3-point king: Curry passes Allen for NBA record

Stephen Curry seems more relatable than most NBA superstars to kids shooting hoops at the playground, because who doesn’t love heaving 30-footers, but in reality his might be the most difficult skill to replicate.

Coached by the most accurate 3-point shooter in history, brother to Steve Kerr’s runner-up and the son of a 3-point shooting pioneer, Curry is the perfect storm of efficiency and volume. He surpassed Hall of Famer Ray Allen’s career record of 2,973 successful 3-point field goals on Tuesday against the New York Knicks — in more than 500 fewer games — and his 43.1% 3-point field-goal rate ranks seventh on the all-time list.

Kyle Korver is the only other player to rank top-10 in 3-point makes and percentage. The one-time All-Star averaged 4.6 triples for 17 seasons and fell more than 500 short of Curry’s record. The Golden State Warriors sensation has attempted almost twice as many 3s per game for his career — a figure that has climbed to an NBA-record 13.4 this season — and connected on a higher percentage of them than Korver. 

It is almost impossible to Curry’s blend of accuracy and volume into perspective, but Dirk Nowitzki tried.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in sight now that can break his record,” the future Hall of Famer said on a conference on Monday. “He changed the game. He makes it look too easy. He’s the best shooter I’ve ever seen, and I think it’s clear he is the best catch-and-shoot player, but where he’s so good is off the dribble, and I think that’s something he added — the quick 3 off the dribble. It’s one motion, and his shot is gone. …

“Everybody can root for him because he’s not super athletically gifted, and he’s a smaller guy,” added the 7-foot Nowitzki, whose 1,982 career 3-pointers rank 13th all-time. “I think everybody can relate to him.”

Stephen Curry’s quest for 4,500 career 3-pointers

Curry said this past February he would like to play until he’s “pushing 40,” a little older than his father Dell was when he retired after 16 seasons a month shy of his 38th birthday. Allen and Reggie Miller (now third on the all-time list of successful 3-point shooters) both played 18 seasons and retired in their late 30s.

Shooting ages well. If Curry were to play only five more years at his current career clip — one that includes a six-year ramp-up in volume and more than two seasons lost to injury — he would retire with 4,441 made 3-pointers, 1,468 more than Allen. For reference, Bradley Beal has made 1,405 3-pointers in 10 seasons.

It would have taken Allen 648 more games (eight more fully healthy seasons) to catch 4,441 3-pointers at his career rate of 40% on 5.7 3-point attempts per game. Miller would have had to play until he was 52 years old at his career clip of 39.5% on 4.7 3-point attempts per game. At his rate of 42.9% on 4.6 nightly attempts, Korver would have been 51 by the time he reached Curry’s fairly conservative career projection.

Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry might be better at shooting than any other athlete is at any skill in any sport. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry might be better at shooting than any other athlete is at any skill in any sport. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

James Harden can only chase second place

Consider Curry’s current peers. Only three other active players have eclipsed 2,000 career 3-pointers: James Harden, Damian Lillard and LeBron James, respectively fourth, 10th and 11th on the all-time list.

Lillard is the closest we have seen to a high-usage assassin like Curry, and he would need almost 300 more games (or four more seasons) at his current career clip of 37.3% on eight attempts per game just to get to where his Warriors rival is right now. Lillard would reach 4,441 career 3-pointers by his mid-40s at this rate.

Harden is another example of how even slight dips in accuracy (36.3%) and volume (7.7 3-point attempts per game) can push Curry’s record and career projection further out on the horizon. Selected four spots ahead of Curry in the 2009 draft, Harden has played 115 more games and sits almost 500 3-pointers short of the record. At his career rate, he will catch Allen for second on the all-time list in 159 more games.

As for that 4,441 mark, Harden would need to approach Robert Parish’s career record of 1,611 games played to have a shot at catching Curry’s projection. Considering Harden is shooting 35.3% on 7.2 3-point attempts per game at age 32, it is hard to imagine he could maintain higher rates past his 41st birthday. It is even harder to imagine Harden will match the 21 remarkably healthy seasons Parish played in his career. 

And then there is LeBron, an entirely different kind of player who will finish top-10 in made 3-pointers more for his career longevity than his accuracy (34.5%) or volume (4.4 per game). He would need to play 20 more healthy seasons at his current career clip to reach the 4,441 3-pointers Curry is currently projected to make.

Trae Young is barely a blip on Steph Curry’s radar

It takes a certain mix of skill and audacity to even attempt what Curry is doing, and we have seen that from Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young. He entered the league at age 20 and attempted 9.5 triples per game in his second season. He is shooting 34.9% on 7.1 attempts per game through his first three-plus seasons. It will take Young 1,194 games at that rate to achieve what Curry has now done in 789. To reach the 4,500 mark that Curry could set, Young would also have to maintain his current level for 20 more healthy seasons.

Not happening. Now, could someone enter the league as an 18-year-old marksman and shoot 40% over a 20-year career? Absolutely. Allen nearly accomplished that, despite entering the league in 1996, when the league average was 16.8 attempts per game — for an entire team. Still, that one player would have to shoot 40% on 7.5 attempts a night playing 75 games a season for two decades to convert 4,500 3s for his career.

Essentially, you need someone with Robert Parish’s longevity, Ray Allen’s accuracy and James Harden’s usage to match what Curry is on pace to do in the span of a Richard Jefferson or Terry Cummings’ career.

Is Steph Curry’s shooting the greatest skill in all of sports?

The best way to put Curry’s shooting into perspective might be this: Only five times has a player made more than 300 3-pointers in a season, and Curry accounts for four of them. Harden is the only other one to do it, and he required an NBA-record 1,028 attempts to make 378 in the 2018-19 season. Curry attempted the second-most 3s in a season (886) during his unanimous MVP campaign in 2015-16 and made 402 — a record that still stands … for now. Curry is on pace this season to exceed that mark by a significant margin.

In other words, Curry just set the career 3-point record shooting at a single-season record rate.

Good luck catching him. The question is not whether Curry is the greatest shooter ever to live (he is), but whether the gap between him and the second-greatest shooter is wider than at any other skill in the game.

Wilt Chamberlain’s 23,924 career rebounds and John Stockton’s 15,806 assists are as close as the NBA comes to unbreakable records. Chamberlain grabbed 11% more rebounds than second-place Bill Russell and 37% more than third-place Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Stockton logged 31% more assists than second-place Jason Kidd and 50% more than third-place Chris Paul. Those are standards that may never be met.

Should Curry meet that projection of 4,441 career 3-pointers, he will have made 50% more than Allen. That is a slightly higher percentage gap than the one between Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857 career points in the NHL — arguably the most unbreakable major individual statistical record in sports — and Jaromir Jagr’s 1,921.

There is a case to be made, then, that Curry is better at shooting than any athlete is at any skill in any sport.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach