Lies, damned lies and statistics: The confusing analytics of the NBA's 3-point obsession

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NBC Sports

Lies, damned lies and statistics: The confusing analytics of the NBA's 3-point obsession

Let's say you're an NBA coach after a loss. You plop down in your office chair. You're stewing. You're sweaty. Your vocal chords feel like someone gently massaged them with a cheese grater.  

An intern hands you the final box score. You look down and can't wait to find out: What cost you the win? 

What column do you look at first? What column should you look at first?

If you ask Gregg Popovich, it's the 3-pointers-made column. That's the only one worth looking at these days in a 3-obsessed league.

Last week, ahead of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against Chicago Bulls, Popovich was asked about the 3-point shot in the NBA, a topic which has long been fertile ground for a good quote from Pop. The 69-year-old has hated the advent of the 3-point shot for years and this was not the first time he’s ranted about the 3-ball.

“These days there’s such an emphasis on the 3 because it’s proven to be analytically correct,” Popovich offered Monday with what appeared to be a sneer. “Now you look at a stat sheet after a game and the first thing you look at is the 3s. If you made 3s and the other team didn’t, you win. You don’t even look at the rebounds or the turnovers or how much transition (defense) was involved. You don’t even care. That’s how much an impact the 3 shot has and it’s evidenced by how everybody plays.”

Pop wasn’t done.

“I hate it, but I always have,” Popovich said even as he’s adjusted over the years. “I’ve hated the 3 for 20 years. That’s why I make a joke all the time (and say) if we’re going to make it a different game, let’s have a four-point play. Because if everybody likes the 3, they’ll really like the 4. People will jump out of their seats if you have a five-point play. It will be great. There’s no basketball anymore, there’s no beauty in it. It’s pretty boring. But it is what it is and you need to work with it.”

(Stephen Curry chimed in on Instagram with a “Nope!”)

This is a classic Pop rant. Funny. Ornery. Critical. But accurate?

He's exaggerating a bit to make a point, but on the surface, Popovich seems like he’s onto something. The 3-point shot has become more and more popular in today’s NBA. This season, the average NBA team shoots roughly 31 3-point attempts, about two more than last season and a whopping 13 more than the 2009-10 season. In some ways, it has taken over the sport. 

But is the 3-point column really that predictive? If you're a coach and you want to see what won you the game, should your eyes dart to the 3-point column on the stat sheet first?

Well, let's actually do the work. I have researched every NBA game played this season through Sunday’s games (all 342!) and looked at which stats aligned with the win column most often. In other words, which battle tended to win the war of a basketball game?

With that in mind, the most important stat on the traditional box score is ... field-goal percentage! Basketball purists, rejoice! If you shoot better from the floor than your opponent, you’re probably going to win the game. In fact, teams this season are 246-69 (.781) when they win the FG% column.

OK, maybe that's a little obvious. It’s a make-or-miss league, just as Jeff Van Gundy loves to say. 

Now, with all the 3s in today’s game, you look at the 3-pointers-made column, right?

Actually, still no. Old-school coaches might want to sit down for this: The team that won the defensive rebound battle is the next-most likely to win, going 225-71 (.760) this season. Don't believe it? Look at the league's top defensive rebound teams: Milwaukee, Philly, Portland, L.A. Clippers, -- yeah, they're really good this season! 

That area of the game probably keeps Wizards coach Scott Brooks up at night. Washington is 4-1 when they win the defensive-boards column, but 6-13 when they don’t

All right, 3-pointers have to be the next most pivotal category in the box score, right? Nope. Plain ol' field goals made is still more important than the 3-ball. The team that reigned supreme in the field goals column went 225-72 (.758), regardless of where they took them.

We can keep going. Turns out that assists (.699), rebounds (.690) and 2-point field goal percentage (.689) are still more tied to the win column than 3-pointers made. We’re seeing that maybe the 3-point shot isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Finally, further down the list, boom, we have 3-pointers made at a .640 win percentage, just barely ahead of 2FG (.628).

