As the heralded “King” of basketball since his days at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, LeBron James has certainly lived up to the extensive hype, which preceded his inauguration into the NBA. James’ multiple championship rings and MVP awards can attest to the eminence of his tenure in the league. LeBron has indisputably been the greatest player in the NBA for the past few seasons (aside from Kevin Durant’s current breakthrough season).
A key component to LeBron’s success is his hefty stature. At 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, he embodies the physique of both a typical NBA big and a skilled guard welded with freakish athleticism. When he drives to the hoop, one can compare his assertiveness to that of an unstoppable freight train. However, does the self-proclaimed “King James” wear the crown of optimum offensive dominance? Although perhaps an unlikely candidate, there is one youthful, promising player who may have surpassed LeBron as a more deadly offensive threat: Stephen Curry
As the NBA shifts into an era of profuse 3-point shooting, Steph Curry’s historic shooting prowess has emerged onto the scene in an electrifying fashion. With his slender 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame, Curry dazzled witnesses of last year’s playoffs with his own distinct style of play. Leaving the mouths of onlookers gaped in awe, Steph coolly torched the opposition with his erratic step-back threes. Albeit captivating, perhaps Curry’s nifty crossovers and overreliance on long-range shots is an extravagant style of play. A plethora of modern basketball players’ performances reflect style over substance. Players who resemble “AND1” street-ballers, such as Kyrie Irving and Nick Young, have a proclivity for volume shooting and flashy crossovers. They’re certainly entertaining to watch, but that’s not the most efficient way to execute plays. Fortunately, Steph does not fall under this category of inefficiency. In fact, Curry’s mastery on offense makes him offensively comparable to, if not better than LeBron.
Based on raw stats, LeBron is clearly superior to Curry on offense. He averages 26.8 points per game (PPG) on an über-effficent field goal percentage of 56.8 percent. On the other hand, Curry averages fewer points, totaling 23.5 PPG on a respectable 46.8 percent from the field. Factoring in assists, however, elucidates which player produces more points for his team. With 8.5 assists per game, Curry generates 19.1 points solely through his assists, according to NBA.com/stats. He’s upped his assisting average annually since his debut in the league, and he’s developed into an elite facilitator. Thus, Curry contributes a total of 42.6 points for his team when his points and assist results are combined. LeBron (6.4 assists per game) generates 15.5 points through his assists, and contributes a total of 42.3 points for his team. Nevertheless, what really separates Curry from LeBron as a scorer is Steph’s versatility on offense.
As aforementioned, LeBron is physically a beast, making it a laborious task for defenders to contain him while he attempts a shot in the paint or penetrates his way to the hoop. Physicality is his glaring advantage. Per NBA.com/Stats, LeBron drives 7.1 times per game and shoots 64% when he does so. While charging through defenses, his barbaric mannerisms resemble the likes of a starving rhinoceros. The shot-distribution-chart below shows that more than half of James’s shot attempts originate from the painted area.
LeBron Not A Perimeter Player
It’s almost fanciful to classify LeBron as a perimeter player because of his center-like shot attempts around the basket. According to MySynergySports, James utilizes transition plays more than any other category on offense (21.6 percent of the time). It’s no wonder that he has a sky-high field goal percentage. This starving rhinoceros is cognizant of the fact that close-range shots have the highest chance of going in, and his hunger to win arouses his beastly disposition to vehemently attack the basket. As an observer of the Heat-Pacers game on March 26, LeBron exhibited his intrusive playing-style. There was a play where he stormed to the basket and inadvertently clobbered Roy Hibbert in the head with his elbow, leaving Hibbert feeling woozy. In addition to his strength and ferociousness, LeBron’s competent passing and ball-handling skills make him nearly un-guardable during one-on-one. He’s too quick for bigger defenders, and too strong for smaller perimeter players. In this case, sagging off of him and letting him shoot jumpers seems like the most viable option. However, not only can James kick the ball out to a teammate while driving, but also allowing him space from the perimeter gives him a great view of the court to make a good pass.
Another facet of LeBron’s game that he’s embellished over the years is posting-up. He averages 1.09 points per possession while posting up and converts 55.9 percent of his attempts, which ranks sixth in the league per MySynergySports. There is nearly a 30 percent chance that his shot ends up—guess where—at the rim, which is twice as much as last year.
