SAN FRANCISCO — Whenever he releases the ball out of his hands, Stephen Curry has retained one consistent thought bubble.
“Every shot I take, I think I’m going to make,” Curry said. “Unless it’s way off or off balance.”
Even in those instances, Curry often makes those shots. So much that Curry has shattered numerous scoring records and revolutionized the modern NBA game, while winning three NBA titles. But lately? Curry has become one of the NBA’s coldest shooters.
The Warriors squeaked out a 94-92 win against the Utah Jazz on Sunday at Chase Center, and the reasons had nothing to do with Curry’s outside shooting. Instead, the Warriors (34-13) collected their second consecutive win despite Curry’s poor marksmanship. He finished with 13 points while shooting 5-for-20 from the field and 1-for-13 from 3-point range.
And yet, Curry hardly seemed bothered with those numbers. Not during the game. Not when he spoke to season-ticket holders afterwards. Not when he spoke to reporters after that.
“The temptation is to let missed shots and all of that become a reaction because you’re preoccupied, or you’re all in your feelings with missing shots,” Curry said. “I’m past that phase of my career. It’s just a matter of not ever losing confidence with what I’m capable of doing.”
After all, Curry has still become a Kia MVP candidate because of his familiar resume which includes him ranking eighth in scoring (26.0 points per game) and first in 3-pointers (207) this season. In the Warriors’ win against the Houston Rockets on Friday, Curry sank a game-winning shot on a 20-foot step back jumper with 1.6 seconds left to make his first career game-winning buzzer-beater and eighth game winner taken with five seconds or less on the clock.
& a foul 💪 pic.twitter.com/2ohdwC8A9U
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 24, 2022
No surprise then that Curry officially become the NBA’s greatest 3-point shooter last month when he eclipsed Ray Allen No. 1 on the league’s all-time list. But since Curry made history in his 13th season with his shooting proficiency, he has made history with his shooting inefficiency. After shooting solidly in December (40.4%) and 3-point range (37.4%), Curry has seen his shooting numbers in January plummet both overall (35.9%) and from deep (29.9%). Never in his 14 NBA seasons has Curry shot this poorly.
“Shots just aren’t going. He’s human,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I think what’s happening right now is he’s reminding everybody that he actually is human. He’s seemed inhuman for so long. So I think everybody expects him to be in a groove all season long. And that’s just not the way it works. I’m really proud of how hard he’s playing and how well he’s playing in every other aspect of the game. The shooting will come back. We know that.”
Still, even the 18,064 fans at Chase Center reacted differently when Curry shot the ball than they usually did. Before, fans stood up in anticipation that Curry’s shots would drop in the basket. During Sunday’s game, however, fans gasped anytime Curry shot from deep.
“It’s obviously frustrating,” Curry said. “I want to shoot the ball.”
Therefore, Curry pushed over a chair during Friday’s game against Houston after his shot kept clanking iron. Against Utah, however, Curry acted much differently.
“I’m trying to have fun with it,” Curry said. “It’s a big-picture perspective on how you approach the game and the work you put in.”
That’s because how Curry approaches the game goes beyond whether he makes or misses shots. Curry recorded six assists and one turnover against the Jazz. That playmaking sparked a balanced offense that included Jordan Poole (20 points), Andrew Wiggins (14), Otto Porter Jr. (13) and Damion Lee (12) cracking double figures.
Who gives a damn about excuses. That’s nothing anybody wants to hear it. You either make shots or you miss shots. I have to start making some shots.”
— Stephen Curry
Despite Curry’s poor shooting from deep, Curry went 4-of-7 from inside-the-arc because of sharp off-the-ball movement and aggressive drives to the rim. As Kerr observed, “he’s playing some of his best basketball in terms of handling the point-guard duties.”
“Steph has been brilliant in that area,” Kerr said. “I know that nobody will write about it. Everybody will write about his shooting troubles. But seriously look up his assist-to-turnover ratio with us the last week or two. We’re getting really good looks.”
Warriors spokesman Raymond Ridder then alerted reporters that Curry has recorded 34 assists and six turnovers in the past four games. Kerr interjected, “headline that!”
“He’s letting us make plays for him and make plays for others,” Warriors forward Kevon Looney said. “He’s been trusting us to do the right things. It’s been working for us. At some point, he’s going to make shots. And he’s going to make a lot of them. We still trust him.”
The Warriors have also trusted Curry defensively with his effort and discipline. The Warriors mostly credited Looney, Wiggins and Porter Jr. for holding the Jazz to poor marks from the field (38.3%) and from deep (31.4%). It also helped the Jazz nursed injuries before the game to Donovan Mitchell (concussion) and during the game with Rudy Gobert strained left calf) and Bojan Bogdanovic (right knee contusion). But the Warriors also credited Curry for his zero fouls, communication and ball-hawking.