Here's the W-L record of teams that "won" the stat in the box score.

Huh. So, Pop is right in some sense. The "winner" of the 3-point column is more correlated with wins than turnovers, blocks and steals. But not rebounding, especially cleaning up the defensive glass. 

Even though teams are launching the deep ball more than ever, knocking down more 3s than your opponent doesn't guarantee victory. In fact, you lose 36 percent of the time with that 3-point edge. Even if you win the 3-point percentage column, you still lose 25 percent of your games, hardly a knockout punch.

You don't have to tell Mike D'Antoni twice about this phenomenon. If Pop's theory were true, the Rockets would be good this season. Newsflash: They aren't. If 3s made truly determined wins, then the Rockets would be 18-3-2 this season. They're 11-12. Earlier this season, they made 10 more 3-pointers than the Clippers and still caught an L.

How about the Bucks? The surprise team of the season, Milwaukee is 16-7 while firing up 3s at a Rockets-like rate. If the 3-point column dictated wins and losses, they’d be 14-8-1. It’s only two more wins, but this shows there’s more to their hot start than just the 3-ball. Their star player and offensive focal point, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is a terrible 3-point shooter, but the Bucks are amazing this season more so because they're the NBA's leader in 2FG% and layups -- and they dominate the boards. They're so dang good because they own the paint like a 90s throwback.

* * *

I asked the trusty Basketball-Reference gurus to run some numbers for me, and what they found was interesting. The team that wins the 3FGM column over the last decade has a win percentage of .648 in those games. This season, that win percentage is .640  and has been in decline as 3-point attempts have gone way up.

In fact, the 3-point column is essentially no more predictive than it was a decade ago (.638 in 2008-09). Aside from a blip in 2016-17, teams that won the 3-point column have hovered around .640 pretty consistently since 2004-05, when rule changes allowed more freedom of movement for guards (Hey, Mike D'Antoni!).

 

So what's Pop's rant really about?

It seems to be more about aesthetics, along with a hint of bitterness toward the fact that he's not using 3s to his advantage (NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman wrote about this). Popovich doesn't seem to like the drive-and-kick flow of the game, which feels like an issue of taste rather than a contention of competition. Business in the NBA is booming and it's hard to imagine a global obsession over Steph Curry without the advent of the 3-point line. 

The game isn't dominated by guys who were born super tall -- there’s no Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and George Mikan in today’s game (not yet, Joel Embiid). Now, the NBA’s best players are smaller guys -- Curry, Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard -- who have mastered the skill of making baskets from really far away and away from a web of defenders.

There’s more data than ever in sports and the lessons from that data-mining has made its way onto the playing field where scoring has reached heights unseen. NFL coaches are going for it on fourth down more and throwing for more yards than ever. In Major League Baseball, strikeouts and home runs are soaring as part of the true-outcome seachange. If Pop hates 3-pointers, he'd really hate the home run ball. The team that wins the 3-point battle wins 64 percent of the time but according to the Sports Reference folks, the team that wins the homer battle wins a whopping 77 percent of the time. 

In the end, it's not only good for winning, it's good for business. As Greg Maddux told Tom Glavine: Chicks dig the long ball.

How Michael Jordan and LeBron James broke through the NBA's glass ceiling

How Michael Jordan and LeBron James broke through the NBA's glass ceiling

The crowd roared as Michael Jordan walked onto the court during Sunday’s All-Star Game. Jordan had made this stroll 14 times as a player, but this time, he wasn’t wearing a jersey. Instead, he was dressed in a black blazer, gray jeans and a giant watch that sparkled with the power of the sun.

The announcer’s growly voice blared from the Spectrum Center speakers.

“From North Carolina, the 6-6 guard and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets, Michaelllllll Jordannnn.”

Jordan was ceremoniously handing the All-Star Game ball to Michael Reinsdorf, the president of Jordan’s former team, the Chicago Bulls, and the son of Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The city of Chicago will be hosting the 2020 All-Star Game.

