Stephen Curry: The NBA’s Black Hole

Note: Astronomical terms in the follow article may have been used wildly inaccurately. Take comfort in the knowledge that it was all done in the pursuit of a pleasing aesthetic.

The NBA universe is dotted with black holes.

Usually this phrase has a pejorative connotation. In my extremely limited understanding of black holes, their gravitational field is so large that nothing can escape, not even light. The idea of impossible escape is the aspect of black holes most frequently connected to basketball—pass the ball to Al Jefferson on the low block and say goodbye, because there is no hope of that ball ever escaping back to the perimeter again. But as a descriptive turn-of-phrase, the idea of a black hole’s gravity is usually ignored — tragically if you ask me. Because gravity is a real phenomenon on the basketball court.

Take for example Stephen Curry, celestial object.

His stature is one part slight and two parts diminutive, but Curry has been blessed with a game of offensive impact that dwarfs his physical being. One of the best shooters to ever step onto an NBA court and with a release quick enough to finish respectably in a race against light itself, Curry demands defensive attention at all times. This effect is something akin to a gravitational field. As he moves so does the defense, and in ways that are often predictable and measurable (not unlike the movements of planetary objects in a solar system).

Take for example the arrangement below.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 8.23.51 PM

As Curry dribbles on the perimeter, his gravitational field (and the less powerful gravitational fields of his teammates) has tugged the Clippers’ defense into a fairly conventional arrangement. Each defense body is arrayed in orbit around the lane, assigned to a man but also capable of adjustment, dropping out of orbit to help if the basket is attacked. Then Curry begins to move and his gravitational field begins exerting force, pulling the defense in different directions.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 8.24.09 PM

Curry receives a pair of high screens from David Lee and Draymond Green. These collisions have pulled Darren Collison out of his orbit, although the tug of Curry’s offensive gravity is still strong, dragging him across the floor in pursuit. As Curry rounds that second screen, Blake Griffin is pulled closer to Curry. You can also see the subtle tug in DeAndre Jordan as he steps away from Lee to keep Curry from turning the corner. The Clippers defense still has the same basic shape, but you can see where it is beginning to be distorted.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 8.24.35 PM

As Curry keeps dribbling towards the sideline, his gravity pulls both Griffin and Collison. This sets off a ripple effect, pulling Jordan in front of the rolling Lee, and Chris Paul in off his man in the corner to help. From a evenly spaced, loose arrangement around the lane, Curry has contorted the Clipper’s defense into a densely packed triangle, concentrated on the left wing. If you can’t see where this is headed, the ball is about to be swung to Green at the top of the arc for a three-pointer so open I could make it (probably not).

Defenses are made to move and shift; the Clippers would have been just as ineffective trying to defend the possession above if everyone stayed in their initial position. But the responsive nature of defensive positioning is also its undoing, particularly in the case of a player like Curry, with his powerful field of gravity and his innate sense of how to exploit weaknesses and swell his own advantages. The more movement by Curry, the more distortion is visited on the defense.

Another example:

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 5.44.05 AM

Curry is about to receive a high screen from Green. His teammates are arrayed in such a way as to maximize the reaches of deep space between them. The places the defense in a similar formation to what we saw in the first example, with all five defenders orbiting the lane at various distances.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 5.59.24 AM

As Curry turns the corner around his screen, his personal gravity begins to constrict the Clippers’ defense. Collison is pursuing, as is Griffin, pulled close by the threat of Curry pulling up for a jumpshot. Jordan has also been drawn into the lane, as has Jamal Crawford on the weakside. Even Matt Barnes has been drawn, subtly, towards the driving Curry and away from Klay Thompson.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 7.06.01 AM

At this point Curry has kicked the ball back out to the obscenely open Green (playing the part of lonely Pluto in this awkward astronomical analogy). Curry continues has rotation around the basket, narrowly avoiding the asteroid field of Clippers’ defenders under the basket, most of whom have been pulled there by his own movements. Once again, a well-spaced defensive arrangement has been completely collapsed by the threat of Curry. From here there are two gravitational forces working against the defense—the continued motion of Curry and the ball in the hands of Green. Over the next few seconds the destruction will be complete as the Clippers are pulled apart and scattered to the outer reaches of deep space.

Curry is not unique in the size of his offensive gravity. The movements of Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Ray Allen and countless others, on and off the ball, apply a similarly drastic set of forces on an opposing defense. Movement begets movement and a player with great offensive skill can drag and drive that movement in ways that suit their purposes. However, Curry is somewhat unique in the consistency of his personal gravitational, particularly as he moves to different spots on the floor, whether or not he actually possesses the ball.

For a man capable of a singular supernova at any moment, from any distance, under any circumstances, the pull he exerts never wavers. A defender who loses track of him, for even a second, is in danger of becoming completely untethered, sent spinning through the infinite darkness of a lost possession.

When he’s on the basketball court, the universe really does revolve around Stephen Curry.


  1. great analysis… i know your articles have slowed down some, but don’t give up. They contain somewhat ‘complex’ NBA concepts, but you break it down and make it so simple that the average fan will leave a smarter person when they finish.


  1. […] to do that for Curry than LeBron? But Curry can do it by himself, something similar to what Ian Levy wrote about recently. Curry not only demands attention off the ball, but defenses shift to his movements on the dribble […]

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