With 17 seconds left in the third quarter of Game 5 and the Warriors up by six, Stephen Curry did a very Stephen Curry thing. He isolated on Matthew Dellavedova on the right wing and dribbled the clock down.
Despite the Delly hype following Game 2, it had been well-established that Curry could rain on him. To that point in the game, Curry had 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting (3-of-6 from long-range). Dellavedova had done an admirable job chasing Curry off the ball and challenging shots through the series, but no one thought the Aussie could actually stay in front of the MVP in one-on-one situations.
So, Curry dribbled down the clock inside of a couple of seconds and ... he made no moves. He made no feints. He lazily fired up this deep three, one which clanked off of the rim and sent us to a tight fourth quarter in a fulcrum game in the NBA Finals.
As I said, this is a very Steph thing. He has become emboldened to take these deep shots as the season and his career have proceeded. Knowing that Curry can put Dellavedova on his toes with a nod and his feels with a feint, it seemed incredible that Steph would instead just pull straight up at a relatively crucial moment. It felt like a wasted shot. I tweeted this:
When I talk about Curry believing his own hype, that's the kind of dumb shot I'm talking about. DELLAVEDOVA IS GUARDING YOU.— Tom Ziller (@teamziller) June 15, 2015
In the fourth quarter, Steph proceeded to hit all variety of insane shots, including three from that right wing. All were exceptionally deep or off a crazy dribble move. All were over Dellavedova.
This result after my initial reaction to Curry's end-of-quarter brick led me to ask the question: is there such a thing as a bad Stephen Curry shot?
We can look at this two ways: the data and the theory. The data is pretty cut and dry: Steph is better from beyond 25 feet than the vast majority of NBA players are from 23 feet 9 inches. Per NBA.com/stats, Curry shot 43 percent from 25-29 feet this regular season on a league-high 442 attempts. (That's almost 30 percent more than No. 2 Damian Lillard.) As you know, shooting threes that efficiently is like shooting twos ultra-efficiently (64.5 percent) because of the extra point. And for what it's worth, only 40 of the 263 players who took at least 100 attempts within five feet of the rim this season had that high of an effective field goal percentage.
In other words, there are only about three dozen players in the league who can score as many points per shot at the rim as Curry does from 25-29 feet away.
Getting shots at the rim is tough and more likely to end up in a turnover or free throws for less-adept shooters. Needless to say, Curry can get off a deep three pretty much any time he wants. Curry's supremely confident, has an inordinately quick trigger and a bushel full of space-creating moves. That end-of-quarter shot he missed? His trigger is so quick that he didn't even need to make a move to get it off. Those moves he laid on Dellavedova moments later? Those are basically unstoppable with a double team. A double-team 25 feet away from the basket.
There is more data to indicate there is no such thing as a bad Curry shot. He shoots 48 percent on catch-and-shoot threes and a remarkable 42.5 percent on pull-up threes. (No other player shot better than James Harden's 35.6 percent on pull-up threes. By those standards, Curry's percentage is insane. By the way, he also took more pull-up threes than anyone.)
So the data is pretty clear: there are no low-percentage Stephen Curry shots.
The theory is a bit different. The argument here applies to all players: take the best shot possible. If Curry is a 42.5 percent pull-up three-point shooter and a 48 percent catch-and-shoot player, he should move the ball and work for an assisted three, perhaps in the corner (where he's nearly perfect). Sure, Curry is better than anyone at deep shots off the dribble. But he's even better in other contexts. To maximize the Warriors' chances of winning, shouldn't he work for the better shots?
We make allowances for context. I wrote extensively about why LeBron James' relatively low shooting percentages early in the series should be forgiven due to the dearth of options he had. That's not the case in Golden State: if Curry can't get his best shot, he can help Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green get their best shots. When LeBron surveys the scene and lazily fires up a deep jumper off the dribble, there's a case to be made that the Cavaliers couldn't get a better shot given the circumstances. That case is much tougher to make for the Warriors.
There's other context, though: it's so damn easy for Curry to take that shot. He's tired. He's played a lot of minutes, not just in this series, but over the course of the last three seasons. He wears that exhaustion on his sleeve and he shows it in the way he gnaws on that mouthpiece while dribbling and gazing at the clock. To work those moves on Dellavedova takes energy and focus. To heave a 30-footer is easy. And because he makes so many of them, the trade-off in efficiency is not nearly as great as you'd think.
My rash reaction to the shot was based on normal basketball players -- hell, even normal basketball stars. For the vast majority of NBA players, that's a horrible shot to end a quarter. My mistake was in lumping Curry in with mere mortals. In the context of Curry's exhaustion and given what the data says about Steph's ability to hit those shots, there is no dumb shot for the MVP.
The great Travis Outlaw once said that he "shoots jumpers like layups." For Curry, that's actually accurate.
SB Nation presents: The 3-pointer has gone from novelty to necessary