Looking on from the sidelines during the timeout, LeBron James and 25 other uniformed All-Stars watched the two shake hands. It was a symbolic gesture with historical weight. In 2010, Jordan became the first former NBA player to become a majority owner of a franchise. He is currently the only African-American majority owner in the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB. 

These handshakes are almost always done with white hands.

That fact wasn’t lost on the All-Stars that surrounded Jordan on Sunday, the majority of whom were black. Jordan broke through a wall, opening a door that many of those same players hope to one day walk through.

Only days before he stood in front of Jordan in Charlotte, James, the most prominent All-Star of them all, announced to the world his intention to follow in Jordan’s footsteps.

Last week, through The Athletic, James boldly declared that he was going to own an NBA team one day, just like Jordan.

“Ain’t no maybe about it,” James told The Athletic. “I’m going to do that s***.”

That’s always been the plan.

“That’s what he’s gonna do,” Dwyane Wade said of James this past weekend. “He’s going to own a team. He’s been talking about this since we were rookies. I think all of us want to be a part of ownership,” Wade said. “It’s a goal of mine, it’s a goal of (Chris Paul), (Carmelo Anthony) and our whole crew.”

Jordan’s power has gone all the way to the top. And today’s players are flexing their muscle.

* * *

Kevin Durant grew up outside Washington, D.C., in Prince George’s County, MD, and was four days away from his 13th birthday when, on Sept. 25, 2001, Jordan announced he would return to play for the local Washington Wizards. Six years later, by the time Durant was drafted No. 2 overall in 2007, Jordan had purchased a minority stake in the then-Charlotte Bobcats, the first stepping stone to buying the team outright in 2010.

As a kid in PGC, Durant never even considered that he could one day be an owner of any NBA team. But Jordan changed all that. Nowadays, Durant is thinking bigger. While Jordan played host at All-Star Weekend, Durant was asked whether he ever dreamed he could possibly own a franchise.

“I never thought about it as a kid,” Durant said. “You don’t even think about the business until halfway in [after] you accomplish everything you want as a player. Only thing I [previously] thought about is stepping into this oasis, this freedom as a man, to just do everything I wanted every day -- play basketball, play video games, watch TV, eat junk food. I’ve been doing that for the last 12 years.

“Now, I’ve started to think about what’s next.”

Durant, who is almost four years younger than James, followed a similar path to James off the court. James built a business empire through agent Rich Paul, manager Maverick Carter and others in his inner circle. So far, James has opened a public school in his hometown of Akron, launched an athlete-owned media company in Uninterrupted, and had at least some role in founding a sports agency, Klutch Sports Management, with his longtime friend Paul. There’s also SpringHill Entertainment, a production company started by James and Carter, which produced James-centric shows on HBO and ESPN and will shepherd James’ starring turn in Space Jam 2 in the role once held by Jordan.

Last week, Durant debuted his own show, “The Boardroom” on ESPN+, in which he and his business partner Rich Kleiman will have starring roles alongside ESPN analyst and former No. 2 overall pick Jay Williams. The original series, in a similar vein as James’ “The Shop,” will feature in-depth discussions from icons inside and outside basketball about the sports business. It’s just one of several projects hosted within Thirty Five Ventures, a company Durant co-owns with Kleiman. Durant has also pledged a $10 million donation to open The Durant Center, a new facility seeking to increase the number of low-income and first-generation college students in the Prince George’s County public school system.

Durant, like James, also has interest in adding an NBA team -- or a slice of one -- to his investment portfolio. The Golden State Warriors forward is just 30 years old and has made $160 million in salary. He knows it’s going to take a lot more than that to get into the ownership business.

“If I make enough money, I would for sure think about it,” Durant said. “I would love to. It’s much easier said than done.”

