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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry throws down big dunk

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Plus discussion of Curry's excellent defense and the Warriors go Next Level against Spurs-like Switching Defense. Video analysis of two plays from the Wizards-Warriors game on Mar 29, 2016.

Throw it down, little man! Throw it down!
Throw it down, little man! Throw it down!
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This is a quick comparison of two After Time Out plays (ATOs), one by the Wizards and one by the Warriors. The Warriors are quite good at calling plays for inbounds situations and for the first offensive play after a stoppage, as we'll see below.

The Wizards played pretty well tonight, and hurt the Warriors with pick and roll, and a stream of cuts and backdoor cuts to the basket. the Warriors tightened up their awareness, and that sealed off the game in Q4, despite what looked a lot like Draymond Green hunting for the last assist to get a triple double, which threw off the Warriors and almost let the Wizards all the way back in the game.

Play 1. Wizards Backscreen, Curry Steal and Serious Dunk

I can't find the source, but it's been reported that the Warriors keep track of Curry's dunks, and they use fractions to measure the partial and barely dunks. Well, this play ends with the most authoritative dunk I've ever seen Curry throw down. He's going to get a full dunk on the board for this.

But let's start from the beginning. The Wizards inbound the ball and run a nothing-burger of a play where Nene isolates on Anderson Varejao and everyone else clears out to the right side of the court.  Look and see what the Wizards are trying to do on the right side, and how Stephen Curry figures out the play.

Okay, Nene posts up and Leandro Barbosa comes down to loosely double team Nene. Brazilian on Brazilian violence.   Nene has two passes he can make. He can pass back to the shooter on top, but LB is darting around chaotically in the passing lane.  The second option is to Otto Porter spotted up at the right wing. Porter's defender is Shaun Livingston and Jared Dudley comes to set a screen on Shaun so Porter can get open on the wing.

Unfortunately, Dudley signals the play by swinging his arm over his head and thumbing backwards.  Curry sees it develop and he is right in position to intercept the pass, since his man is drifting around instead of cutting all the way to the corner or cutting to the basket.

Aside: Curry's Defense

This is as good a time as any to send you to watch Coach Nick's breakdown on "Why Curry Is An Elite Defender". I wrote about this in detail last year: Steph Curry Is Awesome At Defense. This year, Curry seems a bit inconsistent, which is understandable since he's really carried the Warriors for the first two-thirds of the season, and he seems to get beat by off-ball cuts at times. So I'm not sure if we all agree what "elite" means, but I think the evidence is clear that Curry is a very good defender. Jim Park laid it out nicely at Sheridan Hoops.


Play 2: Next Level High Pick and Roll

This is the play I really wanted to write about. The theme of the last few Explain One Plays has been how the Warriors are going to the Next Level of their offensive playbook to combat the switching defense that everyone is now playing against the W's. (Overview of the Switching Defense here: Explain One Play: Stephen Curry & Draymond Green punish Spurs-style switches. Also, see the last few entries at The Explain One Play series index.)

Here is a new take on the Warriors' bread and butter play, the high pick and roll with Green screening for Curry. You can see how previous defensive schemes got roasted by the usual pick and roll (see Explain One Play: Curry & Green's Favorite Play).

Nowadays, a big will switch onto Curry. Curry can now either isolate against the big (which sometimes works, but also gunks up the motion and flow of the offense), have Draymond isolate against the small (ditto), or run the offense and have it work even better against a mixed up defense.

Those options will always be there for the Warriors. But now they are working on complexifying the offense. Notice that Curry didn't take Gortat one-on-one nearly as much as you might expect. I believe the Warriors are consciously working on alternatives to a Curry or Green isolation.

Here is a play that is the first Warriors offensive play after a timeout, so it's almost always a called play. You begin with the normal Curry-Green high pick and roll. Teams have now game planned against this exact play, and you'll see the Wizards switch it freely and put Gortat on Curry on the perimeter. Draymond cuts to the basket followed by Curry's defender Garrett Temple. At this point, instead of Curry passing to the cutting Green, or isolating on Gortat, the following happens:

This is a delightful play. Curry passes to Livingston on the wing, who now has a good angle to hit Draymond on the cut to the basket (a good option for the future).

But in this case, Temple overplays the direct pass from Livingston (and hence is on the right side of Draymond away from the basket). So the Warriors go to the next counter, which is for Draymond to suddenly turn and seal his man off away from the basket. This leaves Draymond an open layup if someone can get him the ball.

Livingston feeds Harrison Barnes who now has an easy angle to feed Draymond for the layup. Here Temple takes a foul to make Dray earn it.

I love the play. You can also see the seeds of a third option if Dray can't seal his man off. Barnes catches the ball right behind Gortat, so he also serves as a screen for Curry to flare out to the left arc for a catch and shoot 3.

Next Level!

Bonus Discussion

I swear I wrote this article before seeing these clips. Draymond saying they are working on not isolating when other teams switch: How are Warriors adjusting to opponents' more physical defense? Sorry, I could have embedded it, but it autoplays, which is just damned rude.

If you want to read more video breakdowns, check out the rest of the series of Explain One Play articles. For the full updated index, go to The Explain One Play series index.