4,000-to-1 Long Shot

How many families have at least one kid who would like to shoot the basketball like Stephen Curry? How many have an adult with financial plan? Of those two, whose odds do you think are longer?

Four thousand players have laced ‘em up in NBA history, and not one has ever shot a ball like Curry. Four biased jerseys from French Lick, Indiana are grimacing at me right now, hanging on my wall. But when the facts change, I change my mind, and then dig in to learn even more.

I had to know why Curry appeared to be using a different game-board than all the other players. I bet you have wondered the exact same thing when you see one investor smiling more than the rest, regardless of the size of their portfolio. What are they doing differently?!

Smaller than average. Weaker than average. Slower than average. And, Curry became the best shooter the game has ever seen. One hunch I had was correct (and why I don’t hate my little dribbler still bouncing after he comes inside), but I was blown away by the final ingredient of his plan. Stick around for that even if you do not like basketball. Both of these non-shooting drills, and few more, contain principles that apply to any of our games, in any field.

Out of every four thousand adults in the U.S., how many do you think have a financial plan? All the “wealth” surveys say the percentage is ridiculously low, but are not even worth citing because I guarantee you it is much, much lower. People who avoid the topic of planning are not all of a sudden eager to fill out surveys to remind them.

Very few investment advisors have their own personal written plan. Far fewer have succession plans. The majority are close to retirement age themselves. Their firms are responsible for putting those precious few needles in haystacks that a few investors call long-term plans. There are notable exceptions, cherish yours, if you are have partnered with one.

The reasons for such long odds in both pursuits are simple. Kids like to just shoot around. And, their parents like taking shots in a few investment accounts. Both wait to see what happens, and hope for the best.

When I asked my older son WHY he thinks Curry shoots the ball like he does, it sent me down a rabbit hole of research. This is therapy when our hometown team, the Rockets, was dismantled again by Curry. The most sophisticated analytics department in all of sports has no answer. The creativity born from a cohesive plan, that I will detail below, kicked efficiency’s ass.

Similarly, investors now have the most efficient tools and big data. The focus is on comparing it all. However, our instincts whisper that a disciplined plan must somehow limit the upside. Many would rather try and shoot the lights out, then get serious about a plan later.

Here is my only prediction: the next frontier in analytics will be the softer sciences. Are we talking basketball or investing? Yes!!

“Discipline equals freedom. That’s not a contradiction it’s an equation.” -Jocko Willink

I found seven reasons the odds are so long. Curry decided to change his, it did not just happen. So can we.

The Handle

Curry’s first advantage is his ridiculous handle on the ball. This one learned skill gave birth to the next three reasons below, all by itself. He was a pass-first point guard, to a fault, according to his high school coach Shonn Brown at Charlotte Christian. On the JV team, he was 5’6” 130 lbs. His now famous stroke looked, at the time, like a medicine ball was being heaved from his chin.

When he was growing up he focused on first things first - how to handle the ball better than anybody on the floor. A handle is not genetic. "My dad probably dribbled 20 times in his whole career," Curry says.

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Step 1 is also more than half the battle in a Plan. The most underestimated factor in the success of a financial plan is everything that goes into lifting those numbers by hand first – the working part – the inputs from earned income. Investing in your own craft has the highest potential ROI. The investing part is a distant second. Realize an entire industry is not inclined to emphasize this fact, because there are no fees from it. First things first, spend more time on your handle than anything else.

The Confidence to Look Up

Heading into his junior season Curry was 5’10, 150 lbs. Small guys can get bullied on the basketball court, unless they never lose the ball. The fear that comes from being small around larger opponents can be turned completely upside down. Working tirelessly to earn the best handle on the court provided a unique advantage of KNOWING he could go to spots and see things nobody else could.

Fear is a friend of exceptional people.” -Cus D’Amato

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Step 2 is dealing with our own bullies. Why do so few people have any kind of financial plan? From what I have learned building them for twenty years, it must start with the confidence it takes to even go through the exploration phase. It is NOT an intelligence thing, that may even be inversely related. I know many brilliant people, experts in their fields, that are bullied away from planning by their own awkward relationship with money.

In our experience, the entire planning exercise boils down to answering two questions definitively. #1 Am I Going to Be Okay? Part of the answer is being certain at least some investments are completely removed from harm’s way. The benefit of any risk-free assets is not just knowing you will not lose that portion, but also the resulting confidence to look up. You now have a different lens than anybody else, to seize opportunities with money that will not be bullied out.

Seeing the Target Sooner & Longer

The intensity of Curry’s ball-handling work has quite literally earned him the most valuable commodity in any game – extra time. He finds the target a fraction of a second sooner than shooters without the handle, or the confidence from it.

Ever wonder what Curry is aiming for when he shoots? Before doing this research, I thought I could really shoot the basketball. The next time I went out and looked at the goal, I felt like I had been trying to fit a beach ball into a thimble.

Curry finds the closest three hooks (where the net is looped onto the rim) that will always be facing him from any angle. The three hooks are also the exact width of a basketball.

