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Comparing the basketball player’s record setting season to some other outliers. It uses sports for the examples (even competitive eating), but provides some insight into back of the envelope outlier analysis. How can we predict whether a previously unprecedented result a one time fluke or a new normal without waiting to find out?


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    Basketball’s more fun of a game than just the top-level stats or the highlights make it look. I totally encourage getting a little sucked in if this is a potential entry point for anyone who thinks themselves too nerdy to be into a sport. :) All ten players are pretty much always active, changing roles, trying to anticipate what each other are going to do. In the just-concluded and next playoff series, the Golden State Warriors are without Steph (because of injuries), and watching them gives you a great view of the other reasons they’re a top team.

    There is, of course, a ton of talent and work behind Steph’s shot itself. He’s been practicing his skills and aiming to be in the NBA since he was a kid (video evidence!) and his dad Dell Curry was in the NBA and a good three-point shooter himself. There are different elements to how he shoots–he’s got tons of fakes and moves to get a little distance from defenders, he makes the shot faster than most (better for taking advantage of a short window where the defender isn’t ready), is a threat from further out on the court than most so it’s harder to predict where he’ll shoot, and of course he’s accurate even with defenders right on him. Everyone who writes about them seems to agree he works hard (tries to get 100 shots up after each practice), tries to do new stuff, keeps his head on his shoulders.

    There’s a bigger picture, too. Curry had a lot of these pieces in 2009 but the Warriors lost most of their games then. Since then they lucked into a star defender in Draymond Green, who they essentially only realized was good when other big guy David Lee was injured, and who is also crucial at screening the other team’s defenders so shots get off. They picked up Klay Thompson, who just shot more threes in a regular season than anyone but guess-who. They pass the ball around a lot more than they did in 2009, passing up good shot opportunities for great ones. That last trait they notably share with the San Antonio Spurs, where current Warriors coach Kerr (also a three-point specialist in his time as a player) played four seasons. Steph’s tried to round out his game and leads the league in steals/game now; many of the Warriors seem to have managed to get a bit better year to year. And, of course, they’re happy to let Klay and Steph make lots of three-point attempts; more attempts than last year is a big contributor to Steph setting that record.

    Anyhow, I think the headlines make the whole thing seem more one-dimensional than it is. There’s a whole team, and a whole lot of pieces to that success, and if you’re at all inclined, you should do yourself a favor and watch them play a few games. :)

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      More about changes in the basketball metagame: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/stephen-curry-is-the-revolution/

      Is Curry the product of changes in training, athleticism, and strategy? Is it possible to build more players like him? If a team focuses on draining threes, what’s the most viable response to that?