Crowds arrive hours prior to Golden State Warriors games to watch Stephen Curry warmup. He is famous for his two-ball drills, and everyone wants to watch Curry shoot.
Curry made only a slightly higher percentage on three-pointers during warmups (50%) than he makes during games (45.8%). This is contrary to the typical practice and performance of a typical player. As an example, I charted practice shots for players who I trained. It was not unusual for players to shoot 70% in practice, but shoot under 30% in games. This is so common that coaches refer to it as normal game slippage. Coaches and players strive for perfect practice despite knowing that their game performance will not match their practice. This is expected. Why?
The important disclaimer when looking at this shot chart is that he didn’t shoot every shot like he would in a game as some shots were tricks he’s working on. He went 4-for-14 on right-handed layups, but those misses were largely wild, high-arching shots put up so high not even Hassan Whiteside would have a chance to block it. It’s no wonder he often hits similar shots in games against defenders like Whiteside.
‘Life is trying things to see if they work’ Ray Bradbury
— Andy Franklyn-Miller (@afranklynmiller) December 16, 2015
In an old article that I mentioned in 21st Century Guide to Individual Skill Development, Curry and his teammates called these shots “crafties”, and his former coach, Keith Smart, encouraged this experimentation in relaxed situations. These shots create options; they open possibilities for Curry to take and make similar shots in games.
Traditionally, we view practice as the time to perfect skills. Coaches and players use practice time to eliminate mistakes. An easy way to reduce mistakes is through block practice that encourages immediate practice improvements.
This is not the purpose of practice. Practice perfection should not be the goal. The success of practice is not measured by practice performance, but game performance. When a player shoots 70% in practice, and 30% during games, it is not slippage; the practice is inadequate. By practicing these crafties, Curry prepares for an unending number of possibilities during games. He can shoot quick shots and high-arcing shots and shots off one foot because he experiments and explores during his practice sessions.
Curry could shoot from one spot and shoot 90% if he wanted. As Michael Schwartz wrote, “After taking a series of shots from various points around the lane, Curry arrived in the right corner and rarely hit the rim. He made 16 shots in a row from this spot, four from long distance.” Is shooting 100% from one spot the reason that he shoots so well during games or is his success attributable to the other shots that he took from different spots, different angles, with different techniques (quick, high, etc.)?
Hitting 16 in a row fuels a player’s confidence. However, it is the other shots that expand his skills and prepare him to shoot the variety of shots that he makes in a game that astonish the crowd.