Over the past decade, debates have arisen about the ubiquity of analytics in sports. Traditionalists immediately decry the idea that computers can win games better than humans, and long for the days when the term “load management” was reserved for the factory floor.
There are certainly arguments on both sides, but it’s hard to deny that advances in sports science have led to better athletes who are able to play at a higher level for much longer. Look at Tom Brady in football, Justin Verlander in baseball, LeBron James in basketball – they all long ago waved goodbye to their traditional “premierships” but are still among the best in their respective sports.
There was a time when we thought basketball players shouldn’t lift weights because bigger muscles messed up their shooting mechanics. Now, coaches tune into hyper-specific regimens for each player with year-round programs that often include lifting on game days.
If anyone can attest to the benefits of training analytics, it’s Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry. It’s easy to forget as he enters his 14th NBA season, but Curry’s basketball future was once in doubt due to significant ankle issues. Thanks to medical procedures, strength and conditioning programs and an undying work ethic, Curry has been one of the most durable and productive stars in the league, playing in at least 60 games in nine of the last 10 seasons.
As he prepares to turn 35 in the 2022-23 season, there are questions about when we’ll start seeing signs of Curry’s decline. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday that he thinks the future Hall of Fame guard has a lot of great basketball left and that Curry could be seen dazzling the 40-year-old on the court.
“I think with Steph, you have to consider a lot more than just age. You can’t just look at his age and go, well, he’s only got a year or two left, because that’s traditionally when players have that time. It starts to fade,” Kerr said. “I think of Steve Nash a lot when I think of Steph. I watched Steve play at a really high level in Phoenix until he was 40. John Stockton did the same thing at Utah. You’re talking about athletes who are wildly dedicated to their profession, their bodies, their conditioning. Steph’s Day in every aspect, he is committed to being at the top of his game for as long as possible.”
Kerr also stated that while Curry may not look the part of a hulking, tall athlete, he is actually the elite of the elite.
“You’re talking about one of the best athletes in the world,” Kerr said. “Maybe not in terms of how high you jump or how fast you are, a traditional athletic standpoint. But when you talk about hand-eye, balance and core strength, Steph is one of the greatest athletes on earth. All of that counts. His ability to hold his own. He is at such a high level that it’s no accident. He’s both really, kind of talented naturally, but also totally committed. I fully expect him to have many more great years.”
The idea of athleticism has also evolved, thanks in part to analytics. Emphasis on vertical jump and sprint speed has softened, especially in basketball, while qualities such as deceleration and balance have come to the fore. Because of this, players around the league are constantly commenting on Curry’s condition and strength, especially compared to where he was when he entered the league.
Curry is coming off the worst shooting season of his career in what could be considered a great year for any mere mortal. He averaged 25.5 points per game on 44/38/92 compared to the absurd 48/43/91 he had posted over his first 12 seasons. However, thoughts of a slump were quickly put to rest as Curry averaged 31.2 points on 48/44/86 shooting while earning his first NBA Finals MVP in a six-game triumph over the Boston Celtics in June.
Curry certainly hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, and his skills combined with his elite preparation level and work ethic could lead to a higher level of excellence like we’ve seen other superstars enjoy in recent years.