In 2010, Jordan successfully made a $275 million bid, plopping down $30 million in upfront cash, according to the Charlotte Observer, to purchase the team from Bob Johnson, the co-founder of BET and the first African-American majority club owner of a major American sports league. Jordan’s investment was a shrewd business move. This month, Forbes valued the Charlotte franchise at $1.25 billion. 

The money is one thing, but Durant stressed how significant it is that Jordan, as an African-American, was able to smash through that glass ceiling that, for so long, had been colored white.

“I don’t want to understate that when it comes to Michael Jordan, it’s so hard to break into that club of being an owner,” Durant said. “Because that’s what it is -- it’s a boy’s club. It’s a bunch of friends that make those deals together. So when you see a black man from North Carolina, that started off as a basketball player, rise up and own a basketball team, it’s very inspiring.”

Count Portland Trail Blazers star guard Damian Lillard among those who drew inspiration from Jordan and his business pursuits that empowered him to own a team.

“I think he’s definitely opened the doors for it, just letting you know it’s possible,” Lillard said. “For him, the great Michael Jordan as a player, but on the business side he was the first guy to really, really, really do it. Especially as an African-American man. For him to do that, now you see so many guys try to establish that business away from basketball.”

* * *

For so long, the business of basketball has been disproportionately white. In 2015, Dr. Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, found that the NBA was a leader in the sports industry for racial and gender hiring practices, receiving top scores in men’s pro sports. 

However, a survey of the league’s org charts showed that, despite those strong marks, the higher and higher one looks, the fewer and fewer African-Americans appeared. According to the UCF study, 74.4 percent of all NBA players identified themselves as African-Americans or black compared to just 33.3 percent of their head coaches, 19.4 percent of GMs and 3.3 percent of owners (with Jordan the sole majority owner). In 2019, after Tyronn Lue was fired by Cleveland earlier this season, the coaching percentage fell to 23.3 percent, or seven of the 30 jobs. For any player looking at positions of power in their sport, that’s not an encouraging sign.

Just last week, James spoke out against what he sees as racial bias against his African-American representatives. 

Following a trip to take in a Duke-Virginia game, James and Paul were chided for what many  saw as a “recruiting trip” of projected 2019 No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson.

In talking to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, James fired back.

“A recruiting trip? I didn't talk to anybody,” James said. "They're only saying that because it's Rich … Now, Rich is a threat to everybody, and they look at it and they want to keep trying to jab my agent and jab my friend. And what is he doing that's wrong? They don't say that about no other agent when other guys go see [players]. They don't say that about no other agent, but my guy because he's a threat.”

James went on.

"And he's African-American, too. Throw that in there.”

* * *

Not every star sees themselves as a future NBA owner. Kemba Walker, who plays for Jordan’s Hornets, wasn’t about that life, telling NBC Sports, “no sir, just not my thing.” After praising Jordan’s business efforts, Lillard just shook his head when asked if he’d like to be an owner or run an NBA team. Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson said owning a team “would be fun, but it takes a lot of capital to do that. I’ll just stick to owning a fantasy team one day.”

But just about every player that spoke with NBC Sports praised James and Jordan for empowering the younger generation to think big. James and Jordan have not just asserted their own power, but have also elevated people of color to powerful positions. In 2006, Jordan hired Charlotte Hornets (then-Bobcats) president of business operations Fred Whitfield as the NBA’s only African-American chief operating officer. Whitfield has worked closely with Jordan for decades, initially as an attorney under Jordan’s longtime agent David Falk. (On Saturday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver name-checked Whitfield during his opening remarks at his annual All-Star press conference).

In 2012, while with the Miami Heat, James hired Paul, who had been working under Leon Rose at CAA, to be his agent. Paul left CAA to start up Klutch Sports and in short time has become one of the league’s top power brokers.

Since leaving CAA, Paul has added stars such as Davis, John Wall and Ben Simmons to his clientele. According to HoopsHype tracking, Paul currently represents 16 players with total salaries amounting to $194 million, the fifth-highest total among all agents.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, just 22 years old and a participant in the All-Star 3-point shootout for a second time, admired James and Jordan’s business acumen but also noted their support staffs.

