Is Stephen Curry Overrated?

Posted by nvr1983 on January 4th, 2009

Since his 40 point explosion in Davidson’s first round victory over Gonzaga last March, college basketball fans have been bombarded with the Stephen Curry lovefest that has been spearheaded by Dick Vitale and ESPN. The WWL and other hoops aficionados loves to point out that Curry was ignored by every major school including Virginia Tech, the alma mater of his father NBA All-Star Dell Curry. Like every other basketball fan we love the way Stephen plays and his sweet stroke from the perimeter that has been augmented by a surprising ability to get to the hoop and finish. Since last March, it has been hard to find anybody that would be critical of the baby-faced assassin from Davidson, but here at Rush the Court we like to let our minds not our hearts analyze the situation.


Like many NBA scouts, I have had my reservations about anointing Stephen the next great NBA player much to the chagrin of some Davidson fans. However, I continued to marvel (see my post minutes after Davidson knocked Gonzaga out of the NCAA tournament in the first round last year) at his ability to put up numbers despite the best efforts of the opposition (with the exception of the antics of Jimmy Patsos). After watching his performance against Purdue (5/26 FG), his third sub-par game this year against quality (BCS-level) competition, I started to wonder if all those BCS conference coaches and NBA scouts may have been on to something. So I started to crunch the numbers, which led to some very surprising results.

To break down Curry’s career, I divided up his 82 career games into 4 major categories (overall, BCS + Gonzaga, Non-BCS, and Southern Conference) both year-by-year and his career. Even though Gonzaga technically isn’t a BCS team, I think we can agree that they have been a national power for the past decade and would reasonably be considered a BCS-level team (ignoring the past 2 weeks).

Struggling against the big boys. . .

Struggling against the big boys. . .

Although Curry is still able to get his against quality competition (25.7 PPG in BCS + Gonzaga compared to 24.2 PPG versus all other teams), he becomes significantly less efficient in doing so. His field goal percentage drops from 49.1% against non-BCS competition to 40.4% against BCS-level competition. The numbers become even more interesting when you look at Stephen’s numbers year-by-year against BCS-level competition.

Stephen Curry against "BCS" teams year-by-year

Big drop-off this season

While Stephen has been able to continue to increase his scoring against BCS-level teams each year, his field goal percentage has dropped precipitously this year. This could merely be the result of a couple of off-shooting nights (even MJ had his bad games), but it is more likely related to the increased load being placed on Curry as the team’s new point guard with the departure of Jason Richards, who led the nation in assists per game last year. However, despite having Richards shouldering the ball-handling load last year Curry’s shooting percentage was significantly lower in BCS games than it was in his games against non-BCS games.

What does all this mean? Aside from the obvious, that BCS teams are better than non-BCS teams, it raises the interesting (and controversial) argument that Stephen Curry may not be good as the hype suggests. He is certainly capable of putting up big numbers, but so were many other great college players who never were able to translate their game to the NBA.

Another great college player with a similar game. . .

Another great college player with a similar game. . .

While this certainly doesn’t mean that the big-time programs were right to pass over Curry (most teams could use a guy putting up those numbers), it does raise some questions as to just how good he actually is. Although blogs like to attack ESPN and other media outlets for endlessly hyping the Dukes and UNCs of the world, we might want to ask another question: are they giving too much credit to Curry and Davidson? He makes for a great story with his lineage and boyish looks then being passed over by every major program before ending up at a small school that strung together a nice run last March.

A comparison between Redick and Curry

A comparison between Redick and Curry

I hope that Stephen goes on to have a more prolific NBA career than J.J. Redick has to this point, but it is hard to see a statistical difference between the two when you compare Redick’s senior year to Curry’s junior year. [I felt comparing these two season was the most appropriate since NBA scouts had major reservations about J.J. until his senior season when he was the best player in the country–with a nod to Mr. Morrison–when they began to only have moderate reservations about him] In college, Redick was a phenomenal shooter, who never even bothered to look for the 3-point line as he routinely jacked up 25-footers while still shooting a ridiculous 42% from beyond the arc. By his senior year, he had even developed a drive to the hoop. While it wasn’t something that other teams feared it at least kept them honest, which is right around where Curry’s ability to drive is at this point. However, none of that helped Redick when he faced LSU’s Garrett Temple, whose athleticism and length frustrated J.J. into a 3-for-18 performance in his final college game. The question is whether Curry is any more developed and capable at this point than Redick was. Looking at the numbers and Curry’s big-game performances this year, I would have a tough time saying that Curry is even playing at the level J.J. did that year.

