SAN FRANCISCO — The clock ticked closer to zero. That meant Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry had less time to score. That also meant Curry still had time to show off both his shooting accuracy and speed.
This incident did not just happen during the NBA Finals, most notably when Curry led the Warriors to a Game 4 win over the Boston Celtics by scoring 43 points while shooting 14-of-26 from the field and 7-of-14 from 3-point range. This incident has also occurred during offseason workouts with his personal trainer (Brandon Payne) and at practice with a trusted Warriors assistant coach (Bruce Fraser).
“Every drill is a game. Every drill is competitive. And everything we do is against time and score,” Payne told NBA.com. “There’s always a time to beat. There’s always a number to beat. If you beat the number and you don’t beat the time, you still lose.”
Rarely has Curry lost those drills. After all, Curry officially became the NBA’s best all-time 3-point shooter this season after spending most of his 13-year NBA career revolutionizing the game with his deft stroke and long range. But as Fraser noted, “If he doesn’t get it, he’ll usually do it again. That makes it twice as hard.”
It does matter what drills you do. But what matters more is how hard you can go.”
— Warriors guard Stephen Curry
Curry’s training partly explains why he enters Game 5 on Monday (9 ET, ABC) averaging 34.3 points per game while shooting an astounding 50% overall and 49.1% from 3-point range. That also partly explains why the Warriors believe Curry when he described his recently injured left foot as “good” following Sunday’s practice.
Even if this already-rugged NBA Finals goes the distance, the Warriors expect Curry to hold up. The reason? As Warriors teammate Klay Thompson said, “His conditioning is second-to-none in this league.” The Warriors calculated that Curry has averaged running 2.5 miles per game this season, something that has become nearly as dependable as his shooting stemmed from his training habits.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 5, 2022
“It does matter what drills you do. But what matters more is how hard you can go,” Curry told NBA.com. “How long can you keep that game-like intensity up so you show up when it happens?”
The pursuit of being ‘as perfect as possible’
Not only has Curry sought to answer those questions in pressure-packed playoff games, but he has also sought to prepare for such moments by answering those questions in quieter gyms during the offseason and in practice.
During his summer workouts, Curry has often played a game of “21” with a different twist. He has to score 21 points based on any combination of 3s, mid-range jumpers and layups, which count as one point. Curry has a minute to reach that score. And in between each shot, Curry has to sprint up to the half-court timeline before taking his next attempt.
“The reason that he runs pretty solid into his shot is he wants his legs and his lungs to be tired when he has to shoot a big 3,” Fraser told NBA.com. “He doesn’t want to shoot all the time in practice with stressed legs and stressed lungs. That’s not realistic. But he wants to be able to hit the same shot in the fourth quarter as he does in the first.”
And Curry also wants to hit the same shot at the end of his workouts as he does at the beginning.
Easier said than done. Curry often completes a drill that requires him to make 20 shots in multiple spots in less than two minutes. Payne also has organized a game called “Two in a Row,” which entails Curry needing to make at least two consecutive 3-pointers in five spots in at least 90 seconds. Payne said that Curry has completed that drill in 75 seconds multiple times. Since Curry frequently sets new personal records, Payne often shifts the goal posts.
“I’ve designed drills that I thought would be impossible and that he would get mad at me for putting something like this together,” Payne said, chuckling. “But it never fails. He still figures out ways to get it done. There is nobody that craves improvement and relentlessly goes after it the way that he does.”
Not surprising then that Curry and Payne decided last summer to scrutinize both his makes and misses.
30 seconds with 30 💧 pic.twitter.com/CFjLOy1tQb
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 10, 2022
They used the Noah Shooting system to calculate the ball’s movement, arc and how deep the ball went into the rim. If that data showed the ball did not go through the middle of the rim, Curry and Payne counted the attempt as a miss. Not only did that grading curve hurt Curry’s shooting percentage, it also took Curry more time to complete his workout. If he did not make at least 10 shots with the ball sailing cleanly through the rim, Curry kept shooting until he did.
“It was a mental challenge of trying to be as perfect as possible,” Curry told NBA.com earlier this season. “You don’t want to be out there all day feeling dog tired because you can’t beat the drill.”
Curry cannot help himself, though. Even in practice workouts when teams often want their star player to conserve energy, Curry tries to test his limits. There seems to be no such thing as Curry simply completing a shooting workout by just hoisting shots.
He still figures out ways to get it done. There is nobody that craves improvement and relentlessly goes after it the way that he does.”
— Brandon Payne, Stephen Curry’s personal trainer
“He has to sprint full court just to get one shot up,” Warriors forward Draymond Green told NBA.com. “Think of the amount of shots a guy like that puts up. Just in order for him to attempt a 3, he has to sprint full court. He works unlike many people that I’ve seen.”
‘What you do in the summer’ matters now
No wonder Warriors coach Steve Kerr described Curry’s conditioning work as a “metronome” and “clockwork.” Kerr also compared Curry’s training habits to tennis star Roger Federer, who talked with the Warriors during a preseason trip five years ago in Shanghai, China. Then, Green asked Federer to explain his longevity.
