OAKLAND — With 9:59 to go in the third quarter of the Golden State Warriors’ romp against the visiting Chicago Bulls on Friday, Stephen Curry sprinted to the right corner, where forward Draymond Green placed a waist-high pass right into the pocket for a clean look from 26 feet.
Curry hoisted up his seventh 3-point attempt of the night. After missing four of his first six, he nailed the 26-footer, giving the Warriors an 83-59 lead and passing Jason Terry for third all-time on the NBA’s 3-point field goal list. Just 10 years into his career, with 2,283 3-pointers and counting, Curry now sits behind only Reggie Miller (2,560) and Ray Allen (2,973).
It can be argued that Curry’s affinity for the 3-point shot is a large part of why Golden State has been so good over the past five years. Curry’s ability to hit shots that have literally defied video game physics has provided the bedrock upon which Steve Kerr’s joyous brand of selfless, ball-movement basketball has been built. However, it’s a brand of basketball about which one of Curry’s own teammates has expressed skepticism in recent days.
“I think a lot of players have adapted during games, and changed how they play, but I don’t see this lasting too much longer, just the volume of threes,” Kevin Durant said a week ago, after the Warriors and Sacramento Kings combined for an NBA-record 41 3-point makes.
“The way the game is played, pick-up style, it’ll seize here in a second,” Durant continued. “I think a lot of guys are just adjusting their games to the times. It’s fun for the fans, it’s fun for us sometimes, but it’s also tough to watch and tough to play against. But, hey, that’s what we signed up for.”
The year before Golden State won its first title in the current run, NBA teams took an average of 1,766 3-point shots per team in the season. The year the Warriors won, in 2014-15, teams attempted 1,838. Average 3-pointers attempted per team grew to 1,975 the next season, then 2,214, and 2,378 last season.
This season, NBA teams are on pace to shoot an average of 2,572 3-pointers.
“I’m sure it will continue to shift in that direction,” Curry said. “The sustainability of it, who knows? I’m sure nobody really could predict this. Every era is a little different.”
Over the last five and a half seasons, while the number of 3-pointers attempted has skyrocketed, 3-point shooting percentage has hovered between 35.3 percent league-wide (this season) and 36.2 percent, last season. The more 3-pointers taken without a drop-off in percentage means more points.
“It’s obviously trending in a certain direction,” Curry said. “You want to celebrate guys that can do it real well, the teams that can do it well. It’ll show at the end of the year in the playoffs. If a team wants to come out and shoot 60 threes and they’re making 10 of ‘em, and they’re losing, they might switch it up a little bit, but in terms of finding, creating open threes, shooting at a high percentage, kind of how we play. It’s obviously proved successful.”
Golden State saw the failure of relying almost exclusively on the 3-point shot in last year’s Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, when the Houston Rockets missed 27 in a row. Curry was clearly referencing that game.
“If you’ve got the talent to do it, do it. I think, in terms of just shifting perspective, what guys are working on, and how they’re trying to get better, expand their game, putting lineups on the floor that highlight the 3-point shot, you try to just shoot high percentages,” Curry said.
In that game against the Kings — a team purpose-built by former Golden State minority owner Vivek Ranadive as an imitation of the Warriors — Curry hit 10 of the record-setting 41 3-pointers on 20 attempts. The two teams combined to go 41-of-83.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Curry said. “If you’re just out there slinging it and shooting 20 percent every night, that’s no fun to watch. But, in terms of talent and skill set showing up, and how you create those 3-point shots and guys knocking them down a high percentage, and producing wins, that, for me, has been a huge part of my game, will continue to be a huge part of my game from a team perspective.”
After his outburst against the Kings, Curry, 31, hit 3-of-12 against the New York Knicks earlier this week to pass Kyle Korver (2,278) for fourth on the all-time 3-point field goals made list. Curry had thought he had done it against Sacramento, and wanted to keep the game ball.
“Growing up, those two guys were the metric for 3-point shooting,” Curry said on Friday morning, following shootaround. “I paid such close attention to when Ray was chasing Reggie and that whole race. I remember the game when he finally passed him, Reggie was on the sideline commentating the game, and he went over and shook his hand. That moment was special for guys who love to shoot the basketball, so for me to be close, or right there with my name next to those two guys, in terms of 3-point shooting, I wanted to remember that moment, even though it didn’t happen.”
If Curry, 30, plays his career average of 69 games per season, and hits an average of 3.48 triples per game, he’ll add another 136 threes by the end of this year, giving him 2,416. He’ll pass or equal Miller at some point around the middle of next season. In two and a half seasons — his 12th season in the league — Curry will pass Allen.
It took Allen 19 years to achieve his total, and he didn’t get to Curry’s number until the tail end of the 2009 season — his 12th year in the league. Miller piled up his total over 18 years in the NBA, and didn’t reach Curry’s current plateau until he was 37, and two years away from retirement.
“There’s a touch, there’s a hand-eye coordination that’s automatic, but the work ethic, the routine, that each one develops, I think, Reggie and Ray were both well-known for their habits, their work habits, their work ethic, and I see the same from Steph every day,” Kerr said before Friday’s game. “He never misses a day. It doesn’t just happen. The ball doesn’t just go in. There’s a lot of work that goes into it. That’s the common thread.”
After the game, Curry said that he kept the game ball, and will send it to both Miller and Allen, for their autographs.
“It’s definitely cool, but we all know he’s going to break the record,” Durant said after Curry moved into third. “Him being in the third spot, he sets such a high standard, a high bar, it is cool, but you’ve got another season or two before he gets to the No. 1 spot, and he’s gonna shatter that record. I’m going to wait for that.
“You’ve got somebody like Steph, who has a supreme skill — we’re talking about his jump shot at this point — that doesn’t come by his dad being Dell Curry and him passing his powers down. He worked on that. He continues to work on that. It’s a joy to see, and see the production out on the floor, it’s artistry.”