Lebron may want to sit down

Lebron may want to sit down

Like many other basketball fans, I would love to see Stephen prove me wrong during the rest of 2009, which would potentially set me up to earn a spot on the 2009 list of “Top 10 Erroneous Columns”. Honestly, I think it’s more likely that we’ll see Nolan Smith harass him into another 7-for-25 game at Cameron on Wednesday night.

nvr1983 (1397 Posts)

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23 responses to “Is Stephen Curry Overrated?”

  1. Jameson says:

    To be fair to Stephen, this year he doesn’t really have another stud scorer/distributor on the team. Davidson lost its second, third, and fourth leading scorer to graduation. He’s try to shoulder the load which to me is what is causing the drop off.

  2. TomahawkFlop says:

    I like Jameson’s take. Last year, Curry played the two and excelled in an offense designed to get him shots. Jason Richards was a very good point gaurd that knew how to run an offense. This year, and from seeing them play in person Saturday, Davidson really has no consistent way to get him the ball b/c they have no real point gaurd other than Curry. So he is having to get all of his own shots, which he’ll never be asked to do in the NBA anyway. They are trying to get Brendan McKillop more involved at the point to help Curry be more involved as a 2, but the bottom line is that Davidson isn’t as good as they were last year and the entire team seems to wait on Curry to shoot and score. Is this the only thing standing between Curry and a succesful NBA career? Hardly. He will always be able to shoot, but he’s too small and not quick enough to break down an opposing NBA defense. I think he can be a Jeff Hornacek type guy in the right offense, but does the NBA have a place anymore for a “Jeff Hornacek type”?

  3. Jay says:

    There is a difference between Curry and Redick-Redick played at Duke alongside a bunch of higher quality players. I think the most important part of this is that this forces Curry to be guarded by the opponent’s 6’9″ best defender. The opponent knows they can get away with this because Davidson doesn’t have anyone down low that can really kill them, including Lovedale, so they can afford to take their bigger guy and put him on Curry. Few teams would dare to try this against Redick, as Duke had plenty of other players do this. I doubt Curry will be expected to be the next superstar in the NBA who has to carry the whole load, so I doubt you will see SF’s and PF’s guarding Curry at that level. I’d like to see how Curry’s numbers look when he’s guarded by athletic defenders that are of the size he’s more likely to face in the NBA to get a more accurate prediction.

  4. Navy86 says:

    Good analysis, but you’re missing a key piece – what about Curry’s free throw attempts? One reason for his decrease in FG% could be that he’s going to the FT line more often. I honestly don’t know, but it would bolster your case if you included that stat. He’s gotta be getting his points somewhere – is he shooting that much more that his points increase despite his FG% decrease, or is he making up the difference on the line?

  5. actuallyknowledgeable says:

    This is weak analysis. For starters, we need to establish what people are actually saying about Curry. I haven’t heard anyone whith a sliver of credibility say Curry is going to be an NBA star. What is said is that he’s one of if not the best players in College basketball. Nothing in this article seems to refute that. The Redick comparison is simply incorrect. To say that Stephen is just keeping teams honest with his drive is flat wrong. Stephen is far better driving and creating his own shots than Redick ever was as a Senior. Look at how often he goes to the line, those aren’t from fouls on 3pt shots. So, is Curry overrated? No, he’s one of, if not the best players in college basketball. Is he better than JJ? Who cares, it’s a bad comparison. Two very different styles on two very different teams (yes different styles, both players being great 3 pt shooters does not mean they have the same style).

  6. rtmsf says:

    To me, the biggest finding here isn’t his dropoff from his fresh/soph years to this one; it’s the huge difference in shooting pcts. when he plays the more athletic BCS teams (+ Gonzaga).

    49%/44% are fantastic numbers for a guard, but he only shoots that well against the slower, less athletic SoCon/mid-major types. When a long team gets him in their sights, his pcts. go to 40%/35%, down 9% in both instances. Those are huge drops based simply on playing a bigger, more athletic team, and it’s true no matter which of his three seasons you examine.