“They’re opening doors,” said Booker, who is not one of Paul’s clients. “It’s never enough for those type of guys, and I’d like to think of myself the same. Expanding their business, expanding their life. And they put the right people around them in the right positions to take care of them. Big shout out to them for changing the game and being an inspiration to us, the younger generation.”

* * *

It’s not hard to envision how a franchise owned by James might look. Could there one day be a Banana Boat Inc., investment group featuring James, Wade, Paul and Anthony? Wade hinted at it over the All-Star Weekend, and others in the league are connecting the dots.

Just as Jordan anointed his longtime associate Whitfield to be the Hornets president, some in league circles foresee a possible two-pronged brain trust featuring Carter at the head of business operations and Paul spearheading the basketball side. 

Paul is following a similar path as the current general managers for both James and Durant’s teams. Before taking over as the Lakers’ general manager, Rob Pelinka was a high-powered agent for over a decade, representing names like Kobe Bryant, James Harden and for a short time, Durant. Warriors GM Bob Myers did the same, spending 14 years as a big-time agent with SFX Sports and Wasserman. 

Both Pelinka and Myers played college hoops and earned a law degree before entering the agent business. Paul did neither but has amassed an impressive client list and is flexing comparable power just the same. 

Not everyone likes it, especially those in top managerial levels. Pelicans owner Gayle Benson fired the team’s general manager the morning after Paul walked out mid-game with Anthony Davis on national television, reportedly vowing to “take back control from outside forces,” according to ESPN. As the president of the Knicks, Phil Jackson once referred to James’ business partners as a “posse,” a term that James and Carter interpreted as offensive racially-coded language meant to minimize their business credibility.

"We see the success that we have, but then there is always someone that lets you know still how far we still have to go as African-Americans," James said following Jackson’s comments.

The All-Star Weekend was a homecoming for the Curry family, but it also represented something more than that. With Jordan owning a franchise and LeBron making noise about doing the same, it was a statement that black athletes are wielding more power within the game than ever before and opening doors for others to follow. Perhaps one day we’ll see James shake hands with Jordan at halfcourt of an All-Star game -- not as players, but owners.

Family focus: How the Currys are leading the second generation of NBA athletes

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NBC Sports

Family focus: How the Currys are leading the second generation of NBA athletes

This year’s All-Star Weekend in Charlotte will be a family affair, a celebration of House Curry, if you will.

Stephen Curry will participate in the 3-point contest with his brother, Seth, a guard for the Portland Trail Blazers, marking the first time that brothers will compete together in the marquee event. Not only that, the Currys will let it fly in the same city where the two grew up. Their father Dell, currently an analyst for the Hornets broadcast team and a two-time 3-point shooting contest participant himself, was part of the original Charlotte Hornets team and retired as the franchise’s career scoring leader. On Sunday, before the All-Star Game, the NBA will honor Dell at an event for his contributions on and off the court.

Make no mistake about it, the Curry family is NBA royalty and this is their homecoming. Stephen is the two-time MVP and three-time NBA champion who currently leads the NBA in 3-pointers per game (5.1). Seth, now in his fifth season, leads the NBA in 3-point percentage, making a blistering 47.5 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. 

Fans are obsessed with their every move. Seth’s Instagram account has 1.7 million followers, more than any MLB or NHL star. Meanwhile, Steph led the league in jersey sales for a third-straight season and boasts more Instagram followers than the top-three most-followed NFL stars, Odell Beckham Jr., Tom Brady and Cam Newton, combined. 

While the Currys changed the game of basketball by weaponizing the 3-point shot like never before, they’re also the most prominent faces in a fascinating trend. A wave of second-generation NBA players has flooded the league in recent years. This season, there are 27 sons of NBA players, including Steph, Seth, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Devin Booker, Domantas Sabonis and Justise Winslow, among others.

