Editor's note: You may have noticed that we've been doing season reviews for each player on the 2012-13 Warriors roster. Since we haven't yet done one for Steph Curry and this was a highly recommended fan post, we're promoting this and adding a poll for grades. Give it a read and vote in the poll. - N.P.
Preemptive Apology: For some reason the YouTube videos wouldn't work when I tried to put them in here, but I've included the links.
This past season, Stephen Curry set the NBA record for three-pointers made in the regular season by hitting 272 on 45% shooting. Despite this feat, it wasn’t until the playoffs that many realized just how talented this 25-year-old truly is.
Whether Curry will emerge as a true superstar is yet to be seen. However, anyone who has watched Curry play, or had to prepare to defend him, knows that Curry poses a defensive nightmare. Is there a way to guard Curry, or does a player with his offensive ability break the defensive system?
The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Stephen Curry is his smooth jump shot that seems like it would fall even if he were shooting from the Bay Bridge.
In the three complete seasons that Curry has played in, Curry has made an absurd average of 196.3 three-pointers per season. To put this into context, compare this to the current record holder for three-point shots made in a career, Ray Allen, who averages 150.3 made per season.
One attribute often used to describe good shooters is their ability to release the ball quickly. According to ESPN’s Sport Science, Steph Curry releases his three-point shot in .4 seconds.
This makes defending Curry an absolute nightmare, especially coming off of screens. When defending the pick-and-roll, a common strategy employed against shooters is to have the man guarding the ball-handler (the player the pick is set against) fight over the top of the screen. Meanwhile the defender whose man is setting the pick hedges towards the side of the screen the player will come off of, affording the defender being picked some time to recover.
Take how Bosh and Wade defend against Memphis’s pick-and-roll, for example.
DWade comes over the top of Randolph’s screen, albeit a weak one, and Bosh stops the dribble, giving Dwyane time to recover.
Gasol plays excellent pick-and-roll defense in a similar manner.
But with way Curry shoots the basketball, he takes this system apart.
His man has no time to recover, and Steph’s shot is off so quickly that Duncan is absolutely helpless.
If Curry is so deadly in the pick-and-roll, why did he only average 0.87 points per possession, per Synergy? The answer to this question has very little to do with Curry, and a lot to do with the fact that David Lee is AWFUL at setting screens.
In this first play against San Antonio, Lee barely bumps Parker with his shoulder and in the second play. Lee does wind up scoring, but the reason he does so is also the reason why he sets such halfhearted picks: Lee is very talented at slipping screens, and dishing to Lee as he rumbled through the lane was a vital part of Golden State’s offense in the regular season.
As we saw in the playoffs, though, when Lee was unable to play significant minutes, Bogut spent a lot of time setting screens for Curry and did a relatively good job of allowing Curry to create some separation to hit those quick threes.
Give someone an inch and they’ll take it a mile; give Steph Curry an inch and he’ll block out the sun with a barrage of three-pointers.
If the off-ball defender tries to adjust by coming out further to prevent Curry from shooting, his quickness and ball-handling skills allow him to move right past them on his way to the rim.
Curry isn’t as deadly driving to the basket as he is outside, shooting "only" 49.8% at the rim, but he’s fast and crafty.
If you can’t give Steph any room to breathe, then just trap him, right? Well…not really.
Not only can he beat defenders on the drive, but he’s also an excellent passer.
During the regular season, Curry averaged 7 assists per game and during the playoffs this number went up to 8.1 per game.
Against the pick-and-roll defense discussed earlier, if teams decide to trap Curry, they’re leaving the man setting the pick a wide open lane to cut to the basket and Curry is very capable of finding him. Even if the defense shifts to prevent the easy basket at the rim, David Lee and Andrew Bogut have been able to find open shooters in the corner.
Curry’s ability to create his own shot with very little space requires defenses to pay a significant amount of attention to him. However, when Curry doesn’t have the ball, he demands (or at least, he should demand) as much, if not more attention.
Last season, Curry averaged 1.34 points per possession on spot-up shots, which was good for fifth in the league. On these shots, his field goal percentage was 49.8% and his three-point percentage was even higher at 52.1%. From the right corner last season, Curry shot 60%. That’s simply unbelievable. If you sag off of Curry to help on defense, he will make you pay.
The question mark for Curry is the ankle injuries that have plagued him throughout his short career thus far. If Curry is able to heal this summer and stay healthy through next season, though, he has the potential to wreak havoc on teams for years to come.
It would be wise for the Western Conference to heed the warning Curry gave us all in Game 4 against the Nuggets.