    This is the major red flag in his game. How will he be able to navigate long, athletic defenders who are conditioned to frustrate and stop him?

  7. nvr1983 says:

    It’s a fair point about the lack of a great 2nd option for Davidson, but Lovedale’s 12.8 PPG and 9.6 RPG are certainly respectable. However, last year Curry had a better distributor (Richards) than Redick did his senior year (a freshman Greg Paulus) and Curry’s numbers were pretty similar to Redick’s (43%/40.6% vs. 46%/42.7%). I’m not saying that Curry isn’t a very good player just that at his best he’s probably only what Redick was as a senior (a very good player who would never be considered among the all-time great college players).

    Curry better get used to the PG role because that’s what he’s going to be playing the rest of his career unless he plans on becoming a 6th man. His ideal role on a NBA team would be something similar to the D’Antoni Suns where he could run the floor and spot up (a role that I thought JJ would have been perfect for too).

    There’s no doubt that Duke gets better players on average than Davidson does, but I think if you look closely at that 05-06 Duke team it isn’t as deep as you would expect. McRoberts was a decent player, but very streaky. Other than Shelden that Duke team didn’t really have many other consisent option. I don’t think Stephen has been covered by 6’9″ guys in most of these BCS game unless it was a switch. While the BCS guys aren’t quite the same caliber of athlete as NBA players, it’s the closest proxy we have.

    I’m not exactly sure how a drop in FG% would be related to more FT attempts since FG attempts while being fouled aren’t counted unless the player being fouled makes the shot. Anyways, I went back and calculated his FG and FT attempts each year in BCS vs. non-BCS games (Freshman: 15/3.5 vs. 15/4.4; Sophomore: 22/4 vs. 17/4.3; Junior: 29/8.5 vs. 18/7.1). What this shows is the number of FT attempts are pretty similar until this year. It also shows that his FG attempt differential, which was fairly high last year, has skyrocketed this year. I’m not sure if this is just Stephen pressing or a lack of faith in his “supporting cast”.

    Thanks for the comment. Curry is certainly one of the best players in college. I wasn’t trying to argue that. I’m sure any coach would love to have him on his team. My argument was that his numbers weren’t any better than JJ Redick’s. I’m not sure if it was because of the outright hatred of Redick (flamboyant, white poet from Duke), but I never heard anybody (outside of Vitale) mention him nearly as highly as I hear every commentator talk about Curry. I still don’t buy the idea that Curry is a great threat to drive. If anything, his ability to drive is predicated on his great outside shooting. He is able to drive by lesser opponents because they don’t have the athleticism to guard his shot while still being in position to stop his drive. When he plays against better competition (BCS teams), that becomes more clear because the opposing guards can do both.

  8. Jameson says:

    Fair points nvr. I’m guessing if Curry has another guard or this year’s Curry has another year with all those players from last year, he’s averaging probably close to the same scoring average, but his percentages would be up.

  9. Gummy says:

    Curry is good but he puts up Iverson-like attempts (22 shots per game). Look at James Harden’s numbers. He shoots 55 percent from the floor and 44 percent from three. Harden is averaging 25 points on 13.5 shots a game. Think what type of numbers he’d be putting up if he shot like Curry. And ASU isn’t that good. Their other potential pro Jeff Pendergraph has been pretty spotty.

  10. dave says:

    As a college player, Curry is not overrated. He’s a great college player, just as Reddick and Morrison were. So, NCAA announcers should be raving about him. I think it is unwise, however, to just look at the stats and call him another JJ.

    The numbers are down, but as other commenters have pointed out, some teams have put athletic small forwards on Curry (similar to how LSU treated Reddick in their tourney matchup a few years ago). Additionally, just about every team that faces Davidson designs their whole defensive scheme around stopping Curry, putting fresh defenders on him all game and double-teaming often. The extreme case was Loyola MD, who double-teamed him the whole game and held him scoreless. (Curry just stood in the corner and let his teammates play 4 on 3, winning by 20).

