How insane has Stephen Curry's 2015-16 NBA season been?
John Cannon of the Crossover Chronicles might have framed it best in comparing Curry's spectacular game-winner in Oklahoma City to Draymond Green's game-winner against Atlanta last week: "I think most Warriors' observers would agree that Curry's 38-footer to beat Oklahoma City last week was a higher probability shot than the one Green himself called "a desperation heave."
And perhaps either would be a higher probability shot than Andre Iguodala making two clutch free throws.
This whole season is ridiculous. And Curry has just made the ridiculous so routine that it's more reliable than other options.
We can debate where Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry stands among the NBA's all-time greats, but he is indisputably nearing the home stretch of one of the best single individual seasons ever.
As Warriors fans, it's easy for us to feel that we're watching something absolutely remarkable right now. But ESPN's Kevin Pelton took a closer look at the statistical case for Curry having the best season and I think he laid out the argument perfectly when discussing how he's not only obliterated conventional wisdom about the inverse relationship between usage rates and efficiency, but also charted new territory by distributing the ball so well while doing all that.
By increasing his 3-point volume without sacrificing accuracy, Curry has defied the usual inverse relationship between usage and true shooting percentage...Then there's the matter of how Curry's shooting opens up the floor for his teammates because of the defensive attention he draws, a concept I call "gravity."
When Tom Haberstroh used SportVU data to quantify gravity, Curry had the highest respect rating from defenses in the league in 2013-14. That's only grown with Curry now a threat to pull up anywhere on his team's side of the midcourt stripe. Just by setting foot on the court, Curry makes life easier for his teammates.
When you add up all those factors, the question isn't really whether Curry is having the best offensive season ever, so much as whether anyone else is even close.
To summarize the statistical argument Pelton makes, Curry is currently posting the best season based on PER (32.8), the best high-usage (above 20%) true shooting percentage (.683), box plus minus (13.2), and of course 3-point shooting. It's an absolutely incredible season. As a scorer, as Pelton notes when looking at some other metrics, the only thing stopping Curry is the perfectly understandable need to rest, as Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton mentioned in an article by Mark Medina of the L.A. Times about why the reigning MVP would never have an 81-point game as former MVP Kobe Bryant once did.
I've said repeatedly that "gravity" is central to almost every thought I have about Bball. Not because of analytics, or 3-point shooting...— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) March 8, 2016
...or because the Warriors, or Spurs. To me, "gravity" and spacing are the most foundational components of basketball.— Adam Mares (@Adam_Mares) March 8, 2016
But it's the "strategic bind" that Pelton alludes to and Rob Mahoney of SI described in depth in an article last week that really makes Curry's historically demoralizing:
There is no similarly successful means of throwing an extra body in Curry’s path when he’s doing so much from so far away. So little help can be provided when the offensive player doesn't need to approach the three-point line to be effective, much less the lane. Even a single defender guarding him closely opens up all kinds of clean passing angles to attack from the top of the floor...The openings he finds aren’t due to some lack of ingenuity in scheme or lack of pride on the part of the defenders. Curry merely has a way of creating quandaries without the slightest hope of a satisfying conclusion. There comes a point at which players and coaches would rather lose to a 28-foot pull-up than a compromised interior. It’s then that the best player in basketball has his opponents right where he wants them—conceding, hopeless, and in their own way, defeated.
And perhaps all of that is why the old heads are having such a hard time accepting the new dominance of Curry, who is making finesse more dominant than it has ever been in the NBA, as described by Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.
The Warriors' excellence doesn't truly feel like dominance because it looks smart and feels so breezy...The basic belief that finesse in sports is soft has become outdated, but it's going to take some time for that to sink in and forge everyone's new reality. What many don't understand is the NBA wants finesse. It wants guys closer to six feet than seven feet succeeding. It wants clever passes and long shots.
Yet a possible problem has emerged: are the Warriors now too reliant on Curry? And in being reliant on someone who seems consistently capable of the impossible? Are the Warriors simply getting too comfortable?
It has been discussed repeatedly, but ESPN's Ethan Sherwood Strauss phrased it well: "Unlike last year, this Golden State knows it can win without maximum effort. This iteration might be more inclined to pace themselves in a regular-season game."
