Going into the 2020-21 season, the Golden State Warriors had high expectations to get back on top of the Western Conference. After a failed season in 2019, the Warriors were in a perfect position after the departure of Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, and other key players from their previous championship runs. They traded for D’Angelo Russell for Andrew Wiggins and also fell to #2 overall in NBA Draft, selecting center James Wiseman. They were also getting Stephen Curry back after playing only 5 games last year and All-Star G Klay Thompson back from his ACL injury he suffered in the 2019 NBA Finals. Everything was looking very good, until just several days before the season started when Klay Thompson announced the gut-wrenching news that he suffered a torn Achilles. After that, a lot of people thought this would be a developmental year and try to stay afloat yet another year. People also began to question how truly great Curry was, since the last five years he was surrounded by such great talent. Steph went on to show us how truly great he is, and here is an in-depth look into his record-breaking season.
In 2016, Steph won unanimous MVP with averages of 30.1ppg on 50.4% from the field, 45.4% from three (11.2 attempts per game, and 90.8% from the free-throw line. That season was the most efficient scoring season of all time. Curry also made a record 402 three-pointers that season. But, the difference between that season in this year is just the overall quality of the shots Steph was getting. Even though teams still keyed in on Curry, it’s a lot harder to stop when you have Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and a more aggressive Draymond Green flanking him. For instance, consider this stat, in 2015-16, in 79 games Steph attempted 165 three-pointers with the ball in his possession for longer than 6 seconds. This season in just 63 games, he had the same number. How about another one, in 2016 Steph took 166 three-pointers while being tightly defended. (defender within 2-4 feet). This year in just 63 games he took over 225 shots while being tightly contested. Per @The_Bball_Index on Twitter, in terms of Lineup Spacing percentiles among stars this season, Steph is in the 5% percentile. To put it into perspective, Kawhi is 99%, Devin Booker is at 93%, Giannis and Embiid are both at 87%. That’s wild.
Usually, when players usage rate rises (Estimate of the percentage of teams plays used while that player is on the floor), his efficiency decreases, some more drastic than others depending on that player and team. Going into this year, we all knew that Steph’s usage would be at an all-time high, which it was (34.8). But Steph did the unthinkable by maintaining and even improving his efficiency and percentages. For instance, as I mentioned earlier about just the quality of clean looks Steph got in the past vs. this season from three. In 2016, while taking 11.2 threes per game, he shot 45.4%. This year he took 12.7 and shot 42%, which ranked 8th among players who shot a minimum of 5 three-pointers per game. That’s just laughable how good he’s been this year.
To go even further to how absurd Steph has been this season, over the last 23 games, (15 games in April, 8 games in March) Steph took his game to historical heights that may never be matched. In 23 games, Curry averaged 37.1 points while shooting 44% from three, making 6.5 three-pointers a game. In total, Curry made 149 threes. In those 23 games, Steph scored 40 or more points in 8 games. He also made 10+ threes in 5 games.
Overall, he finished the season with his second scoring title, averaging 32.0 points per game oldest to win since Jordan in ’98, 337 total threes (record 4th season with 300+ threes, most ever, James Harden is the only player with a season of 300+ threes), had 7 games with 10+ threes (Most ever), and also averaged 5.3 threes per game which is an NBA record.
Steph helped guide the Warriors to the Play-In Tournament, where he fell to the Lakers and Grizzlies in two of the most exciting games of the season. Curry scored 37 and 39 points in those games but unfortunately couldn’t capitalize. Curry will finish this season as the first player since Pete Maravich in 1976 to finish top 3 in MVP Voting, but not make the playoffs. You cannot put the full blame on Curry this season, especially with all the hardships the Warriors went through this season. I mean, they literally played 8 guys for the last 25-30 games of the season. Steve Kerr tried to follow the mantra of the Ringer’s podcast host Chris Vernon by “not playing guys who suck”, but if you see how the season and play-in games unfolded, it was inevitable.
So in conclusion, kudos to Steph, A generational talent, one of one, never to be replicated, only imitated. He silenced a lot of doubters and reminded us time and time again why he is one of the game’s greatest players today and of all time.