Stephen Curry marvels fans each game with his remarkable ability to shoot a basketball from not only deep ranges but also with accuracy. The average NBA team attempts just over 21 3-point shots per game, Curry attempts half as many by himself! With the league average around 35%, Curry has never shot below 41%! As a result of his astounding numbers, analysts are marveling how the former Davidson standout is putting up such consistency at an elite level.
The answer lies in science, specifically Curry’s mechanics.
Maintaining control of the body is crucial to the efficiency and efficacy of a shooter. Therefore, the shooter must be consistent with the location of his center of mass (COM), or the average position of a person’s body. To not do so means that the shooter needs to compensate by adjusting the amount of force he exerts when jumping, the angle of his shooting arm, the amount of spin that is placed on the ball, and many other factors. By having to make adjustments on every shot which leads to a higher possibility of error, it is evident why maintaining a consistent center of mass is crucial for a shooter. Curry’s shot form exemplifies this principle.
On a catch and shoot situation, Curry rotates his hips away from his shooting arm, allowing him to line up his shooting arm with the bucket. The rotation shifts his COM over his right hip. In order to maximize efficiency in a shot, foot-ground pressure point, hips (or COM) and shooting arm must line up vertically without horizontal deviation. Lining up the three checkpoints ensures maximum transfer of energy from the force between the foot and ground up through the kinetic chain to the hand where the energy is used to produce force on the ball. The foot-ground pressure is directly below Curry’s shooting hip (hip on same side as shooting hand). The efficiency of the force initially produced between the foot and ground to the shooting hand allows Curry to use less energy to send the ball 23 feet into the hoop. Using less energy per shot enables Curry to shoot more often with the same mechanics because it is physically easier for him to shoot than the average NBA player. Yet, Curry’s balance is not the only quality of his shot where he is conserving energy.
Curry does not get much of a vertical on his jump shot. The lack of height is a testament of the little effort exerted by Curry in his shot because of the efficiency of transferring power from his lower body to the release of his shot. The release (mentioned in more depth later) of his shot on the way up utilizes his legs more to produce force on the ball. The legs have a much greater capacity for energy expenditure than the arms. Think about how much you can squat or leg press versus how much you can bicep curl. There is quite a difference! Nonetheless, the force produced by Curry’s legs in the jump would be would be a moot point were it not for his point of release.
Many shooters release the ball once they have reached the apex of their jump. As a result, these players’ jump shot become two separate motions: the jump and the release. The two separate portions of their jump shot allows for greater chance of error which would lead to a missed shot. To understand this point, imagine running a marathon but you are only able to move a single joint a time. As you step forward, you flex at the hip joint, yet you drag your foot across the ground because you were not able to flex the knee to pick up foot. The other scenario is flexing the knee first so that you do not drag the foot, but at this point, you have wasted time when you could have flexed the knee and hip simultaneously to move forward. The one fluid motion is the difference in Curry’s shot.
Another component of Curry’s release is the angle at which the ball is shot. The angle of trajectory on his 3-point shot has been measured to be 50°-55° – 10° higher than the suggested angle of trajectory. The ball travels a higher trajectory path and enters the hoop at a more vertical angle. Therefore, since the angle of trajectory is greater, the angle of entry into the hoop is greater as well. Moreover, the larger angle increases the entry area of the ball, giving Curry larger margin for error. It’s no wonder he’s only behind Steve Kerr for 3-point shooting percentage of players who have shot over 1,000 3-point field goals!
Nearly every mechanical aspect of Curry’s shot improves the likeliness of the ball being scored. Nearing the top of the all-time 3-point field goals made list is evidence of his consistency. He is able to repeat his form time and time again because of the efficiency of energy transfer and force production. Between his body control, jumping, and release, his shot mechanics are arguably the best in the game.