percentage is 44.3.

Skeptics can yell at clouds about generational gaps and old-school superiority all they want. The discrepancy in play styles doesn't matter when Curry is out there now, in today's league, making a mockery of every era.

History in the Making

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 22:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors takes the court against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on November 22, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Warriors defeated the Nuggets 118-105 to start the season 15-0. NOTE TO USER
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

If we're to believe the NBA is at the height of its powers, and if Curry's 2015-16 accolades have become the defining symbol for that NBA, can we reasonably say he isn't having the best season ever?

Though he's still most associated with his shooting, Curry is no glorified specialist. His accuracy is part of his legacy, not the entirety of it.

Even now, as he shoots his way into the record books, he's using that strength to accentuate other aspects of his game. His points off drives are up from last season, and his assist rate, while down, is higher than Eric Bledsoe's. His defensive box plus/minus is in the red, but that only makes his pursuit of the best BPM even more impressive.

Is this even real life anymore?

"Not this," Curry said when asked by ESPN The Magazine's Sam Alipour if he saw himself being where he is now. "I mean, I expected to be a pretty good NBA point guard and hopefully win a championship. But MVP and all this stuff? Not really. I never looked at my mantel and envisioned an MVP trophy sitting there. This is pretty crazy."

Stephen Curry is having the kind of season that doesn't feel real.

And that's exactly how the best season of all time should feel.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise cited and are accurate leading into games on Dec. 10.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.

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