Will Stephen Curry's Ankle Issues Prevent Him from Reaching Superstardom?

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterJanuary 17, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 05:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket while defended by DeAndre Jordan #6 of the Los Angeles Clippers in the first half at Staples Center on January 5, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Stephen Curry sprained his ankle in Wednesday morning shootaround (via Brian Windhorst), nixing him from what turned into a big home loss against the Miami Heat. The focus will be on how Curry can't seem to shake that ankle injury, and how it often forces him to the sidelines. 

That's a proper focus, but I also wonder and worry about whether his ankle sprains are already impacting Stephen Curry's game when he happens to be on the court. First of all, let us take a look at Curry's numbers so far. In terms of outside shooting and minutes played, he's having a career year.

If Curry continues to hit .461 of his threes, that'd qualify for a career high. He also happens to be taking more threes per 36 minutes than at any other point in his career. So, in theory, Stephen Curry's scoring efficiency should be better than ever, right?

Not so fast. Steph is averaging a true shooting percentage of .572. That's a good mark, but it's only narrowly above what he put up in his rookie season.

From the field, in total, Curry is averaging .437, well below the .461 mark he garners on the supposedly more difficult three point shot. To get to .437, Steph Curry is shooting a dismal .419 from the field. 

That's right, Stephen Curry is somehow managing to shoot more than four percent worse on shots closer than three-point range. Curry never shot so poorly from two-point range before this. Except, the issue for Curry isn't shooting. It's finishing. 

Take a look at Steph's shot distribution chart from his pre-ankle-injury season in 2010-2011:

Notice how Curry took 26 percent of his attempts in the rim area, where players collect so many easy buckets by which to augment their overall percentage. Now check out Curry's current shot distribution from this season:
So Steph's down more than 10 percent in shots at the rim. That's not the only difference between pre-ankle-injuries Curry and the current iteration. Take a look at Curry's at-rim efficiency back in 2010-2011:
That 56.6 mark is solid, if unspectacular. But look at how it's dropped in 2012-2013:
Stephen Curry is taking over 10 percent more shots in the rim area, and also converting roughly 10 percent fewer of the attempts that he does take. I suspect that the ankle is a factor here.
Some fans may not remember, but Stephen Curry used to be something of a layup artist. He was creative around the rim, often shielding his body on reverse and no-look attempts. Here's an example circus layup from 2011:

On this particular layup, Curry lands on that now-tender right ankle. It may be conscious and it may be subconscious, but the guy just isn't trying these kinds of shots as often. He's also not driving hard to lane for layups like this one:  

The Clippers announcer actually compares the play to something Monta Ellis would do. We're a long ways from that kind of description fitting anything Curry does (for better, and in this case, for worse).

The most important issue for Stephen Curry is that his ankle stays healthy, long into the horizon. If it does, there's another issue connected to that ankle tissue: Curry could be an All Star if he converts layups like he used to.