This postseason, 84% of Curry’s free throws were…swishes. Go try laying the ball off the backboard and see if you can get more than eight out of ten to not graze the rim.

Step 3 for me is a giant white sketch pad for the earliest scribbles and notes when somebody begins to even wonder what a Financial Freedom Plan could look like for them. The sooner they find their targets and the longer they have, the better. That is probably the easiest of all these comparisons to agree on. So, this is not the problem. Most people with very specific goals and timelines have some sort of plan in their minds.

Vision without execution is hallucination.” -Thomas Edison

If you do not know where the three hooks of your goal are yet THAT IS FINE! Do not let Wall Street set your target as rates of return until you figure it out later. That is an assets under management plan for them, not a future income plan for you. Allow me to break every rule of Wall Street training I was hardwired with and make a confession for them – it is not the investments part that will make your Plan work. It is your handle and your vision that dictate its pace. I escaped Wall Street to tell that truth. The co-conspirator is our instincts against planning, making us vulnerable to believing the markets are the ball.

The best reason I have ever gotten for why somebody did not have a Plan, despite having all the best intentions and a great handle, was they were not even sure what their goals were yet. I think this wonderful hard-working couple speaks for many. Watch Curry with the ball in his hands - you think he’s predetermined where he’s going? The floor of possibilities, with more angles to consider, opens up after his disciplined planning sessions were done.

Discipline unlocks greater vision. The most inspiring part of my job is watching peace of mind unlock doors somebody never knew existed.

Gaining Even MORE Time

Curry quietly lifts off, but stays so low that an Oxford English Dictionary could trip him. His kinetic energy comes from shooting as he’s jumping, rather than jumping and then shooting, which also lets him release the ball in as little as 0.3 seconds,” -Ben Cohen/Wall Street Journal. The league average is almost twice as long at 0.54.

The release is completely unorthodox. For anybody else, shooting on the way up puts a shot more in danger of being blocked. Add in the fact Curry is already considerably shorter than most and his shot should be in double-danger. But the ball is out of Curry’s hands before the fastest twitches in the world can react.

Then Curry adds yet another advantage after his unusual release – more time for the ball to fly through the air – because he uses an extreme arc. The average three-pointer this season reached a peak height of 15.7 feet, according to Stats LLC’s tracking technology in every NBA arena. Curry’s average was 16.2 feet. The result is Curry’s shot enters the target area at a different angle with a greater success rate. Various physics studies have shown the best angle a player could hope for is 45 degrees. Curry’s come in one degree higher than best.

Step 4 happens the moment that you realize time is more valuable than money. Part of what a Plan can accomplish is deciding exactly how much your time is worth. The second of those two questions every investor shares at some point, regardless of the size of a nest egg, is How Much is Enough? In that link are two people with completely different answers, despite sharing a lot in common originally. The same investment rates of return were available to each of them. I used those true stories to illustrate the amount invested is not the answer. The most valuable asset of all time is more time - to do what is most important to you.

Adjust Your Target

You can’t change the size of the ball, but you can change the size of the target.” The head scratching physics of Curry’s shot comes from legendary NBA shooting coach Gary Boren. The angle of entry changes the size of the rim for a ball to fit through. A “shooter’s touch” is not about karma. It is science. The combination of the highest entry angle, with the slowest moving ball (backspin on the descent does that), that lands deepest into the cylinder (most positive outcomes), has the best odds of falling inside the goal. At the end of every possession of the fiercest physical battles of raw athleticism, it just comes down to the math of it all.

Step 5 is where the 4,000-to-1 long shot odds of planning can improve the fastest. Calculate your grand total of annual expenses (needs and wants). That number is your target. Then calculate how much annual income will be available (you pick the year) from multiple streams of secure sources. If this mailbox money coming in, comfortably exceeds what is going out - with enough extra to fill a contingency bucket of cash for unplanned expenses - then you are well on your way to Financial Freedom. If you are not there yet, good news, you can change the outcome without any help from the markets. You can adjust your target.

It’s choice – not chance – that determines your destiny.” -Jean Nidetch (founder of Weight Watchers)

The Chemistry of Movement

Smiles are good clues to follow. Curry had another big one after this crazy possession, running around and through the Rockets. I scribbled it by hand on that same big planning sketch pad. If I asked their analytics department to chart it, their “smart money” machines would melt down. Again, Curry seems to be playing a completely different game than all the best data says should be ideal.

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All of Curry’s rigor and tenacity in disciplined practice is now the silent partner on game day, allowing for this wild creativity. Curry’s red line in 20 seconds is more than his opponent James Harden moved without the ball, over an entire quarter. I thought the Rockets might hit peak analytics two years ago, and the middle of the floor became undervalued as a result.

Senior ESPN writer Tom Junod sat down with Curry’s college coach, Bob McKillop. His first impression of Curry was not what you'd think. “He runs in loops, not straight lines, and changed pace.” McKillop has coached Davidson for more than 30 years now. He went to the NCAA tournament many times, but never won a game until Curry got there.

