Over the past few months, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry has been mentioned in the same sentence as Michael Jordan. Curry breaking the 3-point record a few weeks ago compelled fans and analysts to discuss his place in NBA history. According to some, he should be in the Greatest of All Time conversation.
Steve Kerr — who has played with MJ and is currently coaching Curry — has shared the many similarities of the two. In addition, NBA legend Kevin Garnett declared that Curry is the Michael Jordan of his era. In sports (as well as other fields), arguments can be beefed up by backing your claim with numbers. Interestingly, one advanced metric links Jordan and Curry: the Player Efficiency Rating (PER).
The advanced statistic was invented by John Hollinger and defined it as "a rating of a player's per-minute productivity." His detailed formula includes "positive accomplishments such as field goals, free throws, 3-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, and negative ones such as missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls."
A look at the NBA & ABA Single Season Leaders and Records for Player Efficiency Rating reveals that in the Top 15, Jordan and Curry are the only guards. Jordan actually has multiple entries in the top 15. In the 1987-88 NBA season, he chalked up a 31.71 PER, which ranks 5th. He also logged a 31.63 PER in the 1990-91 season (seventh), 31.18 in the 1989-90 season (13th), and 31.14 in the 1988-89 season (14th). Meanwhile, Curry logged in a PER of 31.36 in the 2015-16 NBA season, which currently ranks 11th.
PER evidently has its holes. As for one, it seems to favor the centers and forwards as they are in a better position to snag rebounds and log in a higher field goal percentage. Meanwhile, guard positions have a lower field goal percentage and are more susceptible to turnovers. Given the weaknesses of the metric, it's all the more impressive that Jordan and Curry are the only two guards in the top 15. This makes them two of the most efficient guards of all time.
Skimming through the aforementioned Jordan seasons, we can trace what made his PER that high. Not only was he averaging at least 30 points during those seasons, but he was also shooting at least 50 percent — which is an elite clip considering he was a guard. Apart from his scoring, Jordan was snagging rebounds more than other guards and getting steals more than anyone else (he led the league in steals for three seasons).
For his part, in Curry's most efficient season, he also did a lot of scoring. His 30.1 points per game led the league. He shot 90.8 percent from the free-throw line, too. He also averaged 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds. Interestingly, he also logged 2.1 steals per game which led the league but did not warrant him a spot in the All-NBA Defensive teams. Perhaps what boosted Curry's rating during that season is that he knocked down a league record 402 3-pointers while shooting 45.4 percent.