Why Curry’s Record is More Impressive Than You Think

Since about 2016, it's been nearly inevitable that Steph Curry would break the all-time three-pointer record that was previously held by Ray Allen. The only big question was if Curry's recurring ankle problems that cost him most of the 2011-12 season and about 40% of the 2017-18 season would preclude him from getting to Allen's 2,973 threes.

On Dec. 14, Curry broke the record in Madison Square Garden. Not only is he not close to the end of his career, but he could also be in the midst of a third MVP season, which would put him in a legendary club of just eight others in NBA history.

And yet this feels like a record that somehow went a bit under the radar until about a week before it was to be broken. That feels like a credit to Steph as well.

In November, when talking via text about the Warriors' hot start this season with a friend, I casually mentioned that he'd easily break the existing record sometime before the start of 2022.

"What?!?! Are you serious?"

Excluding the 2019-20 season in which Curry played just five games and the Warriors were one of the worst teams in the league, Steph has averaged more than four three-point makes in each season since 2015-16. He's averaging about 5.4 made threes a game this season as of Dec. 17. Allen's career-high was 3.45 in 2006 — which was an NBA record at the time.

It would be easy to dismiss Curry's new record as a function of the explosion in three-point attempts — something I think the NBA should address. But even when you account for the record number of attempts league-wide, no one has the green light to shoot like Curry or the same successes as a volume shooter who is the focal point of defenses.

While it's of course extremely impressive that Curry broke the record in his 789th career game to Allen's total of 1,300, the sky could be the limit for the ultimate record number when Curry retires. Even with a pretty conservative total of 250 threes per season for the next four years after this year, he'd be at somewhere around 4,300. Mind you, he's on pace for about 430 threes in 2021-22.

For context, James Harden is at 2,509 (entering the league the same year as Curry) and stands a good chance of catching Allen at No. 2. But he doesn't have a chance to catch Curry at a career average of 2.8 makes a game and a 6 percent worse career clip from deep.

Players learning the game today and developing into young prospects have grown up with the three-pointer as a much more common shot than it used to be, so it is theoretically possible for another Curry-esque, mercurial shooter to come along in the coming years and threaten the future record total — but it's extremely unlikely for a generation or two.

One thing to remember is that basketball evolves rather quickly. Even though three-pointers will be shot more than they were 20 and 30 years ago, teams will get better at defending them. In fact, it's already happening. While three-point attempts are up slightly from last season, three-point field goal percentage is down about 2% league-wide.

It could be that Curry's ultimate number of threes stands the test of time — but I don't think it's the most untouchable career NBA record. That honor goes to John Stockton's assist record of 15,806.

Since the 2000-01 season, the league assists leader each season has averaged 10.8 dimes per game. Even averaging the league leader mark for the last 20 seasons, it would take a player 1,464 games to break Stockton's record. That's 19 and a half seasons of 75 games played. Only six players in history have played more than 1,464 games. If basketball has a version of Cy Young's 511 wins that can't realistically be approached, that's it.

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