Science in Basketball 101: Stephen Curry
If you are a big fan of basketball, you may have noticed that our Bay Area basketball team, the Golden State Warriors, has grown to be unbeatable. Having a record of 42-9 until the 2015 All-Star game, the Warriors are the number one team overall in the NBA. In the center of the ascension, there are two outstanding players, nominated as All-Star game starters this year. They are called the Splash brothers: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
As a simple example of their dominance, Thompson recently set the new all-time NBA record for most points in a single quarter. In the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings, Thompson’s magical hands scored 37 points. Yes, in a single 12 minute quarter. Not even Kobe, LeBron, and MJ were on the hot microwave. Previously, the NBA record had been 33 points. He was totally on fire, making 13 out of 13 unbelievable field goals. More surprisingly, nine of them were made outside the 3-point arc. Klay the Sniper occupied the headlines of all sports newspapers.
Despite Thompson’s exceptional performance, his teammate, Stephen Curry, is considered the leading star player of the Warriors. Curry is now positioned number one in the MVP race, unarguably better than any other point guards in the league. He exhilarated his fans every single game, starring in numerous highlight videos. Some had slighted Curry as unathletic and unable to dunk, but he proved those critics wrong through his fascinating flight to the rim. He already received the most All-Star votes -- 1,513,324 -- which exceed those of other star players. So, how did he attract these votes? What’s so special about Stephen Curry? A hundred out of a hundred fans would say that it’s his crazy shooting ability, besides his magical ball handling skills and smart basketball IQ.
The easiest way to verify his shooting skill is to trace his records. He already succeeded 1000 three-point field goals by his 369th game, the fastest pace of all time. The previous record holder, Dennis Scott, made 1000 three-point goals in his 457th game. Curry also set the record for scoring the most three-pointers in one season, 272 field goals. Along with the number of shots made, his success rate of three-pointers is also legendary. After 1979, when the NBA adjusted its 3 point line, he maintained third place in the all time three-pointer scoring percentage, 43.7%. Curry recently won the three-point shooting contest in the All-Star weekend against strong competitors, including Kyle Korver, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson.
His transcendental shooting performance can be explained by science. Consider that it takes NBA players, on average, 0.6-0.7 seconds to release the ball from the hand. To Curry, this takes just 0.3 seconds, two times faster than the average. So, before defenders try to reach the ball, it is already fired over their heads. All they can do is just stare at the ball passing through the net. In addition, the arc that his shooting draws is scientifically optimal. According to Stats LLC, the average distance of the ball at the peak from the floor in the NBA is 15.77 feet, but Curry’s three-pointers usually hit 16.23 feet from the ground. His arc is exceptionally concave, so the ball forms 46 degrees when entering the rim, just one degree off from the optimal angle of 45 degrees. This enables the ball to occupy more space of the rim, increasing the probability of field goal (WSJ). Scientific analysis shows the reason for Curry’s consistency in shooting.
However, all of these would not be achieved without his sweat. Stephen Curry practiced over and over for years and years. He was not even six feet when he was a high school senior, and to overcome this physical weakness, he focused on improving perimeter scoring from the outside (WSJ). His arms, his legs and even his fingertips repeated the same, torturous shooting motion thousands of times during each practice. This helped him develop a stable balance of the body, leading to more steady shooting. He shot even more if the scoring rate didn’t satisfy him. What makes Stephen Curry great is that he practices other skills such as dribbling, passing, and game awareness as well. Now he has been recognized as the league’s top playmaker; every single aspect of his presence threatens the opponent. His development hasn’t stopped here, though. He’s still thirsty for more. Stephen Curry’s quote expresses his endless ambition: “I haven't reached my potential yet. So I hold myself to a higher standard; it's a conscious mission to figure out ways to constantly make myself better.” Guys, I am excited to witness his path to become the all-time best player, Mr. Record-breaker, in the near future.