When the Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry was asked by Dan Patrick who the better offensive player was, him or LeBron James, he gave the answer most would expect him to give: Himself.
On the surface, it seems laughable.
Last season, James lead Curry in points per game (27.1- to 24.0), true shooting percentage (64.9 percent to 61.0 percent), and offensive win shares (12.3 to 9.1).
According to Synergy Sports, James was seventh in the league in overall points per possession (1.12) while Curry ranked 63rd (1.01). With the exception of spotting up and coming off the screen, James bested Curry in points per possession on almost every other type of set play. Per NBA’s SportsVu, James touched the ball 38 times per game and scored 0.36 points per touch. Curry had 78.8 and 0.30, respectively.
But could any of this be because James had a better supporting cast in Miami than Curry does with Golden State? Perhaps.
According to John Hollinger’s Game Score, which gives a rough measure of a player’s productivity for a single game, the players most frequently used with James in Miami (per the five-man lineup) had an average Game Score of 9.8. Curry’s most frequent lineup averaged 8.3.
And this helps explain why Miami’s drop off in offense without James wasn’t as much as you would expect. When James was off the court, the Heat went from scoring 113.7 points per 100 possessions (ORtg) to 104.7, a drop of nine. Golden State, on the other hand, went from 111.9 to 95.8 without Curry, a difference of 16.1. Put another way, the Heat without James performed like the Los Angeles Lakers while Golden State without Curry had an offense worse than the Philadelphia 76ers, who went 16-66 this past season.
For their careers, teams with James have seen 9.8 more points per 100 possessions with him on the court, while Curry’s has seen a bump of 7.1. That’s a difference of 2.5 points per game.
If Curry had his own “Big Three,” perhaps the gap between him and James wouldn’t appear as large, and the idea that Curry is as good or better than James not so far fetched.