“He’s not a slouch on defense,” Lee said. “He puts in the work every single day and guards guys every single night. His fouls aren’t amounting like they were in the past. He’s sacrificing. He’s one of the best leaders in the league. He’s one of the best leaders in the world. He knows what it takes to win and just wants us to get a win.”
Still, it is fair to wonder what has sparked Curry’s poor shooting slump. He only questioned his last three-point attempt before defending his first 12 that he considered open looks.
“I’m not worried about the selection as much as figuring out what needs to change in terms of knocking them down and finding the joy of shooting the ball,” Curry said. “That’s always a part of my game. I got to be better at that.”
So why hasn’t Curry shot the ball well?
“Who gives a damn about excuses,” Curry said. “That’s nothing anybody wants to hear it. You either make shots or you miss shots. I have to start making some shots.”
that's toughhhh, 30
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 24, 2022
Curry declined to admit there are even reasons for his shooting slump, but a various factors could explain it.
Notably, the Warriors have fielded recent injuries.
Curry has not played consistently with a dependable sharpshooter. Guard Klay Thompson has played in and out of the lineup after returning two weeks ago from two-season ending injuries to his left knee (2019) and right Achilles tendon (2020). Thompson also missed Sunday’s game after the Warriors’ medical staff determined Thompson “tweaked” his left knee during a pre-game walk through.
Curry has also missed two key playmakers. Warriors veteran forward Andre Iguodala has missed a combined nine games, including the past two because of a left hip injury. Warriors veteran forward Draymond Green has missed the past eight games because of a sore left calf and an injured disc in his lower back, an injury that will keep him sidelined at least for the next two weeks.
I think what’s happening right now is he’s reminding everybody that he actually is human. He’s seemed inhuman for so long. So I think everybody expects him to be in a groove all season long.”
— Warriors coach Steve Kerr, on Stephen Curry’s shooting slump
Without Green’s playmaking through a combined 14 games this season, the Warriors have gone 7-7 while entering Sunday’s game with decreased shooting numbers from the field (44.5%) and (33.1%). During that time, Curry has increased his playmaking while losing the familiar chemistry with playing off the ball with Green.
“He usually makes the right play,” Curry said of Green. “He’s patient with letting plays develop and using me as a decoy to get somebody on a backcut or throwing it on time pass with me coming out off of off ball movement and stuff like that. But we’ve adjusted pretty well. I’ve gotten on the ball a little bit more recently.”
Curry also has nursed his own injuries. He has missed a combined four games this season because of a left hip contusion, left quad contusion and sore right hand. And those ailments might still be bothering him.
“They’re still attached to my body,” Curry said. “I’m still getting up plenty of attempts.”
Very few of those attempts have fallen. So it’s fair to wondering if Curry has rushed any of those shots
“He got good looks. I never feel like Steph is rushing,” Kerr said. “He’s so really methodical with his work every day.”
One part of Curry’s routine has changed, though. To ensure that he can space out Curry’s workload at no more than 36 minutes per night, Kerr has altered Curry’s rotation. Before this season, Curry played the entire first and third quarters while entering the lineup midway through the second and fourth quarters.
This season, Kerr takes Curry out after about nine minutes into the game so that he can also start the second quarter. Kerr often repeats the same formula in the second half. In Sunday’s game? Curry checked to the scorer’s table at the 4:29 mark, but only appeared in the final 2:59 because there wasn’t a stoppage in play.
Has Curry still adjusted to the new rotation?
“That’s an interesting theory,” Kerr said. “I wouldn’t dwell on it. He doesn’t dwell on it. Steph is Steph. He’s got no excuses anytime. He just plays.”
And while Curry plays, teammates have told him repeatedly to keep shooting. As Poole said, “I told him every time he shot today, it looked good.” They usually go in, after all.
“It is weird to see him miss shots. But in the flow of the game, it doesn’t really seem like he’s struggling,” Looney said. “It just feels like a normal game. If you didn’t tell me he had a bad shooting night, I wouldn’t have known. He’s shooting with the same confidence.”
Not only has Curry developed that confidence because of his skills, but the confidence also stems from some additional work. He has used his personal trainer (Brandon Payne) and a key Warriors assistant coach (Bruce Fraser) to put in work that entailed strengthening his muscles, perfecting both balanced and off-balanced shots as well as dissecting the opposing team’s evolving schemes. Through it all, Curry remains adamant he just needs to make one shot to end the slump. He remains patient that outcome has not happened yet.
“I don’t get preoccupied with thinking that’s the only part of my game that matters,” Curry said. “It will matter. I need to make shots for us to get to the level that we need to be at. But other than that, I’m not worried.”
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