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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry's 400th Three Pointer

Steph Curry's 400th three came on a beautiful play in the Grizzlies-Warriors game on Apr 13 2016.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry just completed the greatest offensive season in NBA history. Along the way, he collected 402 three pointers, which rolled up his old record of 286 into a futon and threw it off a cliff.  I mean, proportionally that's like breaking Barry Bonds's 73 home run record by hitting 102 home runs.

Anyway, here's a quick look at Curry's 10 three pointers with minimal comments, and then we'll burrow into his 400th three pointer.

  1. Fast break, MEM just lost Curry.
  2. Curry flares off of a Andrew Bogut screen on Jordan Farmar.
  3. This is one of those moonshot 3s from 30+ feet that supposedly Curry shoots 48% on. That stat is literally unbelievable. As in, I think there's got to be a mistake with that stat.
  4. MEM again completely loses Curry in transition.
  5. Kind of looked like he lost the ball, got 75% control and just said, hell why not?
  6. Exact same flare screen as #2, this time from Festus Ezeli.
  7. MEM loses Curry AGAIN in transition. You know, MEM is playing with their FIFTH string players, so they can't be blamed for being a wreck. Amazing that they've made the playoffs.
  8. #400!  This clip only shows the end of a really cool sequence, which we'll look at next.
  9. Farmer sags way too deep, Draymond Green sets an early screen, ... this one only looked about 4 feet behind the line. Pretty normal Curry shot. (Benchable offense for any other NBA player besides Damian Lillard.)
  10. The EXACT same simple flare screen as #2 and #6.  Torturing the inexperienced MEM point guards.
To MEM Coach Joerger's credit, he didn't do too much of the blitz-Curry defense, which would have been a pretty crummy way to go.

Anyway, let's look at the cool sequence that was the 400th three. The play was actually the Warriors running through two options in their offense and then I believe a Curry audible. We'll quickly look at the options in previous plays, and then run #400 with the audible.

Option 1: Motion Weak

The first option in the play is Motion Weak adapted from the Spurs.

The vanilla Motion Weak play goes like this. Curry starts on one side feeding someone at the wing, and then makes a shallow cut and comes out on the other side (the non-ball side, or the "weak" side) and gets the ball back (the "shallow cut"). In the paint, Klay Thompson sets a screen for a big and then cuts straight up the lane (a "zipper cut"), getting a screen from a high middle big.

So, here's a simple example. Watch for the shallow cut by Stephen Curry, the ball returning to him, and Klay screening and zipper cutting up the lane.

Option 2. Flow into Post-Cross Split Cuts

The play starts with Motion Weak. Curry shallow cut, ball return, Klay screen in paint, zipper cut.  HOWEVER, instead of feeding Klay at the top like the vanilla Motion Weak, Curry feeds Bogut for an instant Post-Cross play. That means Curry goes to screen for Klay, and then Bogut feeds Klay for the open shot.  Bogut throws in his bit of flair (that between the legs pass).

Option 3-6. Improvise in Flow

Okay, we're almost ready to look at the 400th three. It's going to look a lot like the first two options, but it will get blown up by switching.

Now in many NBA offenses, if you blow up the first two options of a play and there is 10 left on the shot clock, players will fall back to an isolation play or a simple pick and roll. These are not bad options for someone like Curry. But instead, watch what happens here. (Bonus: watch Curry's hand signals to trigger different actions on court.)

Just like the last clip, you will see the play begin with Motion Weak, with the Curry shallow cut and the Klay zipper cut; then it will flow straight into the Post-Cross where Curry feeds Bogut in the post and then goes to screen for Klay. The Grizzlies will blow up this option by having the defenders switch assignments and Klay's curl is defended well.

Then Curry audibles and gets the ball to Draymond. See how many more options come out of the offense. I count four.

Option 3. Curry calls over Bogut to set a screen and feeds Draymond so Steph can roam off-ball. He immediately cuts towards the basket. Birdman Anderson switches assignments with Matt Barnes, so Curry is covered on the cut.

Option 4. You see Draymond contemplate a skip pass to the left corner for a Klay three. But Klay is covered.

Option 5. Curry runs through the paint and calls for Harrison Barnes to set a flare screen. Why not? It worked for #2, #6 and later #10. Barnes nails Matt Barnes with a screen, and Vince Carter isn't aware he needs to switch.  So if Draymond had held on to the ball, he would have had an easy pass to an open Curry. But instead...

Option 6. Draymond feeds Bogut at the top to trigger ANOTHER post-cross, this time the high version. You can see him feed Bogut and then go to screen for Curry (notice his "come use my screen" hand signal).  However, Curry's defender does not need Dray's screen, as he's still hung up on the Barnes screen from Option 6. So Bogut just passes directly to the open Curry, for his patented quick release shot. 400.

(For more detail on Motion Weak and Post-Cross, read Explain One Play: Andrew Bogut between the legs to Klay Thompson three.)

Final Thoughts

This is such a beautiful sequence of simple pieces audibled: Backcut, Flare Screen, Post-Cross Again, to generate four options in six seconds of game time. The cooperation and reading and familiarity needed for this play is amazing. One feels like the Warriors have only scratched the surface of how good they can at this offense.

Also, the Warriors have gotten good enough against the Switching defense, that I didn't even make it the focus of this article, as it's been for the last seven. But you can see how, after a series of great switches -- Matt Barnes switches from Klay to Curry, then from Curry to Bogut, then leaves Bogut at the arc to chase down Curry -- the Warriors exploited a single mistake, when Vince Carter doesn't switch out to Curry on the Barnes flare screen.

Next level.

This winds up the most fun regular season I've ever followed in sports. Thanks for reading along and sharing the journey with me. I thought I'd be writing about 60-65 of these, and not 73.  And it's not true that 73 is meaningless without the ring. When the Warriors have banners upon banners, we fans can look down on incredible achievements like that. But the Warriors are only four seasons removed from being the most godawful embarrassing team over decades and decades, and we need to enjoy ever bit of fortune, because tomorrow isn't promised, as they say.

May we all have good fortune and be proud of what unfolds in the playoffs.

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.

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