By John Krolik
Special to The Examiner
All things considered, it wasn’t a bad weekend for Steph Curry. The Warriors beat the Rockets on a walk-off step-back jumper by Curry, and were able to hang on to a win over an extremely formidable Jazz team.
Still, Curry’s shot continued to be an issue for him. He went just 6-21 from the floor and 4-13 from beyond the arc in Friday’s game, and 5-20 from the floor and 1-13 from deep on Sunday. For the month of January, the best shooter of all time is shooting just 35.9% on field goals and an unthinkable 29.9% from three-point range. For the season, Curry is shooting 37.6% from deep, which would be a career-low for him. In fact, he’s never finished a season shooting worse than 40% from beyond the arc.
So how is Curry slumping this badly? Is he missing easy shots. Or taking too many bad ones in an attempt to shoot his way back into his usual form? This isn’t the easiest thing to find out because Curry is more than capable of draining shots on a regular basis from angles and distances that no other player would dream of.
One explanation would be that he’s thinking about his shot too much. Curry’s troubles began around the time Ray Allen’s three-point record came firmly into view. As anyone who’s played sports can tell you, thinking is often the enemy of success. As Curry’s “slump” has continued, the possibility of a “snowball effect” is present. The possibility of the dreaded “yips,” does not seem to be in play, but this is very likely a mental issue.
Also, Curry has been without Draymond Green, who has assisted Curry on more threes than anybody else over the course of Curry’s career. So that could certainly be having an impact.
There’s the possibility that something physical is present. Curry hasn’t reported any major injuries, but it only takes the slightest of issues for something as fine-tuned as Curry’s jumper to get thrown off.
Finally, this could be simple math. When you make your living on shots that go in just over 40% of the time on your best days, there will naturally be peaks and valleys. Curry’s slump has been long enough that it’s likely statistically significant, but he might currently be struggling against the law of averages as much as anything else.
Let’s take a look at the 13 three-point attempts Curry took against the Jazz on Sunday and see if we can find some answers.
Shot 1: Curry runs off an off-ball screen from Otto Porter Jr., gets the pass in stride and gets an on-balance look at a three, which he misses. Good shot, bad result.
Shot 2: Curry comes off another off-ball screen, catches his defender trying to gamble for the steal and hits his only three-pointer of the night.
Shot 3: Curry has an isolation at the top of the key, gets his defender to bite fairly hard on his drive and gets a good amount of separation on a step-back three. Not the easiest shot in the world, but one Curry usually cashes in on.
Shot 4: Curry sets a ball-screen and runs back for a pick-and-pop and ends up with nobody in his area code when he shoots it. Almost every player in today’s NBA would take this shot, but Curry is somehow unable to get it to go down.
Shot 5: Another step-back attempt, but he never really got his defender on his heels before stepping back and the shot ended up being well-contested. The possibility that Curry is trying too hard to make something happen after missing a wide-open opportunity seems like it’s on the table.
Shot 6: After a nice little sideline action, Curry finds himself with a wide-open look from a few feet beyond the top of the arc — he even has time to set his feet, which is a rarity for Curry.
Shot 7: As the ballhandler on a pick-and-roll, Curry gets a screen and catches Rudy Gobert sagging all the way back into the paint and sets up for what should be an easy step-back three, but Utah’s Joe Ingles does a fantastic job of fighting through the screen and contesting the shot.
Shot 8: This look came in transition. With the Warriors on the run on a Jazz miss, Curry was able to get up an on-balance three as Ingles closed out just a bit too late. Another shot that should have been easy money for Curry.
Shot 9: Another nice out-of-bounds action, as Curry sets an off-ball screen to free himself and gets his shot up before his defender can even raise his hand to contest, but again he finds iron.
Shot 10: The Warriors target Gobert, who rarely strays from the rim, as his man sets an off-ball screen for Curry, who ends up with a wide-open look because Gobert is in no position to contest the shot.
Shot 11: Curry catches Ingles with his head turned as Nemanja Bjelica drives to the basket and slides into the corner for a wide-open spot-up look when Bjelica delivers it to him.
Shot 12: One more step-back try from the left wing, and Curry is able to get a bit of separation, but the ball still refuses to go down.
Shot 13: With the Warriors up five and just over 40 seconds remaining, Curry decides to try and hit a “dagger” three to turn around his night and pulls up over two defenders from 31 feet with absolutely no set-up screens or dribbles. It’s a shot Curry can hit, but he doesn’t on this night.
So there you have it. As someone who watched every single three Curry made last season, I can tell you the looks Curry had were better than the opportunities he usually gets from beyond the arc. In fact, they were significantly better. Some of the shots Curry missed on Sunday would have been good looks for an average shooter, let alone Curry.
As of now, the issue seems to be more with Curry’s stroke than with his decision-making. He’s still playing the right way and taking shots he should be taking; they’re just not falling for him the way they have his whole career. Considering his track record, I’d expect that to change sooner rather than later.
John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.