Even though he has barely played all season, Wardell Stephen Curry remains the most influential basketball player in the world.
Curry’s season lasted all of four games before he fractured his hand. And yet the two-time MVP has left his fingerprints on every arena in the NBA, and beyond. Every instance in which a shooter launches one from the parking lot, Curry should receive a commission.
Call it a Steph infection.
Remember when a 3-point shot was considered deep? Yawn. That’s, like, soooo 2015. In the past four years, the number of 30-foot shots made in the NBA has nearly doubled. In today’s game, a regular, garden-variety 24-foot 3-pointer might as well be a layup.
Now the truly deep shot is the 30-footer. It’s not even unusual to see a guy pull-up and fire from the center-court logo. That would have been a heave in the olden days, but the modern player flicks it up there with the same form — even the same accuracy, in many cases — as his regular jumper.
Like urban sprawl extending its reach across a community, the game of basketball has expanded outward. The coach who views the 3 as a last resort is a dinosaur. On many teams — be they NBA, college or high school — every position on the court boasts range to the 3-point line, while the elite shooters must be guarded as soon as they cross half court.
They make the ridiculous look routine. Remember when Chris Kyle nailed the kill shot from 2,100 yards away in “American Sniper?” That’s every night in the modern NBA.
The vanguard, the groundbreaker, the mastermind behind this Trey-volution is Curry. Before Steph arrived on the scene, nobody pulled up from 30 feet unless it was an end-of-quarter fling. But this guy had range like we’d never seen before. His shots weren’t just deep, they were James Earl Jones-recording-an-audiobook-of-“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”-while-submerged-in-a-submarine deep.
Curry — and to a lesser extent his fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson — spawned an entire generation of imitators. And why not? They scored thousands of points, seized countless all-star appearances and other awards, and won three championships, all while flinging bombs from across the bay at Alcatraz.
Curry redefined what we consider a long-distance shot. In his wake came the likes of James Harden, Trae Young, De’Angelo Russell, Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard. I’d consider Lillard as the current king of the 30-footer. Maybe he wasn’t the shot’s trailblazer, but the eighth-year Blazers guard has extended his range to the point where he is out-Stephing Steph.
Lillard’s series-ending dagger against Oklahoma City in last year’s playoffs should go down as the greatest buzzer beater in NBA playoff history. In terms of sheer degree of difficulty, it was the Olympic diving equivalent of a reverse 4.5-somersault from the pike position … while juggling a trio of flaming torches. Lillard made a stepback, fadeaway 37-footer as time expired that touched nothing but net. I mean, come on.
Then-OKC forward Paul George, one of the best on-ball defenders on the planet, was incredulous after the game.
“Yeah, that’s a bad shot. I don’t care what anybody says,” George said. “That’s a bad shot. But he made it. That story won’t be told, that it was a bad shot. You have to live with it.”
Hey, Paul, do you think that might’ve been a bad shot? Here’s the thing, though. It really wasn’t. At least not for Lillard, who attempts four 30-footers per game this season. His average 3-pointer travels a distance of 27.6 feet, a full four feet behind the line.
For some guys, sure, it’s a bad shot. But that’s absolutely in the holster for guys like Lillard, Harden and Young.
To see how much the game has changed, one should look no further than this weekend’s NBA 3-Point Contest during All-Star Saturday. For the first time, the contest will feature two new shooting zones in addition to the traditional five spots around the arc — right corner, right wing, top of key, left wing, left corner. These “Mountain Dew Zones” — maybe because they’re so extreme? — are located another six feet behind the 3-point arc and will be worth three points. (Normal shots in the 3-point contest are worth one point, and the red-white-and-blue money balls are worth two. NBA math is weird.)
Even if you skip NBA’s All-Star extravangaza, you can still nightly witness the Three-For-All that Curry wrought at arenas and gyms all over the country. You see it in the college game, you see it on the high school level. Heck, in the past five or six years, I’ve seen more pull-up attempts from 30 feet in pickup games than I’d witnessed in four decades of playing ball before that.
Does that mean that one day basketball will introduce a 4-point line? (Ice Cube’s Big Three Summer League actually already has one.) Does it mean that the half-court stripe will constitute the new deep shot? I don’t know, but I can guarantee you this: The 30-foot bomb isn’t going anywhere. By next month, there’ll be more of them than ever.
How do I know?
Curry is pegged to return the first week of March.