Over the last decade-plus, debate has raged surrounding the ubiquitous incorporation of analytics into sports. Traditionalists flippantly decry the idea that computers are better at figuring out how to win games than human beings, and yearn for 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 the advancements in sports science have led to better conditioned athletes who are capable of playing at a higher level for much longer. Look at Tom Brady in football, Justin Verlander in baseball, LeBron James in basketball — they all waved goodbye to their traditional “primes” long ago, yet 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 would mess up their shooting mechanics. Now trainers attune hyper-specific regimens to each player, with year-round programs that often involve 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 there was a time that Curry’s basketball future was in doubt because of 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 for nine of the past 10 seasons.
As he prepares to turn 35 during the 2022-23 season, there are questions about when we’ll start to see signs of Curry’s decline. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said on Thursday that he feels the future Hall of Fame guard has plenty of great basketball left in him, and that we could see Curry dazzling on the court while pushing 40 years old.
“I think with Steph, you have to factor in a lot more besides just the age. You can’t just look at his age and go, well, he’s only got a year left, or two years left, because that’s traditionally when players start to fade,” Kerr said. “I think of Steve Nash a lot when I think of Steph. I watched Steve in Phoenix play at a really high level until 40. John Stockton did the same thing in Utah. You’re talking about athletes who are ferociously committed to their craft , to their body, to their conditioning. Every single aspect of Steph’s day, he’s devoted to being at the top of his game for as long as he can.”
Kerr also posited that while Curry may not look the part of a hulking, supreme athlete, he’s actually the elite of the elite.
“You’re talking about one of the best athletes in the world,” Kerr said. “Maybe not by how high you jump or how fast you are, a traditional athletic standpoint. But when you talk about hand-eye and balance and core strength, Steph’s one of the greatest athletes on Earth. All that stuff matters. His ability to keep He’s both really, kind of gifted naturally, but also totally committed. I fully expect him to have a lot more great years.”
The idea of athleticism has also evolved, partly due to analytics. The emphasis on vertical leap and sprint speed has softened, particularly in basketball, while attributes like deceleration and balance have moved to the forefront. That’s why players throughout the league continually remark about Curry’s conditioning and strength, especially compared to where he was when he came into the league.
Curry is coming off the worst shooting season of his career, which would be considered a great year for any mere mortal. He averaged 25.5 points per game on 44/38/92 shooting splits, compared to the absurd 48/43/91 splits he had notched in his first 12 seasons. Any thoughts of decline were quickly put to bedhowever, when Curry averaged 31.2 points on 48/44/86 splits while earning his first NBA Finals MVP in a six-game triumph over the Boston Celtics in June.
Curry has certainly shown no signs of slowing, and his skillset combined with an elite conditioning level and ethic work could lead to an extended prime like we’ve seen other superstars enjoy in recent years.