The smarter the NBA gets with big data, the more players are being told to run in straighter lines, to more isolated areas, and many are standing still on the 3-point line. Curry is running circles around all of them. There is a compounding effect of this for a team. The special dividend of movement is chemistry.

Take one specific look at the chart below, to see just how good Curry is individually, to make his sharing so much more amazing. Analytics machines scream at his line on this chart – clear out - do more of that individually!

Watch how Curry wrecks those machines. He has a better plus/minus (how the team does when he is on the floor) over 5 years than any other player. His dominance is better than any other player in history, at all their bests. When Lebron James won four MVP’s in five years carrying a team, he was +3,335. Curry was +4,131.

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The results of Curry’s work are astounding. But there is something better going on in there. Look again. See those faint grey lines on the chart? Those are all Curry’s teammates! Curry has unlocked the only black box that analytics machines will never crack – he is more fun to play with.

Step 6 is a parallel that will be the most difficult to draw back to investing, but I have learned is the longest lasting. I am guilty of underestimating it for many years. Head-down grinders and straight-line investors will dismiss this…at first. My only hope is it will hit them in the back of their subconscious like a full-court bounce pass when they are out on a run some day.

Here it is. The most important variable for the long-term health of any Plan is WHO you are with.

Knowing the efficiency of all the investing approaches, analyzing the risk metrics of individual securities or funds, or even relying on some balanced allocation...all take a back seat to the WHO. Getting that part wrong can mess up the math in a hurry. Getting it right, and investing time to get it better, can provide the very best reason to Plan at all.

Before I share our flimsy 8x10 evidence, you might already see this is true in a few people you know. I bet you know at least one miserable millionaire and one thrilled thousandaire. There could be many factors, but I will take a guess, the biggest difference is who they are with.

I do not pry, and I cannot measure the WHO in a chart, but I can see it. Every day I walk past the most important graphical wall in our building, the GRINdex. Indexes for retirement are multiplying like gremlins, but I always wondered why is there not one to measure peace of mind? So, the families we serve capture their best memories from around the world in photos that we proudly frame and hang. That chemistry makes Planning fun.

The Killer Apps: Curiosity & a Coach

On game-night, fans arrive hours early just to watch Curry shoot in warm-ups. His shooting coach, Bruce Fraser, is almost famous now after so many fans have seen him feed Curry the ball in a choreographed circus of shots. Fraser explains, “His shot is beautifully simple, the delivery is uncomplicated. That part would be easy for any player of any age to mimic. Should someone try and shoot like Steph? Yes. Can they? No.”

We have dissected most of those other parts you cannot see. But if you made it this far, you deserve the final piece of his puzzling success that even die-hard hoop fans (and players) have not considered.

Fraser estimates only 25% of Curry’s shooting comes from talent. In fairness, nobody can estimate that. But, one thing we know for sure is that it does not come from the coach’s shooting experience. He made four baskets during his college career. He shot 54% from the free throw line. He did not attempt a three-pointer.

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Fraser’s nickname is “Q.” He has been described as Steve Kerr’s secret weapon ever since their days together at Arizona. The Q stands for questions. He apparently knows the magic questions to ask. A trait Curry shares with many of the world’s best at anything, is a desire to be coached and pushed more.

Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens.” Jimi Hendrix

Curry became more curious. The best shooter, surrounded by the ideal environment, snuck away to learn more. He invested time in the off-season to break the game-board again, by disrupting himself first. The only way for any of us to do that is to listen to a very different outside opinion. He hired an unusual trainer named Brandon Payne.

The ultimate sensation in any sport (I see you too investing!) is when the game appears to slow down. Your mind’s eye processing at a different speed than competitors makes them appear rushed by comparison.

What if that ideal game-changing state could also be practiced for?!

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In this drill, Curry handles multiple balls of different sizes. At the same time, he does separate footwork combinations. Military grade goggles are added to fire strobe lights at his eyes from different angles, alternating with complete black outs. Across the way, Curry must find different lights on a wall to signal when the next series of movements are to start. All while dribbling a basketball that will never be looked at.

Most physical training tools have been tried by now. Curry wanted something different. Payne describes Curry as even better than he imagined because of how curious he is.

They are purposefully assaulting his circuit board, and in turn, his processing chip must move so much faster. Then a game of just basketball seems slower. He developed a plan to re-wire his system...after he was great.

Step 7 is the biggest opponent of any Plan - complexity and anxiety. If you have a friend with ANY sort of Plan (it does not have to be complex, the back of an envelope is better than that) ask them what was the biggest difference in their lives it made.

I have asked hundreds, so I will share their most common answer: Knowing what not to worry about. There is this unusual joy of missing out now. JOMO, as I affectionately call it, is when the dizzying inputs of investment information assaulting you daily, can be ignored. A Plan trains away distractions.

That does not just happen with old age and more money. As a matter of fact, those two inputs often lead to more anxiety with more riding on juggling all the correct choices, without dropping one. Instead, attack complexity and anxiety with a disciplined training partner – a Plan.

@RyanKruegerROI