    In his day, teams were not afraid of Reddick winning a game by himself, and they couldn’t afford to focus that intently on him anyway, because his teammates were of a much higher caliber than are Curry’s. As streaky as McRoberts and Williams may have been, they are both on NBA rosters right now, which is more than can be said for anyone on the Davidson squad. Curry is the only player on his team who can create his own shot, and he is the only starter who can create a shot for anyone else.

    Although his numbers are slightly worse, Curry is putting them up with a depleted roster and with all 12 opposing defenders making him top priority every night. When West Virginia put a 6-7 defender on him and gave help defense all night, he only shot 33% from the floor, but he still got 27 points (13 of Davidson’s last 15 to win the game) and 10 assists. When Reddick had Garrett Temple on him, he was 3-18 with a single dime.

    What I haven’t heard are media members pimping Curry as a future NBA STAR. If they are, and if others are, then they are probably a little delusional, but I think comparing him to JJ in terms of NBA future is faulty as well. The major thing to consider is that they play different positions. Curry’s reasoning for returning to school this year was to get some reps in at the point, and he already has the ball handling skills and court vision to play the position capably. Reddick was never anything but a two-guard. The reason JJ can never get off the bench in Orlando is that, at 6-4 and crazy slow, he stands no chance of guarding NBA 2s, and you can’t move him to the point because he can’t play it. Curry won’t be able to guard Dwyane Wade either, but his ability to play the point will get him on the floor.

    Is a an NBA starter? I’m not sure. For the right team I could see it. Not, however, in a situation where a pure point guard was needed (he can be Mo Williams or Derek Fisher, he can’t be Rajon Rondo or Steve Nash). A major factor will be how good he is on defense at the highest level. But does he have an NBA career? Absolutely. I’d argue that Curry today is a better backup PG than Eddie House today, and the Celtics just showed that you can win a title with House in that spot.

    In simplest terms, JJ Redick is a jumpshooter. Stephen Curry is a ballplayer. I’ll take the latter.

  11. big ten geek says:

    There are some similarities between Redick and Curry, but I don’t see the two as very comparable. Curry’s assist rate ranks 4th in the country, in the sort of 40.0+ rarified-air that Redick could only dream of. Despite all this distributing, Curry’s kept his TO Rate comparable to Redick’s. The lesson here is not to rely on per game averages where you have alternatives available.

    Does any of this make Curry a future NBA player? Heavens no, the basketball community is still aching for that kind of analysis. I just think it means the two are different in substantial ways.

  12. njbball junkie says:

    stephen curry is not overrated. He is an amazing scorer and a matchup problem. Although his stats may be similar to Redick, curry has that game changing potential and has proven that he is a great attacker to the rim. He is the best scorer in NCAA avg 29.2. For Davidson, who is Davidson?! If he can make better decisions and actually take that leadership role he would be a force to be reckoned with.

  13. kory krigbuam says:

    you need to get the right info before you start saying stuff….. you compared him to j.j Redick but redick never even handled the ball or even drove the ball into the lane/key. so Dont make that kind of comparison BRO!!

  14. nvr1983 says:

    I’m not arguing the fact that Curry is a great college player just like I would never argue that JJ was a great college player. I’m just saying that people are taking the Curry love too far. Stephen played his best BCS game of the year against Duke, but that was mainly scoring. He might be better than JJ at taking guys to the hoop, but I don’t think it’s something a team with legit athletes really worries about. Even if he got his assists, I would have a hard time considering him an elite or even good PG right now. He might become one net year at the college level, but I think the stff the ESPN guys were saying was ridiculous. The rookie starting PG, 18-20 PPG as a rookie, and NBA superstar were thrown around by people who even clarified that they were serious. It wasn’t just Vitale as one of the “NBA commenators” said Curry would be a starting NBA PG right now. I think even Davidson fans would have a hard time believing that unless some NBA team lost all its PGs or doesn’t run a conventional offense/able to use a point forward like Lebron.

  15. Stephen says:

    It is admirable that you did this amount of research, but this argument is very heavily flawed. Obviously Curry’s shooting percentage is going to be down against better teams – his Davidson team is not very good without him and he is probably the only player on the team that can consistently create his own shot. The team is going to be fighting from behind most of the time and he’s going to be jacking up poorer shots and force things a bit to try to keep the team in the game.

