When news broke that Kevin Durant was joining the Golden State Warriors, there was a mantra repeated by every member of the team: “No one will sacrifice anything.” Many of us were skeptical; after all, how can you swap the high-usage Durant for a low-usage player like Harrison Barnes without pulling touches from another player? Short answer — you can’t.
But the real question isn’t about touches, it’s about effectiveness.
Against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas day, Curry went for 15 points (4-for-11 from the floor) with three rebounds, three assists, three steals and three turnovers. With Curry off the floor for the final possession when his normal defensive assignment, Kyrie Irving, hit what would become the game-winning shot, the internet went crazy and the downfall of Curry was widely proclaimed.
Here’s the thing, Curry is not having an off year.
His per game averages — 24 points, four rebounds, six assists and two steals — would be a perfectly stellar stat line for 99.9% of the players in the league.
No, the main problem here is immediacy bias. After witnessing Curry’s recent unanimous MVP campaign, any “poor” performance by Curry is suddenly magnified. In other words, he was just too darned good last year.
Curry is scoring slightly less, but it’s not necessarily because he can’t score any more. The main reason for his scoring decline is that he isn’t shooting as much. On his way to his record-setting season last year, Curry hoisted up a monstrous 20 shots per game; this year he is hovering around 17 shots per game. This is a significant decline compared to last season, but it’s actually almost exactly his rate from two seasons ago — aka his first MVP season.
Below, you can also take a look at his scoring rate and efficiency over the course of his career.
The Warriors’ incumbent star has forsaken some shots in order to welcome Durant, but is it time for Curry to call his own number more often?
Steve Kerr had this to say, as quoted by CSN:
"I think Steph has probably had the biggest adjustment of all of our players with Kevin's arrival. I think if you look at it from a practical standpoint, he's doing great. His numbers are still fantastic ... but he also happens to be coming off the greatest shooting season in the history of mankind last year. So he has set the bar so high for himself that it's going to be a point of discussion.
"I think we can help him -- I can certainly put him in a better position to get going, which I will. We're still learning; we're still growing. I'm not the slightest bit concerned ... it's just part of our progression as a team."
OK, so Kerr gets it. Not only does he understand the scale of this issue (i.e. it’s no biggie), he also understands that for the team to continue to improve, they need to put Curry in a better position to succeed. The good news is that this isn’t rocket science.
Currently, Curry has one of the lowest touches per game among guards. But if you look at the team’s stats you can see that he actually leads the team in time of possession and touches per game. So the solution is pretty simple and does not require any major philosophical adjustment. For Curry to get more shots he doesn’t need to get the ball more. He just needs to shoot more.
That’s not to say Curry should hoist up bad shots.
Kerr came in and built an egalitarian team philosophy. The team works to create the most open look possible. Kerr’s catch phrase is “pass up a good shot to get a great shot.” And so far this season, it’s working. We have the #1 offense in the NBA and it’s pretty.
This season’s Warriors’ team assist rate hasn’t been seen in the NBA since the ‘80s Showtime Lakers. I wouldn’t mess with that just to forcefully recreate Curry’s phenomenal unanimous MVP season. The team’s goal isn’t to win any certain player an MVP award or to keep Curry as the leading NBA scorer. They are in this for the ring and the best way to get there won’t be by forcing plays for any one player.
But it might be good to see Curry in a pick-and-roll with Durant more often. And there are times when Curry passes up a great shot to get Durant a great shot, or even sometimes just a good shot.
Curry is a phenomenal teammate and all signs point to him doing everything possible to integrate Durant in the offense. As we progress to the halfway point of the regular season, for the Warriors to reach the next level Curry will need to start developing his own role on the team in addition to carving out room for Durant. A tall task but nothing he can’t do.
So, what do you all think? Is Curry doing ok? Can we be satisfied with the “boring” first MVP-level Curry, or are we beholden to the force of nature that was the unanimous MVP Curry of last year? Other than shooting more often, are there any adjustments you would make?