How Will Stephen Curry Age?
We try to predict using RAPTOR and five instructive comparisons: Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Mahmoud Abul-Rauf and Dell Curry
Stephen Curry turns 32 on March 14th, 2020.
He remains the cornerstone of the Golden State Warriors. He is expected to recover fully from his broken non-shooting hand, but GSW is due to pay him $45.8M for the 2021-22 season, when he turns 34. Conventional wisdom expects a basketball player’s peak to be around age 29, so we have likely already seen the absolute heights of Curry’s production. Curry has said he wants to play 16 years total or until he is 36 in the 2024-25 season.
So we ask: How will Curry play over the rest of his career?
No one can predict the future, but we can compare the career arcs of interesting comparison cases, first using 538’s RAPTOR and then looking closer at the cases.
Let’s first look at the prediction of RAPTOR, 538’s aging model as of Oct 22, 2019. They find players with similar statistical profiles and then look at the spread of different career outcomes. This doesn’t take into account Steph’s injury this year, nor his long sabbatical, so adjust your interpretation accordingly.
In case you’re curious, 538’s top 10 comparisons for Stephen Curry were
RAPTOR has extensive detailed season by season projections for Curry, with projected Wins Above Replacement and many other measures. Here is the projection in one oversimplified graph:
Keep in mind that the error bars are large. To add their text interpretations:
2019-20. 12.0 = MVP Candidate
2020-21. 11.4 = All-Star
2021-22. 10.5 = All-Star
2022-23. 8.1 = Borderline All-Star
2023-24. 6.2 = Possible All-Star
2024-25. 4.6 = Average Starter
2025-26. 2.5 = Rotation Player / Scrappy Veteran
So they project that Curry will likely play at an All-Star to Borderline All-Star level for the next four years, and then an Average Starter level for his planned final year.
Comparison Cases: Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Dell Curry
The first two players are the players that Curry claims he patterned his game after, so it’s natural to look at how they did. Steph has been compared to the next two, and of course his father’s career feels very relevant.
Steve Nash had a frenetic on-ball dribble game, driving and creating shots for teammates, and shooting accurately off-the-dribble. If Curry ages anything like Steve Nash, it will be a spectacular show. For Nash’s age 29 season, he hadn’t even been traded to the Phoenix Suns yet. He turned 30 with the Dallas Mavericks during 2003-04, and was an All-Star point guard and All-NBA Third Team for the second straight year. Yet, he wasn’t MVP Nash yet, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban lowballed a four-year offer to the (apparently) old Nash, and declined to match a six year offer from the Phoenix Suns. Nash’s skill combined with Coach Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds Or Less schemes created a league terror, and Nash captured back to back MVPs in his age 30 and 31 years.
Even though he was edged out for MVP in his age 32 year (by Dirk Nowitzki), it was in some ways his best statistical year, posting his best True Shooting Percentage (TS%), highest Win Shares, best Offensive Box Plus Minus and career-high assists per game. Starting with 2007-08, his age 33 season, his TS% and BPM began a steady decline. He was named an All-Star in 2009-10 (age 35) and 2011-12 (age 37). But by his age 37 season, he was missing significant time due to injuries (back and leg) and wasn’t the same for his last two seasons.
Nash lived up to the old idea that shooting ages well: from age 30 to 38, his TS% stayed above an impressive .601, easily among the league leaders.
Reggie Miller had a relentless off-ball game, running off screens and catch-and-shooting accurately in traffic. Reggie Miller did not age quite as explosively as Nash, but he aged effectively and gracefully. In his age 29 year, 1994-95, Miller was at his peak, with his 8 points in 9 seconds coming in the 1995 Playoffs.
He had a very consistent career prime and in fact, his Game 4 game-winner in Jordan’s face came in 1998 at the age of 32. He made the All-Star team that year, and again at the age of 34 (no small task sharing the conference with Michael Jordan and fan favorite Penny Hardaway). This was year 9 of an excellent 12-year stretch where he averaged more than 18 points per game on excellent TS%. In fact, between ages 23 and 38, Miller finished in the top 11 in the league for TS%.
