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Pelton mail: Is Steph too strong for his shot?

Stephen Curry has been flexing on them early this season, but his 3-point accuracy is down. Harry How/Getty

This week's mailbag features your questions on Stephen Curry's 3s, the best imports so far and more.

You can tweet your questions using the hashtag #peltonmailbag or email them to peltonmailbag@gmail.com.


I'm not sure I'd noticed that Curry was more muscular than in the past, at least not any more than a typical increase in strength in the offseason. But the only reason you're asking the question is that Curry is shooting an atypically poor 36.9 percent from 3-point range, so let's explore that a little bit.

The odds of a 43.5 percent career shooter making 36.9 percent or fewer of his first 198 attempts by random chance are about 4.1 percent, so this barely surpasses the lowest threshold for statistical significance. Still, as always, beware of the Wyatt Earp effect: There are lots of 200-shot samples around the league, so the chances of someone having an outlier stretch that happens randomly more than once in 25 times are actually quite good. Curry's start isn't so different from the 37.5 percent that he shot in December 2016 or the 37.8 percent that he shot in March 2017 in the midst of a season in which he shot 41.1 percent overall.

There's also this: Curry is shooting abnormally well just inside the arc. He's making 54.2 percent of his 2-point attempts from beyond 16 feet, impressive even for someone who has made 46.2 percent of those shots in his career. If Curry's increased strength were somehow affecting his shooting, I'd expect that to also influence his 2-point jump shooting and free throw shooting (Curry is hitting a career-best 94 percent of his foul shots). Odds are this is just random noise, and we should make sure that isn't a sufficient explanation before we start looking for a different cause.


I'm sure many readers have drawn this conclusion. Although the Orlando Magic finally snapped their losing streak by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, the team is now 4-10 in Payton's 14 games, compared to 5-4 in the nine he missed. This has been explained as a testament to the superior spacing D.J. Augustin provides at point guard, compared to Payton (who is actually shooting 8-of-20 on 3s this season, though his low attempt rate and history of inaccurate shooting mean he has less gravity).

Given that explanation, it's surprising to note that Payton's on-court offensive rating (the team's results when he plays) is the best of any Magic player, at 111.6, per NBA.com/Stats. Orlando has scored better in games Payton has played than those he has missed, though that's somewhat skewed by two dreadful offensive performances in which both Payton and Augustin were sidelined.

What is the real reason for the Magic's losing streak with Payton at point guard? It can largely be traced to opponent 3-point shooting. In the nine games Payton missed, opposing teams shot 32.4 percent from 3-point range, a major factor in the Magic's surprising start. It was obvious that this kind of 3-point defense was unsustainable, as Ben Falk wrote in a subscriber-only piece on Cleaning the Glass. Yet instead of merely regressing to league average, Orlando has given up 39.9 percent 3-point shooting in the 13 games Payton has played, including 43.7 percent accuracy during the losing streak. As a result, the Magic's defense has completely fallen apart.

As I tweeted earlier this week, more and more I seem to find that these unusual plus-minus trends can be explained by opponent 3-point shooting. (See Kawhi Leonard's defensive RPM last season for another good example.) Although teams do have some control over the 3-point percentage they allow, that shows up only over extended periods, and by definition, an individual player has far less control. As such, these results are almost certainly nothing more than statistical noise.


Let's make an all-import team.

Point guard: Mike James, Phoenix Suns

James has slipped after a strong start and is making just 29 percent of his 3s, which has led to a poor .472 true shooting percentage. Still, his ability to provide a spark as a reserve scorer gives him the nod over Frank Ntilikina, who is understandably struggling to score efficiently at age 19.

2016-2017: Panathinaikos (Greece)

Shooting guard: Brandon Paul, San Antonio Spurs

Serving as something of a neo-Jonathon Simmons, Paul has made 40 percent of his 3-point attempts in limited playing time and is a strong wing defender who is coming up with an excellent 2.8 steals per 100 plays.

2016-2017: Anadolu Efes (Turkey)

Small forward: Darius Miller, New Orleans Pelicans

Miller's nearly 50 percent 3-point shooting ranks second among players with at least 50 attempts, and though that surely isn't sustainable, it gives him the edge over versatile Kings wing Bogdan Bogdanovic for the time being.

2016-2017: Brose Bamberg (Germany)

Power forward: Maxi Kleber, Dallas Mavericks

The clear choice as the second-best power forward from Wurzburg, Germany, to play for the Mavericks, Kleber has emerged as a starter alongside countryman Dirk Nowitzki. Kleber has yet to find NBA 3-point range, shooting 6-of-21, but is making an impressive 67.6 percent of his 2-point tries.

2016-2017: FC Bayern Munich (Germany)

Center: Ekpe Udoh, Utah Jazz

With apologies to Daniel Theis of the Boston Celtics, Udoh is the choice because he's again having the impressive plus-minus effect he produced with the Golden State Warriors several seasons ago. The Jazz allow fewer points per 100 possessions with Udoh at center than with Rudy Gobert, and they outscore opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions overall, per NBA.com/Stats.

2016-2017: Fenerbahce Ulker (Turkey)


"In college, Alabama recently was forced to finish a game against Minnesota with just three players on the court and kept the game competitive. As a Bayesian, should I now take Vivek Ranadivé's suggestion of playing 4-on-5 with a cherry picker very, very, very slightly more seriously -- as crazy as that sounds?"

-- Graham Free

As he made clear later in the question, Graham's tongue is fully in cheek here, but as someone who is fascinated by the concept of college teams playing with fewer than five players, I wanted to dig into the Alabama-Minnesota game a little more.

In case you missed it, the Crimson Tide saw all players who weren't on the court ejected because they left the bench area during a scuffle. Not long thereafter, Alabama's Dazon Ingram fouled out, which reduced the team to four players. The situation got even worse for Avery Johnson when John Petty rolled an ankle, and that left the Tide with three players for nearly 11 minutes to finish the game.

Improbably, Alabama had a 30-24 edge while playing two men down. All things considered, the Golden Gophers' scoring just 21 points on their 17 real possessions before the Crimson Tide started fouling (a 123.5 offensive rating) was pretty remarkable. But the real reason Alabama was able to come back was that it scored an unthinkable 28 points on those 17 possessions, with 17 of the points coming from NBA prospect Collin Sexton -- good for a 164.7 offensive rating!

I guess the moral of the story is that teams don't really have a game plan for defending with two extra players. Of course, a cherry-picking NBA team wouldn't gain that benefit. Nor, in practice, would they really have to defend 4-on-5. Surely, the offense would just leave one player back and reduce the action to 4-on-4, creating better spacing and less help defense. That's the real issue with the Ranadivé idea. Unfortunately, my prior for its chances of success are so close to zero that I don't think this will help much!