Draymond Green's passion
Much was made Draymond Green's outburst in Oklahoma City on February 27 and many — including us on last week's Golden State of Mindcast — wondered whether there was anything tangible behind the idea that he was upset at coach Steve Kerr about his shots. Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News took stock of the numbers just before last week's game in Atlanta and gave the best explanation I saw (which has also been mentioned by others, including Kerr during an interview IIRC).
Under Walton, Green made 70 of 186 three-point attempts, at a 38.9% clip. Averaging 1.47 makes and 4.32 takes.
Under Kerr for the last 15 games, Green has made 7 of 24 attempts, at a 22.6% clip. Averaging .47 makes and 1.6 takes
My guess is that Kerr has told Green that–at least during this slump–to stop taking the 3’s early in possessions, to make sure he swings it and only takes the 3 when he gets the ball back, after the defense has to move… and that Green is now second-guessing himself every time he has it in the early pick-and-roll action.
Yet the real story, especially when considering the architecture of this team built around Curry, really is the fact that Green's fiery passion is a near-perfect complement not only to Kerr's more measured passion from the coaching spot — as Kawakami opened his piece with — but the very fact of him in contrast to the more historically happy go lucky dominance of Curry.
And I thought Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical perfectly described the way in which that contrast might function.
Perhaps, someone had to raise the question: For all the genius of Curry’s historic scoring and shooting run, were the Warriors still fostering the proper identity? The Warriors had won a title moving the ball and constructed the best start in NBA history, yet Green’s uneasiness had been simmering. Whatever the verbiage in the outburst about his own shooting, everyone in the locker room understood this: Draymond Green wasn’t on a rampage to chase shots for himself, but balance for Golden State. The Warriors needed to beat Oklahoma City, not try to be like them. From coach Steve Kerr to Myers to Green and everyone else here, the episode had been a constructive reminder on how a historic 54-5 record doesn’t preclude the need for constant communication and maintenance.
Michael Erler of Today's Fastbreak also recalled an older story from when Kerr first took the Warriors job that's worth bringing up now as Green is a leader, who's enjoying an All-Star and very likely All-NBA season on a historically good team.
The Warriors are by-and-large a quiet and reserved bunch, bench celebrations and dancing aside, and they need Green to be their fiery, emotional leader every bit as much as Green needs to pump himself up to play at his best. Green was one of Tom Izzo's favorite players ever at Michigan State and reportedly one of the first calls Kerr got upon getting the Warriors job was from Izzo, who implored him to coach Green as hard as possible, to always get on him about every last thing, because that's the only way to get his best.
And then, of course, we might have seen one of Green's best moments as a Warriors player when they faced the Atlanta Hawks last Tuesday:
Of that shot, John Cannon of the Crossover Chronicles wrote that, "I think most Warriors' observers would agree that Curry's 38-footer to beat Oklahoma City last week was a higher probability shot than the one Green himself called "a desperation heave."
As Kobe Bryant said on Sunday as reported by Michael Lee of The Vertical, every great team needs something to make them uncomfortable; while Kobe's way of doing that was somewhat grating as he played the part of both finisher and engine, having Green assume part of that role for the Warriors is really working.
The Lakers loss was not the worst ever
Just in case you run into any Lakers fans, the Warriors' loss in L.A. on Sunday was actually not the worst thing ever. Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight Sports explains with numbers:
According to our Elo ratings, which measure the strength of each NBA team and can be used to estimate the odds of victory when any two teams face off, the Lakers went into the game with a 6.5 percent chance of upsetting the Warriors. In the entire history of the league, that's only the 23rd-lowest pregame win probability for a team that won:
Hopefully that makes you feel better.
Obviously, there were many other links floating around the web this past week that might be of interest -- honestly, there were many more that I simply didn't share because I ran out of space/time. So if you think there's something else worth noting, drop a link in the comments, create a FanShot to showcase tweets/videos or write a FanPost if you have a longer commentary. In the meantime, I often use Twitter to keep up with links so keep up with me at @NateP_SBN.