The Currys are the patriarchs among a growing family of patriarchs. These days, the term “NBA family” takes on a new meaning.

* * *

As Stephen, Seth and Dell act as official and unofficial hosts this weekend in Charlotte, they’ll also serve as reminders of the father-son dynamic infiltrating the league’s elite.

In the All-Star Game itself, Stephen will be joined by fellow second-generation player Thompson (father Mychal won two titles with the Lakers). Booker, son of former NBAer Melvin, will join Seth and Stephen in the 3-point contest after winning last year’s event. Sabonis (the legendary Arvydas is his father) and Jaren Jackson Jr (father Jaren played 12 seasons in the NBA) will be featured in the Rising Stars game. Al Horford and Kevin Love, though not chosen to participate this year, are All-Star mainstays who are also second-generation NBA players. 

That doesn’t even illustrate the full scope of this familial phenomenon. That list of 27 does not count Rising Star participant and Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen and his father, Leonard, who was drafted 50th overall by the Dallas Mavericks in 1985 but played professionally in Spain instead. JaVale McGee’s mother, Pamela, was the No. 2 overall pick in the WNBA’s 1997 draft and his father George Montgomery was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1985 draft but never played in the NBA. Also outside that 27: Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, whose fathers played pro basketball in Australia, and Luka Doncic, whose father, Sasa, played pro ball in Slovenia. 

Both of Lonzo Ball’s parents played college hoops and his father, LaVar Ball, once signed with the New York Jets as a defensive end. The Knicks’ Kevin Knox is actually Kevin Knox II; his father played in the NFL. Marvin Bagley III is the grandson of two-time All-Star (Jumping) Joe Caldwell and the son of Marvin Jr., who played pro football in the AFL. Lauri Markkanen’s father, Pekka, played pro hoops in Europe after playing for coach Roy Williams at University of Kansas. Lauri’s mother, Riika, played basketball for the Finnish national team. Dirk Nowitzki’s mother, Helga, once played basketball for the German national team while his father Jörg-Werner was an elite handball player. 

The Currys aren’t even the only active NBA brothers with a father who played in the league; Jerami and Jerian Grant are the sons of former NBAer Harvey Grant, who is the twin brother of All-Star and four-time champion Horace.

All these familial links may seem obvious. Height is the leading predictor of NBA players and that’s a genetically-linked trait passed on through DNA. In 2016, the Wall Street Journal found that nearly half of NBA players were related to current or former elite athletes. Giants tend to produce giants, after all. Not only that, but the pool of potential NBA fathers only gets larger over time.

But this latest boom seems extraordinary. The arrival of Curry in 2009 coincided with an influx of NBA sons. In 2008-09, the list was only 10 names long. During Stephen’s rookie season, in 2009-10, he led a group that grew to 16, the most the league had ever seen. The next season, two more. Another three the following year. By 2014-15, it ballooned to 27 players, where it currently stands.

There may be more on the horizon. Oregon center Bol Bol, son of the late Manute Bol, is one of the top prospects in the 2019 Draft. LeBron “Bronny” James Jr., is still in eighth grade, but he has reportedly received an offer from Duke University already and could reach the NBA right around the time his father turns 40 years. Dwyane Wade’s son, Zaire, has already been offered a scholarship by Nebraska as part of the class of 2020. Shareef O’Neal, the son of Shaquille, is at UCLA but sitting out the season with a heart ailment. Cole Anthony, the son of Greg, is the No. 2 prospect of the 2019 class on ESPN’s 100 and Trayce Jackson-Davis (son of Dale Davis) checks in at No. 25.  Scotty Pippen Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr., DJ Rodman (short for Dennis Rodman Jr.) are all highly-touted prospects coming through the pipeline.

Nature is certainly a big part of the boom, but nurture could also play a pivotal role. More specifically: Follow the money. The NBA’s business skyrocketed in the 1990s with Michael Jordan and the globalization of the game. In Dell Curry’s first season, the NBA’s salary cap stood at $4.9 million. By the time he retired in 2001-02, it had grown to $42.5 million. It stands to reason that NBA players became substantially richer and therefore, able to provide more resources for their children -- access to trainers, gyms and specialists -- to pursue basketball as a profession. 