    Comparing him to JJ Redick is slightly unfair since Redick was on a very good Duke team and got much better looks than Curry. A more fair analysis would be someone like Chris Paul who had to carry his Wake team with ACC teams stacking the defense against him every game.

  16. rtmsf says:

    Stephen – is that you?

    Please don’t compare Steph Curry to Chris Paul ever again. Thank you.

  17. nvr1983 says:

    Agree with above. Even Dick Vitale would laugh at comparing Stephen to CP3. I think that would be even more heavily flawed than some of you think my analysis was.

  18. enigel says:

    Stephen Curry is a decent basketball player. He is not a “great” basketbll player. He shoots way to much. Just this past weekend he went 3-16 from 3pt against Georgia Southern. I dont remeber Ray Allen, Chris Paul or even Duhon going 3-16 in a game. Tyler Hansborough doesnt shoot 30 shots in a game! He also went 5-26 in another game. Great Players do not do this. His teammates are constantly looking for him to score. And personally I think J.J. Reddick was a better player. There is a reason this kid plays for Davidson. Reddick was putting up big numbers in the ACC, not in the SOCON. And he was doing it at a better percentage and shooting LESS shots. Curry really cannot play the pg position at all, that is a joke. He cant drive and he doesnt have a lot of athleticism. He is also too small and weak. He also has a lot of turnovers and he cannot play defense, or rebound the basketball, like a rondo or paul.

  19. jmcarpenter says:

    What you’re also overlooking is the caliber of players Curry has on his team. I daresay Redick had a few more high school All-Americans playing with him at Duke than does Curry. I believe you should look at what Bobby Knight said about Curry. If he played with better players, he’d be even better. BCS schools who defense Curry don’t have to worry about a big man like Blake Griffith inside who can score. If defenses had to plan to defend Curry and one or two other legitimate offensive threats, his value would increase.

  20. nvr1983 says:

    Thanks for the comment. Several other people on this post have made a similar comment. It’s true that Redick had better players around him, but I’m not sure that excuses Curry’s atrocious shooting against BCS teams this season (up to that point–I haven’t run the numbers since then). Obviously, he would be better if he had better players around him, but I’m guessing his PPG production would go down as the entire offense wouldn’t be geared for getting him shots like it is now. As for Duke’s offensive threats that year, Shelden and McRoberts were decent players, but neither of them was a major force. Maybe they were a little tougher to double off of, but if Curry was a good PG he would find the open guys and as mediocre as the rest of Davidson is they should be able to make an open shot.

  21. stanton says:

    So this article is probably why you run a blog and not a reputable website….Steph is going to win ROY and you thought he was overrated in college….HAHA get a real job fool.

  22. nvr1983 says:

    You might want to try reading the article instead of transposing the words from the title of the article. Curry is having a better rookie season than I would have expected, but then again he is in the perfect situation for him offensively much like JJ would have been in if Phoenix had drafted him. Nellie-ball lets him run and gun without showcasing his defensive limitations that would limit his playing time. If you want to rip my scouting/analysis (of which this was purely numbers) feel free to cite me for talking up Sam Young and DeJuan Blair last year too when I was at the Pitt-Providence game with NBA scouts. Also you might want to talk to Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Omri Casspri, Ty Lawson, Jonny Flynn, and DeJuan Blair about that ROY thing before handing it to Curry.

    PS Unlike 17.5% of the country I do have a real job.

  23. Grimlock says:

    While I find it hard to judge your analysis of Curry as any worse than mediocre considering just how few people really thought he would be an NBA star (I think the list basically consisted of Dick Vitale and Don Nelson), you should probably just man up and admit that you swung and missed here. Being defensive about it doesn’t help. Curry is just a special player who has found a fairly unique niche in the NBA.

    Would JJ have been better in a run & gun offense? Sure, but there is nothing to indicate he’d have been anywhere near Curry’s level. That you continue to make this comparison just makes you look like a stubborn hater. And you’re wrong that Nellie Ball doesn’t expose Curry’s defensive weaknesses. In many ways, it exposes them more than a normal system because perimeter players get zero help, and the Warriors don’t have any good perimeter defenders to provide help even if the system allowed for it. Curry will never be a lockdown defender, but he has proven that he is not a liability, either, and can be highly disruptive as a ball thief even in a system which does nothing to help him on the defensive end.

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