From every area on the court excluding the paint, James does minimal damage. He makes 1.6 mid-range shots per game on a mediocre 37.9 percent shooting. He shoots an adequate percentage from the 3 (37.3) due to his conservative nature from beyond the arc, where James makes 1.5 shots per game. In fact, shooting jumpers has never been one of his strong suits, and often times he’s been criticized for being passive. It’s as if his confidence sporadically escapes him. For instance, On March 4 against the Houston Rockets, LeBron scored a massive 19 points in the first half. In the second half he scored a grand total of three points and the Heat fell to the Rockets. Oh yeah, and Jeremy Lin was guarding him for most of the second half (let’s not forget the 2011 NBA Finals where LeBron was occasionally shut down by shrimp-sized Jose Barea). “King James” has also shown a propensity for passing up a few opportune shots (perhaps in order to preserve his gaudy field goal percentage). Of course, it’s prudent to be conscientious about your shot-selection. But a player of LeBron’s caliber should be able to play freely, purged from intermittent hesitation.
In comparison, Steph Curry and hesitation can scarcely ever be associated together. His 3-point barrages simulate fireworks when he catches a rhythm. Whether it’s off the dribble, catch-and-shoot, or eyes closed, he’s an efficacious shooter. Curry knocks down a highly efficient percentage 49.5 percent on all catch-and-shoot opportunities. His pull-up shots are also deadly. Steph takes 10.1 shots off the dribble per game and has an Effective Field Goal (eFG) percentage of 52.7 percent, which is currently the best in the league (minimum 1.5 makes per game). Unfortunately, there isn’t a stat that tracks his shots with his eyes closed. Steph’s competency in sinking a variety of 3s (catch and shoot, pull-up, step back, via pick-and-roll, etc.,) at such a high volume makes him arguably the greatest shooter that the NBA has ever seen. Unlike most 3-point shooters, he doesn’t depend on his teammates to set him up for open shots. Night in and night out, Curry is the No. 1 option on his team, as well as the No. 1 focus of defenses. Even still, he managed to break the record for most 3s made in a single season with 272 while shooting 45 percent from deep last year. No one else in the top 20 of 3-pointers made had a better percentage. Besides the accuracy of his outside shot, Curry may have a release that is quicker than any seen before in the NBA:
As expected, curry makes his fair amount of mistakes, and a glaring flaw in Steph’s game is his high turnover rate. He leads the league in turnovers with 3.7 per game. His miscues are somewhat warranted though, given the fact that the Warriors are one of the fastest-paced teams in the league (more possessions create more turnover opportunities), and the team’s heavy reliance on Curry to create plays for himself and his teammates. Nonetheless, LeBron’s turnover rate is on the same plane as Curry’s. Golden State is the eighth-fastedst paced team in the NBA, while the Heat are 26th in that category. Also, Curry averages nearly four more touches per game and possesses the ball in his hands 2 more minutes per game than LeBron, per SportVU. Yet, James is merely 0.2 turnovers shy of matching Steph’s turnovers per game with 3.5. Given the circumstances, the “King” is no less turnover-prone with the ball than Curry.
An underlying ingredient to Curry’s pull-up shot is his shrewd ball-handling, which may be an even greater weapon than his shooting aptitude. It’s conducive to his needle-threading drives and ability to baffle defenders by changing directions or stopping on a dime, freeing him up to launch deadeye shots or dish a bull’s-eye pass from everywhere on the court, not just beyond the arc.
Steph also utilizes the mid-range shot, which has become somewhat of a lost art in the NBA. 21.3 percent of Curry’s shots originate from mid-range, where he connects on 49.4 percent of his tries (just 12.2 percent and 37.9 percent from mid-range for LeBron). Basically, Curry is superior to LeBron from every area on the court outside of the paint by a wide margin. However, Steph is much underrated in his ability to get to the hoop. He drives 6.2 times per game and shoots a proficient 50.2 percent when he does so, generating a total of 7.3 points for his team. Even if defenders take away Steph’s long-range shot, he’s adapted to taking it to the hole and either scoring or dishing the ball to a teammate. One way to nullify James’s strength on offense is to take away his driving game. This is easier said than done, but packing the paint and forcing him to employ his mediocre jumper is certainly a viable option for containing LeBron. Chasing a crafty ball-handler around the perimeter who sporadically pulls up for knockdown shots, along with the capability of penetrating through the seams of the defense, is a more intricate task for opposing teams. Zach Lowe, a writer for Grantland.com, wrote “A 45 percent 3-point shooter given total freedom to shoot off the dribble on the pick-and-roll is an anomaly for which NBA defenses just aren’t prepared. It is a glitch in the program.”
Ultimately, both Steph and LeBron are incredible offensive talents. But like David Stern’s and now Adam Silver’s adage when bestowing the Larry O’Brien Trophy upon the championship team, there can only be one: Stephen Curry.