How Many Shots Is Too Much?
What's your favorite memory of Stephen Curry? Three years ago he captivated the nation in March as the scoring star of Davidson; he had his own Witnesses (see: LeBron) on the road to the Elite Eight; he was so enthralling that when his Wildcats lacked an NCAA tournament-worthy résumé the following season, writers begged the selection committee to create a special Curry exemption and give him a bid.
Curry's legacy, however, may be as much about numbers as it is about memories, because no successful NCAA tournament team in the past 10 years has been more reliant on one player than Davidson was on him. He carried the Wildcats by taking copious amounts of shots in that 2008 tourney. According to Statsheet.com data, in their opening-round win over Gonzaga, he took 39.5 percent of their field-goal attempts while he was on the floor. In their second-round upset of Georgetown, he took 40.9 percent. In the Sweet 16 against Wisconsin, he took 44.8 percent, and in the Elite Eight against Kansas, when Davidson's run finally ended, 43.8 percent of its shots were taken by Curry. Curry's four-game shot-percent average of 42.3 is the highest of any Elite Eight-or-beyond player in the NCAA tournament over the past 10 years, according to SI.com's research.
It appears that getting to the Final Four requires a certain degree of team balance. There hasn't been a Final Four team over that stretch with a player who took more than 36.9 percent of shots during the dance, and there are only nine instances of a player averaging more than 30 percent of his team's shots:
1. Jay Williams, Duke, 2000-01 (six games): 36.9 percent
2. Dwyane Wade, Marquette, 2002-03 (five games): 35.6 percent
3. A.J. Price, UConn, 2008-09 (five games): 35.4 percent
4. Glen Davis, LSU, 2005-06 (five games): 34.9 percent
5. Arron Afflalo, UCLA, 2006-07 (five games): 32.4 percent
6. Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse, 2002-03 (six games): 32.2 percent
7. Durrell Summers, Michigan State, 2009-10 (six games): 32.1 percent
8. Kevin Love, UCLA, 2007-08 (five games): 30.4 percent
9. Ben Gordon, UConn, 2003-04 (six games): 30.2 percent
The reason we're re-examining Curry -- and Williams and Wade -- on the eve of the 2011 NCAA tournament is because it's the farewell tour for BYU's Jimmer Fredette, and his shooting volume of late has exceeded Curryian levels. In the Cougars' past five games, while they've been playing without Honor Code violator Brandon Davies, The Jimmer has taken the following percentages of BYU's shots:
March 2 vs. New Mexico: 51.8 percent
March 5 at Wyoming: 39.4 percent
March 10 vs. TCU (MWC tourney): 42.0 percent
March 11 vs. New Mexico (52-point game in MWC tourney): 54.4 percent
March 12 vs. San Diego State (MWC tourney): 42.3 percent
That's a five-game average of 46.0 percent, which is beyond what Curry posted on the '08 NCAA tournament. When we overlay The Jimmer's full '10-11 season (by %shots taken) on a graph against Curry's '07-08 season, we see that the two players' polynomial regression lines (in black) are similar until about game 20, at which point The Jimmer's line diverges and starts climbing toward the 50-percent range:
Can BYU possibly emerge as the Southeast Region's camp with The Jimmer's shot volume in such uncharted territory? The odds are against the Cougars. Davidson fell short with its star in the low 40s, and only three Final Four players in the past 10 years -- Jay Williams, Dwyane Wade and A.J. Price -- have taken more than 35 percent of their teams' shots over the course of the tourney.
There has not been a post-millennial Final Four team structured the way BYU is currently structured around The Jimmer. There hasn't been one that's even close. Unless The Jimmer can out-Curry Stephen Curry, we're likely to find four teams with balance in Houston. The leaders of last season's Final Four weren't overwhelming shot-users:
Duke: Nolan Smith (six games): 29.9 percent
Butler: Gordon Hayward (six games): 24.5 percent
West Virginia: Da'Sean Butler (five games): 27.4 percent
Michigan State: Durrell Summers (five games) 32.1 percent
And none of this year's No. 1 seeds is led by an ultra-heavy shot-user, either:
Ohio State: William Buford (26.4 percent)
Kansas: Marcus Morris (26.9 percent)
Duke: Nolan Smith (30.6 percent)
Pittsburgh: Ashton Gibbs (26.2 percent)
The Buckeyes understand how to spread the wealth on offense. Their focal point is clearly freshman All-American Jared Sullinger, but he takes only 25.3 percent of their shots. Buford gets 26.4, David Lighty gets 20.0, Jon Diebler gets 15.3, and in very short spurts off the bench, crazy-volume-freshman DeShaun Thomas gets 30.6 percent of shots. Coach Thad Matta has plenty of weapons in his seven-man rotation, and none of them gets neglected. That's a formula that, the odds suggest, will have Ohio State surviving much longer than BYU.