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Are the Golden State Warriors the Wave of the Future or a Statistical Anomaly?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistApril 18, 2016

Mar 30, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the ball during the second half against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Golden State won in overtime 103-96. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

NBA historians can wax poetic about any era's best shooters, but we've never seen anything like Stephen Curry and his record-setting 402 triples this season.

Curry is leading a movement, transforming the NBA into a shooter's paradise in which skill trumps size. Marksmen who can spread out a defense and take advantage of the court's most efficient spots are suddenly the league's hottest commodities.

His team, the Golden State Warriors, seems like a harbinger of continued change, destined to turn the NBA into a league dominated by long-distance shooting. It has been the best team during the most recent three-point explosion, and its historic 2015-16 campaign was propelled by 144 more triples than any other team has ever drained during a single season.

But this team could also be an anomaly—a perfect storm of historically excellent shooters.

The League's Quality and Quantity

Feb 27, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots the ball against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
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Avoiding dependence on mid-range shooting, NBA teams have pivoted to the three-point arc and right around the hoop. The league is remarkably efficient for it, even in the face of advanced defensive schemes.

This isn't immediately obvious. Going back to the implementation of the three-pointer, the league's field-goal percentage in 2015-16 isn't even close to the best of the bunch:

However, field-goal percentage isn't the strongest indicator of accurate shooting since it doesn't take the extra point offered by a trey into account and rewards players who do nothing but dunk.

Let's look at three-point percentages over the same time frame:

Once more, the 2015-16 season hasn't produced the top score in NBA history, but it's right up there with the best of the best. And that, coupled with the ridiculous frequency of deep attempts, has pushed the league into groundbreaking territory.

Volume matters as context, and that's why it's important that 28.5 percent of the league's field-goal attempts this year came from downtown. Since Basketball-Reference.com began tracking shooting data in 2000-01, that's rather easily the highest mark.

No season in the three-point era has produced a higher effective field-goal percentage (the ultimate measure of live-action shooting). This is only the fifth season at 50 percent or higher, and one of those seasons was 1994-95, when the league was experimenting with a shorter three-point arc.

Before the addition of the three-point shot, the highest single-season effective field-goal percentage was 1978-79's 48.5.

There shouldn't be any doubt the league as a whole is getting better at shooting. The players are largely more skilled than their predecessors—a natural byproduct of technological/training advances.

But the Warriors aren't just keeping pace with the overall trajectory. They're creating a path of their own.

Warriors Leading the Evolution

April 13, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) shoots the basketball against Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Grizzlies 125-104. Mandatory Cr
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Dubs drilled 1,077 triples this season—197 more than anyone else in the NBA this year and 144 more than the 2014-15 Houston Rockets, who previously held the single-year record.

They led the league in three-pointers and paced everyone in three-point percentage by a significant margin, drilling 41.6 percent of their shots from long range. The San Antonio Spurs, who happened to boast the league's second-best record, finished second with a 37.5 three-point percentage.

Golden State also emerged with the top two-point percentage—52.8 percent to the Oklahoma City Thunder's 52.4. That combination puts the Dubs in an obvious class of their own:

But comparing Golden State to its peers isn't fair. There aren't any. We must turn to the basketball annals.

Only 15 teams have ever made a higher percentage of their two-point shots, led by the 2013-14 Miami Heat and their incredible efficiency around the rim. Only the 1996-97 Charlotte Hornets have been more accurate on three-point attempts, though they played with the shortened arc and took 1,210 fewer shots.

No team comes close when we look at effective field-goal percentage.

The "seven seconds or less" Phoenix Suns don't stack up. Neither do the Heat of the Big Three era, the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers, the Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics or last year's version of the Warriors, which firmly dispelled the inane notion that jump-shooting teams can't win championships:

As you can see in the above graphic, my databases show that Golden State is head and shoulders above the rest even if we adjust for the era by looking at each score as it compares to that season's league average.

That's the product of an entire team's learning how to maximize its three-point exploits.

Thirty-seven qualified players this season took at least three triples per game and connected at a 38 percent clip or better—an average of just 1.2 players per team. But four of them (Harrison Barnes, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson) played for the Dubs, while no other team had more than two on the roster for the full season.

Golden State's entire team contributed to its success from downtown. But that doesn't mean one player couldn't help more than others.

The Stephen Curry Show

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in action against Langston Galloway #2 of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 31, 2016 in New York City. The Warriors defeated the Kni
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

If there's one set of numbers that exemplifies shooting excellence in the NBA, it's 50, 40 and 90. To join that exclusive club, a player must make at least half of his field-goal attempts, shoot 40 percent or better from long range and drain at least 90 percent of his shots at the charity stripe.

Prior to this season, only six players had ever met the qualifications and minimum-attempt requirements in each of the three categories:

  1. Larry Bird (1986-87 and 1987-88)
  2. Kevin Durant (2012-13)
  3. Reggie Miller (1993-94)
  4. Steve Nash (2005-06, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10)
  5. Dirk Nowitzki (2006-07)
  6. Mark Price (1988-89)

Now, the club expands to seven with its most impressive member yet.

Torturing almost every defense he faced, Stephen Curry knocked down 50.4 percent of his shots from the field, 45.4 percent of his three-point attempts and 90.8 percent of his freebies. His effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage—which incorporates free-throw shooting as well as looks from live action—both dwarf those of every other qualified season:

Oh, and the typical trade-off between volume and efficiency?

Curry breaks that scale too, since he's the first 50/40/90 member to average at least 30 points per game. But it's not just the six aforementioned players he's beating.

The presumptive favorite to repeat as MVP tops 320 individual seasons in which a qualified player has averaged at least 25 points, both in effective field-goal percentage and true shooting percentage:

And we're not even giving Curry credit for the degree of difficulty.

No one has ever shot like this off the dribble, and he's maintaining his form and accuracy no matter how many defenders the opposition throws at him.

Plus, per NBA.com, he's knocked down 21 of his 45 shots from at least 30 feet, which is just silly.

There's no statistical benefit to shots like the one below. They're just awesome:

Ditto for this one:

The NBA will keep tracking toward new territory as it continues to exploit the innate efficiency of the three-ball, but this is impossible to replicate. As talented as the sharpshooters may be at the sport's highest level, Curry's ability to knock down shots from well beyond the arc is a unique skill.

Golden State happens to roster the two players who have made more single-season treys than any others. It has a deep stable of shooters and a leader who can create them off the bounce better than anyone else, needing assists on only 54.7 percent of his triples.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 27: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors shoots against Raymond Felton #2 of the Dallas Mavericks on January 27, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Even as general managers try to construct their rosters in the same vein, they won't be able to throw together a group like these Warriors.

As shooting becomes increasingly valuable, so too will the price tags on the players who can drain triple after triple. They'll even go earlier in the draft, which makes it tougher to build internally—something Golden State did particularly well.

The NBA will keep shooting more threes, since we haven't yet reached an equilibrium point and might not for years to come. But that doesn't mean another team like this is right around the corner.

Curry is a ridiculously unique player, defying every comparison and torching a league that may never catch up to his individual prowess.

As special as he may be, his entire squad is an even larger aberration.

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @fromal09.

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's databases.

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