Stephen Curry’s pregame practice

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.

ESPN even wrote an article and kept a shot chart for his pregame warmups.


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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.

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.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice

7 thoughts on “Stephen Curry’s pregame practice

  • There was a shot science clip about Steph Curry shooting shots from 30 feet on tv the other day. Usually, I don’t bother with these cause most of them are fairly moronic and give you no normative data for comparison.
    They said that most players miss from these longer distances because they engage a deeper knee bend than usual which messes with their release. This is what we generally coach kids to do (shooting power comes from your legs).
    This one said that steph has a roughly 115 degree knee bend, no matter what, so his shooting technique doesn’t change, therefore he is more accurate from deeper range. This would probably indicate that Steph uses his upper body to create some of the power on all of his shots. Is this something to encourage? Why isolate parts of your body when using more of it should relate to better efficiency? What do you think?

  • Ross:
    Deeper knee bend as the answer to shooting problems is one of my Fake Fundamentals (Volume 2). I think Curry is elastic with his shot. He has a well-organized body and great synchronization: http://learntocoachbasketball.com/developing-an-elite-basketball-jump-shooter

    In baseball, they’d say that he has “easy power”. It’s somewhat like Conor McGregor’s power; he doesn’t have to throw hard punches. He has easy power. Curry has easy power with his shot. Porzingis has the same thing. Durant too.

    After McGregor beat Aldo, he said: “He’s powerful, and he’s fast. But precision beats power, and timing beats speed, and that’s what you saw there.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSgyiqHyh1I When McGregor first entered the UFC, I wrote about him in my old newsletter because of some of his comments about movement. He basically said that nobody in the UFC moved well. I think what he saw was the lack of organization or synchronicity. It’s not that others move poorly, per se. They’re just a little stiff, a little too muscle-based; after all, so many fighters have a wrestling background and a wrestling physique. They’re strong, and oftentimes powerful, but they’re not elastic. They’re using muscles through concentric actions whereas McGregor is using his elasticity, which is much quicker and more forceful.

    Essentially, it comes down to coordination. They’re simply more coordinated than others. Their rhythm, timing, and sequencing is better than others. I don’t know if that is genetic or practiced or what, but that’s what I see. I can’t explain it well yet, but I see it when I watch players. I see the ones with better organization, to use Feldenkrais’ terms, in the way that they move.

    I think the old “bending the knees” instruction is a problem. It’s a crutch. Knee bend, to me, is determined by how much the player must decelerate before the shot. On a stand-still shot, very little knee bend is needed, even for a high school player. The ball isn’t that heavy, and the basket isn’t that far. It’s not a strength issue (after 10 or 11 or so). Most shooting problem are a coordination issue. I can’t remember a single player who I’ve trained who I thought the answer was more knee bend; in most cases, I try to decrease knee bend. Speed up the motion.

    Because we think about movements in slow motion, and apply things that make sense in slow motion to fast movements, there are many mistakes in the way that we teach skills. This is just one example.

  • To add to that…

    When big players are poor free throw shooters, we blame their height or hand size. But, what do man/most of them have in common? Shaq and Howard have huge upper-body muscles (Jordan obviously is different). How many great shooters are thought of as skinny or wiry? Miller, Curry, Nash, Nowitzki, Porzinigis, Durant, Korver, etc. How many great shooters have big upper-body muscles? Look at how many skinny/wiry guys are near the top of the 3-point shooting list: http://espn.go.com/nba/statistics/player/_/stat/3-points/sort/threePointFieldGoalPct Who are the exceptions? Dudley, McDermott, Lowry, Green…we’re talking less than 10% of the top 40 3-point shooters.

    This isn’t because weightlifting hurts your shot, as I was told when I was young. I actually shoot better on days when I lifted in the morning, but people differ. The difference, to me, is how the players generate their power. Their organization. Lots of weightlifting can (can, not does) affect your coordination or your sequencing. We think of squatting as a great basketball exercise, and I am a big fan of squatting, but your sequencing for a heavy squat and a basketball shot differ. The great shooters are wiry because the lack of big upper-body muscles reduces tension in their shooting motion. They have greater flexibility and better timing.

    The poor shooters like Shaq or Howard ha timing and sequencing issues. Their muscles get in the way of their shooting. It’s not hand size or height; look at Porzingis or Nowitzki or Aldridge, etc. Tall guys can shoot. It’s the big muscle guys who struggle with shooting.

  • I believe it’s all about capturing and transferring reactive force from the floor to the ball release. The longer your feet are on the floor while bending the knees the more reactive force is leaked out back to the floor. The most force is in the impulse portion of the floor to foot contact. For maximum force transfer, a braced core and stiff ankles are key.

  • Reminds of me of guys like Bruce Lee (with his 1 inch punch), Tim Lincecum and the like. Highly tuned energy transfer systems, with minimal physical stature.

    Bruce Lee was on his way to becoming a world class dancer, before opting for martial arts and film. What is dance if not movement.

    Playing tag, climbing trees, jumping on a trampoline, walking on a slackline is where it starts.

  • Justis:
    Exactly. I have an old article somewhere that used the 1-inch punch to describe this idea, although I hopefully have expanded my understanding and explanation some since then. Still better at seeing it than explaining it.

    If/when I have a team again, slackening will be part of my training.

    Dance is one of the activities/sports that I think all children should start in before team sports. At least one of dance, gymnastics, martial arts, or wrestling.

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