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Explain One Play: Stephen Curry’s creativity, chaos and control

Curry rode the line between chaos and control and pushed the Warriors over the Pistons in the Jan 12 2017 game.

Detroit Pistons v Golden State Warriors
That Curry is a real crowd pleaser / small guard all his shots are threes
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Curry and creative chaos

Since Christmas, Stephen Curry has started to be more aggressive, which has been good for his game and for the team. It’s meant he’s attacked the rim more often, trying to set up the pass (the 3 pt bombs) with the run (the layups), and he’s created more opportunities for the team this way.

Tonight, I felt like the creative chaos was coming back, and I realized for the first time how much I missed that. I mean, yes, Curry can be J.J. Redick running precise routes off screens shooting threes, or he can be Chris Paul on the pick and roll soberly dissecting a defense, or he can be Kyrie Irving halting the proceedings to isolate, get to the rim and finish. But Curry is at his best and most entertaining when riding the line between chaos and control, when players are flying around and he’s improvising.

So, in tonight’s Pistons game, Curry was playing with as much looseness as he has all year, and that was a good thing. I mean, yes, he had 8 turnovers, some of them silly. But he was also +32 on the night, and he is the power source that makes the Warriors move, and his attacking the basket opens up the court for everyone else.

Oh and look what Kevin Durant said (after I wrote this piece):

He had 8 turnovers tonight, but that’s like, you can live with those, crazy as it sounds, because he had the ball in his hands, he’s being aggressive, being himself, pulling up from 30 feet, shooting off the pick and roll, shooting shots that we want him to shoot, it opens it up for everyone else, but it starts with him... I always tell him to shoot the ball, I like when he comes across half and pulls up for a three, or he comes off the pick and roll and shoots it, I like it. It’s a good shot, it’s a great shot. He’s a superstar, so he can check himself and step outside of his self and look at the whole season and... shooting 11 shots one game, 13 shots one game... that’s not him! He knows that, so he’s been able to come out these last couple of weeks and put his foot on the gas and he knows that’s going to open it up for the rest of us. He’s the head of the snake. We kind of feed off his energy, off his scoring. The way he plays is kind of contagious. Be aggressive, be you, and don’t worry about that Steph because you’re going to play the right way, because that’s what you do.

- Kevin Durant via LetsGoWarriors

Let’s look at a couple of plays from the key passage in the 3rd quarter, where the Warriors finally broke the game open.

Q3.4:14, GSW 81-70

After a made basket, Curry pushes the ball up before the Pistons defense can set and he causes some chaos.

Curry’s quick attack has caught Andre Drummond wandering around instead of guarding Zaza Pachulia. Pachulia sets a high screen for Curry and Drummond shambles over late to try to stop Curry’s drive. Curry ruthlessly crosses him over and Drummond helplessly reaches as Curry goes by. The correct defense in slow-motion was probably to position himself to force Curry to drive along the left of the free throw lane. Instead, the help defender has to come and leave Andre Iguodala open. Curry then throws a pass I’ve never seen before, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Let’s call it Clumsy Arabesque? Anyway, it’s effective and Iguodala hits the corner 3, which is not to be taken for granted this year.

Watch how Zaza Pachulia alertly sets a flat screen behind Curry’s defender to allow Curry to attack left or right. As he sees Curry is going left, he pivots to better bump the defender.

Q3.3:36, GSW 84-70

The following play, the Dubs force Detroit into a long 3 pointer miss. Now, Detroit has almost all their men back. But Pachulia smoothly whips the ball ahead to Curry, who causes chaos again with the quick attack, and this time Kevin Durant sets the high screen. At this point, things really start to break down, as Curry loses the handle. See if you can see when Curry flows the play into a standard Warriors action.

Durant’s early screen for Curry forced a switch and now has Durant guarded by Curry’s small defender Reggie Jackson, and Curry guarded by the big Marcus Morris. Instead of clearing out and trying to figure out how to enter the ball to Durant with the mismatch, or having Curry isolate against the big, Curry calls the most basic Warriors action.

This is the dive/pop split cut (discussed thoroughly at Explain One Play: Durant Reverse Dunk and Curry 3 from Next Level Split Cuts). This means Curry throws the ball to a passing post (Pachulia). Then he and Kevin Durant approach each other, and one dives to the basket and one pops out for a catch-and-shoot. Curry runs by Morris and Jackson feels he has to tag Curry to prevent the pass to a layup. This leaves Durant uncovered at his happy place.

If you look carefully, I think you can see the gesture by Curry with his right arm to Durant pointing behind him in the universal Dubs gesture of “use my screen”. This gesture was in case the play wasn’t already clearly indicated by Curry sprinting directly at Durant’s defender.

Final thoughts

So, chaos and control. The ideal Warriors offensive possession consists of an early offense attack, causing openings in the confusion. If nothing’s there, flow into a middle period of running a set play with multiple options. Then if nothing has worked, give it to Durant or Curry and let them try to make a basket out of nothing.

We had a pretty interesting discussion in the comments of the last Explain One Play, triggered when wallysb01 said, in short, he’d rather the W’s play basketball the right and beautiful way and lose rather than win ugly and cheap.

I’m part of the way towards that feeling. I love watching creative, unpredictable players. I like inventive, beautiful basketball. I love the teams and players trying something new.

And Stephen Curry is the most revolutionary player of our generation. I don’t see him getting the credit, but he has pioneered passes and moves and shots that were first strange and new, which now have been copied widely: the side-step at the three-point line for another three, behind the back flick passes on the pick and pop back to the pop man, the super-deep straight on three, not to mention (along with Klay and Mark Jackson’s green light) the whole popularizing of the transition 3.

Unfortunately, beautiful basketball is not often winning basketball. And it HURTS as a fan for your team to lose at the highest levels of play. It’s been our great blessing that for at least one year, the most beautiful basketball was also championship basketball.

As this team continues to gel, may the basketball continue to grow more beautiful and more effective, and may we appreciate this special team we are lucky enough to follow.

If you want to read more video breakdowns — one for well-nigh every Warriors’ win since 2015 — check out the Explain One Play Mega-Index, searchable and sortable by player, play, team and date.

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