Keep in mind that Miller was an unusually healthy athlete, missing very few games in his career.
Mark Price was a sweet-passing, sweet-shooting, four-time-All-Star point guard for the excellent Cleveland Cavaliers team that consistently got eliminated by Michael Jordan’s Bulls. He was the second member of the 50-40-90 Club and won two 3-Point Shootouts. He was 6’ 0” and played at 170-180 lbs, so he was usually bumped all over the court as the smallest player. In 1994-95 at the age of 30, he broke his hand and missed half the season.
At the age of 31 (Steph’s current age), Price suffered a foot injury and missed practically the entire season. At the age of 32, Price played for the Warriors and shot well when he played (39.6% from three) but was hampered by a broken hand. He wound down his career at 33 with the Magic shooting 33.5%, wrestling with hand injuries.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf has been compared to Steph Curry in his daring off-the-dribble style. He was actually smaller, at 6’ 1” and 165 lbs, but was more of a high-flyer than Curry, actually participating in the 1993 Slam Dunk Contest. His stroke was pure, as he set a record for best free-throw percentage for a season (95.6%) in 1993-94, but his 3P% was held back by the difficulty of his off-the-dribble threes.
He was Kaepernick before Kaepernick, refusing to stand-in 1996 for the U.S. National Anthem in protest of “the country’s history of tyranny”. The NBA fined him and he was never quite the same after the national controversy. He was traded in 1996 from the Nuggets to the Kings, at the age of 27, and in 1998 at the age of 29, he couldn’t get offers from any NBA team.
He signed a contract with Fenerbahçe in Turkey, but quit mid-season citing burnout. He played overseas for the next six years (except a brief fling with the Vancouver Grizzlies, where at the age of 31 he played spot minutes and shot 28.6% from three), and his shooting stats are quite hard to come by. but in 2018 in the Big3, at the ripe age of 49, he shot 45.5% from three, and 36.8% at the age of 50.
And just for completeness, the NBA player that is closest genetically to Stephen Curry is of course Dell Curry (actually Seth Curry also, but we even less data on his aging than on Steph). Dell was a catch-and-shoot role player who brought shooting off the bench, and was a regular finalist for Sixth Man of the Year, breaking through in his age 29 year, 1993-94.
Despite irregular minutes, he shot well until his last year at age 37, including a stupendous league-leading 47.6 3P% at the age of 34. Given Dell’s lower minutes (averaging 21.7 minutes per game), it’s hard to make inferences about Stephen Curry.
So How Will Steph Curry Age? Does Shooting Age Well?
The conventional wisdom is that shooting ages well, and at least the first three players are great examples, as you can see in the data below.
Dell Curry and Steve Nash remained dead-eye shooters until their last seasons. Reggie Miller had remained excellent with a slight overall downward trend and more inconsistency after 35. Price was derailed by injuries, and Abdul-Rauf was blackballed and also burned-out. The declines of every one of them in their very last season are likely no coincidence. Once they couldn’t fill up the basket efficiently, they knew it was time to hang it up.
We have no answers, just cautionary tales and hopes.
RAPTOR places him at All-star or Borderline All-Star for the next four years.
Steve Nash had one of his best years at age 32, just missing MVP, so if Curry did improve upon his previous statistical bests -- hard to even fathom -- he would be the top offensive player in league history. Seems unlikely.
If Curry ages like Reggie Miller, then he will have a slow mild decline in his effectiveness while still being All-Star quality over the next three years.
If Curry ages like his father, he will be a useful spot up shooter for years to come.
If Curry ages like Mark Price, injuries will completely derail his career.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was already out of the league by Steph’s current age, and he has such an unusual story that it’s hard to compare. But it’s a tale of how burnout and stress from controversy can derail a career.
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