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Stephen Curry goes left

Let’s take a closer look at how Stephen Curry’s knee injury in last season’s playoffs affected his game and how he’s recovered since then.

Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For anyone who missed it, a couple of weeks ago we spoke with with Dr. Elliot Yoo, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and pain medicine fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, about the effects of Stephen Curry’s playoff grade 1 MCL knee sprain. Here’s a bit of what we learned:

Dr. Yoo: Your MCL prevents your knee from bending inwards, prevents hyperextension, and resists what we call axial rotation. So movements that cause rotations in the knee are going to be affected by an MCL injury. Running in a straight line might not be so bad but planting a foot, cutting, lateral movement, those would all be affected by this type of injury. Basketball movements like crossing over, sharply squaring up to shoot, and sliding behind a pick, among others, could be limited with an MCL sprain.

“For Curry, he had a right knee MCL sprain. As a result, he would likely be more comfortable planting on his left leg. This means on offense, he would want to drive towards his right ... I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cavaliers took advantage of Curry’s injury by trying to force him to drive left and defend left.”

We also learned that the offseason was a sufficient amount of time for recovery from this type of injury.

To put that to the test, let’s look back at Game 7 of last year’s NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers and see if Curry has truly bounced back. And let me preempt all of you Cavaliers fans and/or Warriors haters by stating up front, this is not a “this is why we lost” post. All we’re looking at is how Curry was moving around then versus now. Calm yourself and go back to watching Game 7 on a loop.

First off, here is Curry driving to his strong side and jumping off his healthy leg.

Compare that to when he has to drive left and jump off his injured knee.

In my opinion, LeBron James would have blocked the crap out of Curry on this play even if Curry’s knee was healthy. But compared to how good Curry was around the basket during the regular season last year, it just looks like he can’t attack the hoop when driving the left lane. He also fails to use any pump fakes or lateral movements that would require a hard stop or cut.

It’s not just on layups either. Let’s check out a couple of the key plays down the stretch, starting with James’ block on Andre Iguodala.

This is another play where I think James would have collected a block no matter what. Obviously, the highlight block is on the actual layup. But before we get to it we have Iguodala pushing down the court and passing to Curry on the left wing.

James is trailing the play so his presence isn’t really factoring into the decision-making here. Curry gets the ball on an apparent 2-on-1 and immediately dishes to Iguodala instead of taking it to the rack on the left side.

It’s not a bad play by Curry and we could simply attribute it to Curry thinking this was the best move, as opposed to Curry passing to avoid the left handed layup off his injured right leg.

But in the same game, on almost a mirror image play, we get a different result.

In this play, Curry has the same options as the play above where Iguodala gets blocked. But here, Curry doesn’t hesitate to drive for a layup off his healthy leg.

There are examples of Curry favoring his strong leg on defense as well. Here is Kyrie Irving’s dagger 3-pointer (last painful one, guys, I promise).

Curry is in a bit of weird stance as Irving inches his way right. Like Dr. Yoo pointed out, the smart play by the Cavaliers would be to force Curry to defend left, which Irving does here.

When Irving does shoot, Curry weakly lunges off his back leg instead of planting and jumping off his injured right leg. Not only does he get almost no elevation (his right foot looks like it barely gets off the ground), but because he didn’t transfer his weight to his injured leg, he can’t even go forward enough to close the distance between him and Irving.

It’s no surprise that his knee sprain was still bothering him throughout the playoffs. But what about now that he’s had a few months of rest? Well, let’s take a look at one of his first touches in the Warriors’ preseason game against the Toronto Raptors.

Curry gets the pass at the top of the 3-point arc, fakes the three, and immediately drives into the lane and goes left! He jumps off his right leg, makes the layup, and runs back on defense. So far, so good!

On another play, in their preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Curry shows off his lateral movement.

With another great pump fake, Curry gets his defender off his feet before planting hard on his right leg for a step-back 3-pointer.

And the pièce de résistance, Curry’s shake-and-bake on the Clippers’ Brandon Bass.

Clearly, Curry is feeling no ill effects from his knee injury as he’s been able to jump, cut, and crossover while planting on that right leg. Only time will tell what the final result of the season will be. But, thankfully, we’re starting the season off on the right foot. And knee.

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