Steph Curry’s 105 straight threes should be impossible
Over the holidays, Stephen Curry did something that defies our understanding of what a basketball player, or even a human being, is capable of. Something you have a little bit of trouble believing even after you’ve watched the whole thing on video.
I counted them all myself and can confirm he hits 103 straight on video. (The team says that he in fact hit 105 straight, and that the camera didn’t start rolling until attempt number three went in.) Watching the whole clip from start to finish is a really conflicting experience: on one hand, Steph is the greatest three-point shooter who’s ever lived, so of course, any given shot is likely to go in. But even upon repeated viewings, you expect him to brick number 28, or number 51, or number 60. He has to miss number 74, right? This has to end.
No, he keeps on going. In fact, once he gets to attempt number 80 at around the 4-minute mark, he achieves superhuman levels of accuracy, with most of his shots barely even disturbing the net. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an athlete more closely resemble machinery. I cannot get over it.
What are the odds of this happening? Well, Steph is a .434 three-point shooter across his NBA career. Obviously, we have to throw that out the window, because these conditions are completely different: he faces no defense, his buddies are there to reload him and keep him in his groove, and he has the luxury of taking every shot from the exact same spot. Still, as long as we’re here, let’s appreciate the man’s qualifications.
Curry assembled three seasons of three-point shooting that felt like they’d arrived from the future. James Harden has since managed more threes in a season, but no one has ever been nearly as efficient at anything close to this volume. Again, he’s the greatest three-point shooter of all time, and this is one of the few things no one ever debates.
But what, exactly, are his odds of nailing 105 (we only saw 103, but I can easily believe 105) consecutive practice threes? We can’t know, because apart from this particular feat, we don’t have any “chucking uncontested corner threes in a T-shirt” shooting percentage. What we can do is calculate the odds for any possible shooting percentage.
Across the entire world of sports, which commonly-kept statistical percentage tends to yield the highest results? The Secret Base team spent a few minutes throwing things at the wall – NHL goalie save percentage, NFL extra-point percentage before they moved the line back, et cetera – and eventually settled on MLB fielding percentage.
Outfielder Jon Jay holds the record with a career fielding percentage of .9958. Can’t get much better than that. Hit him the ball 10,000 times, and he goofs up on 42 of them. It’s ridiculous to imagine that a three-point shooter could execute as reliably as an outfielder catching a pop-up, but let’s do that regardless.
The chances of Jay successfully fielding 105 consecutive balls without an error stand at 64.3%. If Curry’s shooting percentage was just as high as the highest percentage of anything that anyone ever records in sports, he would have less than a 2-in-3 shot of doing what we just saw him do.
Just for fun, let’s try to use this video, and this alone, to spitball what his shooting percentage is for this particular shot.
Suppose that instead of playing in the NBA, Steph just spent all day every day shooting this exact shot. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of shots, giving us a shooting percentage with an enormous sample size. If this shooting percentage were .900, which is difficult to imagine in the first place, his chances of hitting 105 straight are one-thousandth of one percent – virtually impossible. If this shooting percentage were .950, his odds are still far short of one percent. It needs to be .975 to even have a puncher’s chance. It needs to be about .995 to even be likely by any stretch of the word.
Look at Steph right after he bricks attempt number 106.
Steph himself seems half stoked, half irritated with himself. His buddy despairs. A few others mill around the gym, clearly unaware of what just happened on the other end of the room. Did that guy just take our understanding of what is and isn’t within the range of human capability and bust it over his knee? Eh, hard to say from over here, but he sure seems mad about something.
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