clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Stephen Curry is scoring better than Michael Jordan ever did

Curry is somehow scoring more frequently and more efficiently than anyone in the modern era. Even MJ.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

We've acknowledged that Stephen Curry is probably the best shooter of all-time. We've acknowledged that Stephen Curry is probably the best basketball player in the world at the moment. It's not enough. Stephen Curry might be having the best individual scoring season of the modern era.

Comparing current players with the heydays of Wilt and Oscar is notoriously difficult. Clearly the fabric of the game is different. But looking at the best scoring seasons since the advent of the three-point line and the ABA merger is a bit cleaner in terms of comparison, and it puts Steph's 2015-16 in a class of its own.

Steph's True Shooting Percentage is 70. Seventy. SEVENTY.

True Shooting Percentage measures efficiency while giving players credit for threes and free throws. The calculation is pretty simple: points per shooting possession divided by two. Shooting possessions are either field goal attempts or trips to the foul line. As such, the estimate for shooting possessions is 0.44 times free throw attempts plus FGAs. The average NBA player scores about 1.1 points per shooting possession for a True Shooting of 55 percent. This bounces around a bit season to season, but the average is generally in that zone.

Stephen Curry's True Shooting Percentage is 70. He's scoring 1.4 points per shooting possession. Is that crazy? That is crazy. How crazy? Only three players in the history of the NBA who played at least 500 minutes finished a season with a True Shooting Percentage at 70 or higher. Curry is shooting twice as many shots per game as any other member of that list.

Curry is doing it on more than 20 FGAs per game. The next-highest recorded True Shooting Percentage for a player attempting 20 FGAs or more per game is Kevin Durant's 63.5 in 2014. The gap between Curry and No. 2 Durant on this list is the same as the gap between No. 2 Durant and No. 44 on the list. Check out the top 10 True Shooting Percentages for a player who averaged at least 20 FGAs per game.

Steph is destroying the 50-40-90 club's scoring record

This exclusive club represents players who shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent on threes and 90 percent from the line. It's only been done for a full season four times by 20-ppg scorers: Larry Bird twice, and Durant and Dirk Nowitzki once each. The highest scoring average for a 50-40-90 member was Bird's 29.9 points per game in 1988. Curry's at 32 points per game while playing five fewer minutes per game. If Curry played 39 minutes per game as Bird did, his scoring average would be a shade under 37 points per game at his current rate.

What's more, Curry isn't just shooting 50-40-90. He's shooting 52-46-94. It is conceivable that he could someday invent the 60-50-95 club.

Best modern scoring season?

In the three-point era, 33 players have averaged at least 30 points per game in a season. Curry is currently at 32 points per game, which would be good for No. 12 in the modern era. Among all those 30 ppg scorers, Curry uses the fewest shooting possessions per game and plays the fewest minutes. And his team is 20-0.

Jordan's the only player in the modern era who won the title the same season he averaged 30 per game ... and Jordan did it four times. Allen Iverson is the only other player to do it in a season in which his team made the finals. But Iverson's efficiency was always below league-average and Curry's per-minute scoring is higher than that of The Answer. A.I. is not in this conversation.

The options when you ignore team record and postseason success are Jordan's 1987-90 seasons, Kobe's 2006 and Durant's 2014. Here's how those shape up.

Player

Year

PPG

MPG

Shots

TS%

Jordan 1987 37.1 40 33 .562
Jordan 1988 35 40.4 29 .603
Jordan 1989 32.5 40.2 26.5 .614
Jordan 1990 33.6 39 27.7 .606
Kobe 2006 35.4 41 31.7 .559
Durant 2014 32 38.5 25.1 .635
Steph 2016 32 34.3 22.9 .700

Of these incredible scoring seasons, Curry's per-minute average is the highest, a shade above Jordan's 1987. His per-shooting possession average is obviously the highest by about 0.13 points per shooting possession over Durant's 2014. On a 25-possession night, that's more than three points.

Run that back: Steph's incredible efficiency is worth about three points more than the most efficient 30-ppg season in the modern era to date. And he's doing that while scoring more points per minute than any other player in the modern era, including Jordan's 37-ppg season. Jordan's most efficient high-scoring season was 1989. Jordan needed 3.5 more shooting possessions and six more minutes per game to score 0.5 points more than what Curry is putting up.

Yep, we're watching the best scoring season of the modern era. The combination of the three-pointer's increasing importance and Curry's incredible shooting skill is making it possible. The only question is whether he can keep it up.

* * *

SB Nation presents: Stephen Curry is literally a video game