Author: Stefano Gamba (’21)
Throughout Steph Curry’s career, he has often been characterized by both NBA fans and sports aficionados alike for being worse in the playoffs than he has been in the regular season, but is this really true? In this article, I aim to explore whether or not Curry’s play declines significantly when looking at his regular season numbers versus what he produces in the playoffs, and whether this difference is statistically significant. Does he really produce less from a basketball standpoint in the postseason than he does in the regular season?
In order to answer this question, we need to define how we observe production. One way production can be observed on the court is by looking at points per game (PPG), rebounds per game (RPG), and assists per game (APG) and seeing whether they deviate significantly from his statistics in the regular season. However, this can often be a flawed metric, as stars like Curry play more minutes per game in the postseason than in the regular season. In the 2018-19 season, Curry played 33.8 MPG in the regular season but 38.5 MPG in the postseason. Moreover, fans have seen that these numbers don’t always translate into winning. With that in mind, while I will be looking at these statistics, I will also take into account field goal percentages and whether those drop in a statistically significant fashion.
One metric that might be useful here (and one that might be particularly pertinent, since Curry is widely regarded as the best 3-point shooter of all time) is true shooting percentage (TS%), which takes into account not only shooting but also the importance of hitting a 3 point shot over a 2 point shot. Another thing that should be adjusted for is his usage rate, as Kevin Durant was introduced to the team just a few years ago following the 2016 NBA finals. So, perhaps it might be best to regard PPG, RPG, and APG by dividing those by how often Curry touches the ball, as his numbers are bound to decline when Kevin Durant is on the court and taking away Curry’s usage rate. Putting this altogether, I will be looking at the last 7 years of Curry’s career (since that is when he started making the playoffs) and compare each of them to see whether there is a statistically significant difference between his true shooting percentage in the regular season as opposed to the playoffs, and adjust his PPG, RPG, and APG per usage percentage to appropriately account for Kevin Durant’s addition to the team. This will enable me to determine whether there is a statistically significant difference in these numbers once adjusted in the regular season versus his postseason numbers.
My research shows that while Curry’s TS% in the regular season is 2.85% higher than that in the postseason; however, the standard deviation (how much his true shooting percentage varies when subtracting both these distributions) makes it so that this number is not statistically significant (standard deviation is 4.41%). This means that across 7 years, there is really no difference in his true shooting percentage between his regular season and postseason. Furthermore, his PPG per usage rate is actually higher in the postseason than it is in the regular season – a stark contradiction to what sports pundits will often tell you. But again, since the difference is smaller than the standard deviation, the difference Curry’s effectiveness in the regular season and the playoffs is not that different at all.
I find the same result with adjusted RPG and APG per usage rate. For the same reason as above, I cannot statistically say that any of these numbers are statistically different than 0, meaning that Curry in the postseason has not played appreciably worse from a shooting standpoint or from points, assists, or rebounds standpoint than he has in the regular season. In fact, his PPG, RPG, and APG per usage rate have all been higher in the postseason than they have been in the regular season. So, next time when someone tells you that Curry doesn’t perform in the postseason, you can let them know that they are, sadly, mistaken.