Is Stephen Curry Really a Better Offensive Player Than LeBron James?
In an interview on "The Dan Patrick Show" on Tuesday, when asked whether he or LeBron James is the better offensive player, Steph Curry responded, "Me." He went on to explain his answer by saying that he is a distributor, and that he helps to get his teammates involved as a playmaker on the offensive end.
Steph's explanation may be correct, but was his answer? Let's dive into the statistics, like we love to do here at numberFire, in order to find out.
Curry vs. LeBron: Distributing
The most debatable part of Curry's comments is his explanation, which was pretty good if it stood all by itself. The Golden State point guard is, in fact, a distributor and does help his teammates in a playmaking role. As the Warriors' star point guard, on a team with great offensive firepower, it comes as no surprise that Curry puts up some gaudy passing numbers. This past year, Curry averaged 8.5 assists per game, 11.7 per 100 possessions and assisted on nearly 40% of his teammates' field goals while he was on the floor (good enough for fourth in the league).
Curry excels in his role as the Warrior's floor general, but LeBron is no slouch when it comes to playmaking and distributing. In the 2013-14 season, James averaged 6.3 helpers per game, 8.8 per 100 possessions and assisted on 32% of his teammates' field goals while he was on the floor. Oh, and he's 6'8", 240 pounds, and a small forward by profession. As you can see, King James is definitely a playmaker in his own right, but as the numbers suggest, Curry is a great distributor of the basketball.
If passing and distributing is where offensive traits stopped, Curry would prove to be a better offensive player than LeBron. But as we know, that's not the case.
Curry vs. LeBron: Shooting
People that really know basketball have begun to say that Steph Curry is the best shooter we've ever seen in the NBA. And I really can't disagree with them. I've only been around for a little over 23 years, but it's hard for me to imagine there's been a better shooter with a smoother stroke than Steph. The guy can straight light it up from anywhere on the court.
But what do the numbers say? Nothing different.
This year, Curry shot 47% from the field, 42% from three and 88% from the charity stripe - a line common for a shooter of his caliber. And Curry has been able to perfect his craft bit by bit. He reached career highs in points per game (24.0) and true shooting percentage (61%) while becoming an even bigger part of a great offense. While shooting the lights out of the ball, Curry managed to reach career highs in usage percentage (28.3%), free throw attempt rate (25.2%) and three-point attempt rate (44.5%). Not only has Curry continued to shoot the ball well, but he has done so as he has become more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor.
But who the better shooter is depends on how you look at it. As great of a shooter Curry is from almost anywhere on the court, LeBron has an argument as the better shooter - he's more effective. We all know LeBron averaged over 27 points per game as compared to Stephen's 24, but LeBron was also superior in true shooting percentage (64.9%), effective field goal percentage (61%) and free throw attempt rate (43.2%). In fact, LeBron hit career bests in both true shooting and effective field goal percentage last season. This past year, he also shot 62.2% from inside the three-point arc compared to Curry's 50.9%. So, while Curry rules over the outer domain on the offensive end of the floor, LeBron reigns supreme in the heart of the offensive realm.
Curry vs. LeBron: The Complete Game
"Better offensive player" is an all-encompassing term. So what do the all-encompassing offensive stats say? Well, our nERD measurement for player efficiency says LeBron is better. King James earned a nERD of 20.4 while Curry earned a nERD of 14.6. By regular PER, LeBron (29.3) still has a leg up on Steph (24.1). However, these numbers do account for defense, so they're slightly skewed.
But still, LeBron posted superior numbers to Curry in many advanced offensive categories. He even bested Curry by 1.7% in turnover percentage. James also finished this year with an offensive rating of 121 - four points higher than Steph's 117. But the most telling stat is offensive win shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his offense. In this offensive category, James tallied 12.3 offensive win shares, which was three more than that of Curry. Essentially, LeBron's efficient offensive game contributed three more wins than Curry's sweet stroke did.
That last stat about sums it up. Steph Curry's a great player. He's a spectacular offensive player - one of the best in the game. But there's no way Steph's a better all-around offensive player than LeBron. The numbers don't lie.