I saw a headline on ESPN yesterday posing the question “Is Steph Curry on his way to the greatest season ever?” I couldn’t help but wonder how what Curry is doing this season stacks up statistically to the greatest individual seasons in NBA history. Here’s what I found.
In my opinion, one of the best measures of statistical greatness is the Player Efficiency Rating (PER). In the history of the NBA there have been 19 seasons in which a player has finished the season with a PER over 30. The highest PER in a single season ever was 31.82 by Wilt Chamberlain of the 1962-63 San Francisco Warriors when he averaged 44.8 PPG, 24.3 RPG, and 3.4 APG. The Warriors missed the playoffs that year and Wilt finished 7th in the MVP voting. So PER is purely an indicator of superior statistics and not necessarily team success or “value” to the team. So, I looked at all 19 seasons where the player was statistically superior and topped a PER of 30 and found just four seasons where the player also won the Regular Season MVP, and his team won the title: Jordan in 1990-91, Shaq in 1999-2000, and Lebron in 2011-12 and 2012-13. Of all of those seasons, Jordan’s 31.63 is
the highest PER. Jordan also posted the highest scoring average in one of those seasons at 31.5, as well as the highest steals per game average at 2.7. Shaq, not surprisingly, posted the highest numbers in rebounds and blocks and Lebron’s 7.3 assists per game average led that category. The shooting numbers were also well distributed among the three, Jordan leading in Free Throw Percentage at 85.1, Shaq in Field Goal Percentage at 57.4, and Lebron in Three-Point Percentage (40.6) and Effective Field Goal Percentage (60.3). Now remember that these are possibly the greatest individual seasons in NBA history accomplished by some of the greatest to ever play the game that we are talking about and Curry’s numbers compare quite favorably.
If Curry can keep up his current pace, win the MVP, and lead the Warriors to another title, (which right now all look like very real possibilities) he would post the highest mark in 6 of the 10 statistical categories in the elite seasons where a player posted a 30+ PER, was MVP, and won a championship. Curry’s current 34.7 PER would shatter Wilt’s all-time PER record by almost 3 full points, his 32.2 point per game average would top Jordan’s, his Three-Point Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage would top Lebron’s, and his Free-Throw Percentage would top MJ’s. To top it all off, he would do all this while averaging more than 2.5 minutes per game fewer than MJ’s minutes per game average.
Now the three-point revolution has done all kinds of crazy things to the analytics of basketball, but the three point shot has been around for 35 years now and it was not until Curry that we have seen a player use the three-point shot so efficiently that he became statistically superior and lifted his team into a nearly unbeatable status as a result. I don’t know if what Curry is doing will go down as the greatest season in NBA history, but if he keeps this up and the Warriors repeat, what he is doing this season is certainly going to be in the discussion.