As Golden State surges, Stephen Curry slogs through maybe his worst shooting slump ever. The career 43.7 percent 3-point ace is shooting well below career averages, having gone 22 percent from beyond the arc in his past five games. His 38.8 3-point percentage is fine for a normal point guard, but Curry isn’t normal. He’s not even supposed to suffer slumps.
This is all happening after the media and fans dubbed him “the best shooter” with as much consensus as can exist in the Internet age. For years, Curry’s shot was a refuge of excellence inside an otherwise completely dysfunctional operation. You couldn’t trust the Warriors to play a semblance of defense, avoid managerial infighting, or refrain from giving Stephen Jackson a surprise contract extension, but you could trust Curry to make an open jumper.
Could that trust be fading, even while Curry’s growth as a passer fuels the offense? Those open jumpers are rattling out right now, sending sighs and murmurs through a confused crowd. It’s easy to blame the dipping 3-point numbers on the audacity of his attempts, but Curry has managed a mere 33.3 percent on corner 3-pointers this season. He’s just missing, as “normal” NBA players do on occasion. You can blame fatigue if you’re uncomfortable with “randomness,” but one thing is certain: You can never, ever blame self-doubt.
At Warriors practice, Curry states: “As a shooter, you always have confidence. You don’t really worry about it. Obviously you see the numbers dropping. Not too worried about it.”
He says it curtly, his faintly red goatee twitching in possible annoyance. Few players exude Curry’s affability, but negative queries about his shot are merely tolerated. They’re also quickly treated with a kind of dismissive optimism. When a Warriors sideline reporter asked about the slump right after a game-winner against Boston, Curry’s response was a swift affirmation: “Never lose confidence.”
Similar to his coach in this respect, Curry can sound like an evangelist for belief itself. Though seemingly antithetical to the “humility” he is sometimes praised for, Curry’s immense confidence shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s thought about his career for more than a couple of minutes. How else does a kid that skinny rise from Davidson to the NBA lottery and beyond? Such a feat almost has to come with a bravado that borders on delusion.
When asked about recruiters passing over him, Curry speaks of slights that motivated -- not of having exceeded his wildest NBA dreams. When the outside world didn’t figure Curry for an NBA player, he remained faithful in a future the rest of us now see.
He’s since arrived at superstardom, but still seeks to disprove whatever doubts people might still have. There’s the whole business of whether he’s a “true point guard,” a debate that’s rankled him for years.
With Jarrett Jack gone, Curry has carried out his best Steve Nash imitation. He’s second in assists league-wide, with a career-high 9.3 per game. When Curry takes to the bench, he sits on a button that implodes the Golden State offense. The Warriors are 23.3 points per 100 possessions worse offensively when Curry is not in the game.
Even with that shot not falling as much, he fuels the offense with passes and space afforded to his less-feared teammates. Curry is posting statistical career highs, securing an All-Star starter spot, and leading a winner, ironically all while faltering at his defining skill. The “best shooter” has never been more famous for a stroke that betrays him through unprecedented individual success.
In response to whether he’d prefer to be known as a great shooter or a great point guard, Curry eventually elects for the “point guard” distinction. “I don’t know if they polled the GMs again if I’d still be the third-best shooting guard. Have to see,” he muses with a smirk.
A reporter asks how he stays humble, to which Curry speaks of an ability to “compartmentalize our success.” I then ask if humility is at odds with the confidence required to do the job.
“You can definitely have an attitude about you, a confidence about you, that whatever you can do on the court, nobody can stop you.” Curry transitions from that braggadocious sentiment to how such an attitude must not become corrosive. “It doesn’t have to turn into quote, unquote an ego, or, everything you do is the best ... You can’t do it without everybody else.”
This is the scoring point guard’s tricky balancing act. You must believe you’re better than everyone while sharing the ball with many. You must keep hoisting at a high volume, even if you’re slumping, and even if you can duck your scoring responsibilities with extra passes here or there.
“I definitely think you gotta have that confidence or else you’ll get exposed on the court,” he said. “But there are ways to handle it the right way.”
This season, it would appear Curry is handling it right, even when the shot’s all wrong.