PHOTO BY DANIEL KATZ
Despite the Warriors being in the middle of a historic season, there seems to be an undertone of disappointment and negativity regarding the way Stephen Curry is being officiated by NBA referees.
This is not a new complaint, mind you, because it goes all the way back to former coach Mark Jackson. Center Andrew Bogut has also mentioned Curry’s inability to get calls from the referees, and last year during the NBA Finals Curry’s wife, Ayesha, called the officiating “disgraceful” after Game 1.
Watch any Warriors game on television and follow along on Twitter and you’re sure to see complaint after complaint about how Curry should be going to the foul line much more than he already is.
The reality is Curry is going to the foul line exactly how much he deserves to go to the foul line – which is a lot, actually. If you compare this season to seasons past, Curry is getting more calls than he ever has in his career. Which is a surprise because of the way he’s playing this year.
This season, Curry is averaging 5.8 free throw attempts per game, or 6.1 free throws per 36 minutes. Last season, Curry went to the line 4.2 times per game, or 4.6 times per 36 minutes. That’s a nice little increase.
In fact, it’s more than a little increase if you factor in the way Curry is going about things. With more than half the season in the bank, Curry is taking a remarkable 55 percent of his field goal attempts from beyond the 3-point line. Last year, Curry took 48 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. Yet despite this increase in long-distance shots, Curry’s free throw attempts are up 38 percent from a year ago. On the surface, that wouldn’t seem like something to complain about. That’s pretty good for a player shooting almost 11 3-pointers per game. After all, it stands to reason that the more 3-pointers you shoot, the less likely you’ll be to go to the line.
One question you often hear is: why doesn’t Curry get to the line as frequently as James Harden or Russell Westbrook? The answer is simple: Because he doesn’t get fouled as much as those other guys.
When you think of Curry, you certainly think of a player with the ability to penetrate and finish in the lane. He’s got a variety of ways to convert – by using either his right or left hand, going high off the backboard, tear-dropping from distance or using the rim as protection.
But Curry is not an attacker of the rim like Harden or Westbrook – nor should he be. Curry tends to use creativity and cleverness in the key. I would argue that, for the most part, Curry goes into the lane looking to avoid contact rather than seek it out. Curry is more trying to bait a defender into fouling him rather than taking a body blow and muscling through. Which is the way he should play because physically he’s often at a disadvantage in there.
Harden and Westbrook often are looking for the foul first and foremost when they go to the bucket. They’re searching out contact, with the No. 1 goal being: Get to the line. Curry doesn’t approach things that way, and he shouldn’t. He’s a different kind of player, after all.
The foundation of Curry’s game is the outside shot, and he built on that foundation and won the MVP last season. This year, Curry is even better than he was last season and is the front-runner to win that again. And he’s getting to the foul line more than he ever has – and exactly how much he should be going there.