I asked Brent Barry, the vice president of basketball operations for the San Antonio Spurs who played 14 seasons in the NBA, if he could offer up any insight. He and his two brothers, Jon and Drew, both played in the NBA, following in the footsteps of his Hall-of-Fame-father Rick.

Brent first pointed out the fundamental role of genetics, but he also made a point to emphasize his mother, Pam. She is the daughter of NBA player Bruce Hale, which makes Brent a third-generation NBA player of sorts.

That’s when it hits: Does the rise of the father-son NBA combo have more to do with the mother’s side? The 1990s saw a boon for high-level female athletics. In 1991, the International Olympic Committee made a ruling that all new sports applying for Olympic recognition must include female competitors. Women’s soccer and softball became Olympic sports leading into the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The WNBA debuted in 1997, roughly around the same time as the current influx of NBA sons were born. 

David Epstein, author of the New York Times best-selling book “The Sports Gene,” is an expert on the role of nature vs. nurture in athletics. He agrees that genetics are the integral part of the rise of father-son NBA players. 

“You have the sons who have potential, the fathers with means and knowledge, and the high desire to follow in dad's footsteps,” Epstein says. “You have a perfect storm of convergence.”

Though he hasn’t studied this particular finding, he hypothesizes that there are more athletic parent couples than ever before. The athletic supercouples like the McGees, Nowitzkis and Markkanens are becoming more and more the norm.

"Women haven't really had many sports opportunities for very long at all,” Epstein said. “You could argue there's a lot more opportunity for elite athlete couples to form than in the past. I'd guess it will only become more common as women get more athletic opportunities."

Seth and Stephen’s father may have been an NBA sharpshooter, but their mother, Sonya, played collegiate volleyball at Virginia Tech and also led her high school basketball team to two state championships. Sydel Curry, Stephen and Seth’s sister, followed her mother’s footsteps and played Division I volleyball at Elon University. (Speaking of supercouples, she wedded Golden State Warriors reserve guard Damion Lee last year).  

The Plumlee brothers (Mason, Marshall and Miles) all reaching the NBA makes more sense when you find out their parents, Leslie and Perky, both played college basketball (Purdue and Tennessee Tech, respectively). Boris Diaw’s mother, Elisabeth, is in the French Basketball Hall of Fame while his father was a former Senegalese high-jump champion.

It’s tempting to focus on the father-son combos of NBA royalty, but the role of both parents, just like with the Currys, must be fully appreciated.

* * *

Twenty-seven years ago, Stephen Curry watched his father compete in the family’s first 3-point shooting contest. It was the 1992 NBA All-Star Weekend, Vanilla Ice was the halftime act, and Dell was a sharpshooter for the budding Charlotte Hornets, a franchise born the same year as Stephen. 

Stephen, just three years old at the time, was there on the sidelines with his father, getting a front-row view. He even sat on Dell’s lap during the contest and watched basketball greats like John Stockton and Drazen Petrovic compete against his father.

Nearly three decades later, Stephen continues to cement his family’s status as NBA royalty. 

In October, after Stephen scored 29 points, Stephen and Dell surpassed Donny and Dolph Schayes as the second-most points of any father/son combination in NBA history. The Currys (not counting Seth) now have 28,420 points between them and only Kobe and Joe Bryant’s total of 38,895 points stand in front of them.

One day, the Currys may well surpass the Bryants as the leading father-son combo. But even if they get there, the Currys might not hold that title for long. Their father-son successors could be in Charlotte, lurking on the All-Star sidelines, just like Stephen and Dell 27 years ago. 

With the Currys hosting the NBA, the All-Star Weekend in Charlotte is certainly a family affair. If current trends hold, the notion of Team LeBron, in time, may be more than an All-Star Weekend moniker.