“I love my daily ritual,” Federer said before detailing his routine that entailed cooking breakfast for his kids, driving them to school and then training for the rest of the day. Curry would say the same thing.
“He enjoys it so much and he loves the process. That’s one of the things that ties all great athletes together,” Kerr said of Curry. “There’s a routine that not only is super-disciplined, but it’s really enjoyed each day. There’s a passion that comes with it, and that’s what sustains it over time. When you love something like those guys do, you work at it, you get better and you just keep going.”
Perhaps telling then that Curry said, “I do pride myself on trying to be the hardest worker and the most consistent worker.” After all, Curry said he focused on his conditioning as early as when he played high school basketball at Charlotte Christian in Charlotte, N.C. Decades later, Fraser noted that Curry’s training “starts the day the season ends as opposed to the day the season starts.”
Though Curry has embraced the grind, he has sought to “work a lot smarter than harder” in recent seasons.
As the Warriors won three NBA championships in five Finals appearances from 2015-19, Curry still incorporated conditioning drills in his practice and shooting workouts. But he also scaled back the intensity to avoid burnout. Curry also skipped the Olympics both in 2016 and 2020 so he could treat injuries and train for the upcoming NBA season. Curry increased his offseason workload after the Warriors appeared in the NBA Draft lottery in 2019-20 and in the Play-In Tournament last season.
But Curry often trained for four consecutive weeks before taking two weeks off in between both to stay fresh and maximize family time. During those training sessions, Curry mixed in workouts that lasted as short as 90 minutes and as long as three hours.
“It’s not like he’s in love with this grinding, hard and ridiculous process,” Payne said. “He’s in love with getting better. He just has to put up with the process to get there.”
To navigate that process, Curry has followed what Fraser called the “menu.” That gives Curry various workout options each day to ensure that he stays engaged with each training session.
There’s a routine that not only is super-disciplined, but it’s really enjoyed each day. There’s a passion that comes with it, and that’s what sustains it over time. When you love something like those guys do, you work at it, you get better and you just keep going.”
— Warriors coach Steve Kerr, on Stephen Curry’s daily routine
Curry stays consistent by beginning each offseason and practice workout with conditioning drills to warm up and increase his heart rate. He also has completed breathing exercises to help with increasing his stamina. But Curry then varies his skill and shooting drills both in the offseason and during the season to avoid monotony and increase the workout’s effectiveness.
For example, Curry ramped up his workouts leading into the playoffs to sharpen his conditioning after missing the Warriors’ final 12 regular-season games with a left foot injury. During the NBA Finals? Different story. Curry has lightened his workload both to save himself for the games and to further heal his left foot since injuring it in Game 3.
Steph vs. JP from the LOGO 🎯
Who did it best? pic.twitter.com/6YjofJXCiC
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) June 7, 2022
Following Sunday’s practice, Curry walked down an arena hallway without showing a noticeable limp. He attributed that fluid movement to his daily treatment that has included frequent icing and he has also prioritized rest, including sleeping for 10 1/2 hours following Game 3.
“He’s become very planned out about how he’s going to get his sleep,” Payne said. “Sleep is something that he really had to work on early in his career. He really had to work to become a better sleeper.”
Curry also had to work to improve his diet after fighting what he called his “sweet tooth.”
“Shoutout to Lamar Odom, who was the first one who admitted he had a trunk full of candy. I was that type of dude,” Curry said, laughing. “But you get a little bit more disciplined about that. The rest is everything in moderation for me. I don’t have any true dietary restrictions or anything like that. I just have to be mindful of what I eat and when I eat it.”
Because of those habits, Curry rarely looks tired when he plays — even when he carries the Warriors’ offense … or faces swarming defenses … or when he runs off the ball in hopes to create an open shot.
“When you think of most superstars in this league, most of their damage is done with the ball in their hands as opposed to Steph Curry,” Green said. “Can he do damage with the ball in his hands? Absolutely. But he’s equally, if not even more dangerous, when the ball isn’t in his hands.”
That leaves the Celtics with the thankless task of needing to monitor Curry’s every movement. According to NBA.com’s player-tracking data, Curry ranks 16th among the league’s point guards during the playoffs for most offensive miles per game (1.41)
“The way that he’s able to affect the game by being able to run around and play off the ball and get himself open, it’s just tough on a defender because you can’t take a break,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart said. “The instant you think that he’s not doing anything, the play is over for him. That’s when you get beaten. That’s when you get burnt. That’s when this mentality comes in, ‘you’ve got to stay ready, you can’t give up, you’ve got to keep going.’”
Curry has kept that mentality through every workout that requires him to shoot proficiently and quickly. After completing those tasks through strong marksmanship, sheer will and utter exhaustion, Curry has set out to perform the same way on a bigger stage during the Warriors’ latest title run.
“What you do in the summer shows up in moments like these,” Curry said. “So, doing my job.”
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.