Versus Vol.1 - Steph vs Kyrie: Ball Handling

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

This is the first installment in what I hope can become a series. I love doing player comparisons because in researching, you gain more respect for each player's abilities and unique craft that defines them. For the first volume in this series I wanted to compare some of the unique abilities of Steph and Kyrie as they are among the top PGs in the NBA today. Specifically focusing on their ball-handling. We often get into the debate of who is the best at their position and see players as a whole but don't often separate their skill-sets into individual categories that make them more comparable. Player A is a better shooter than player B, but player C is a better distributor than player A, and player D has better court awareness than player C, etc. So, for the purpose of this piece I am going to exclude discussing their shooting, passing, rebounding, intangibles, etc. Just highlighting their ball-handling and the importance it plays in their play-making ability on court.

Further, I do not intend to carve out a clear winner in these versus comparisons. Each player in the NBA is talented enough to be 1 of 450 players in the world to man an NBA roster so they each are skilled in their own way. Some will naturally separate from the rest but each player has developed and perfected their craft to get them where they are today. It would be a disservice to either player if I were to say player A is better than player B. You can form your own opinions. The intention is to look at some video and break down the different player approaches.

Three key elements in having proper handles: (1) Movement (2) Dribbling (3) Footwork. I'll try to incorporate each of these elements in the analysis below.

Steph Curry

Putting him in a Blender - In this first video, you probably think to yourself, "Man Steph completely fooled the 2 time defensive player of the year!" On the other hand you might think, "Steph only took one dribble, what gives?" In defense of Steph, half of the effort in having great handles is having the shiftiness to fool your defender in order to shake them off. In this clip Steph is playing without the ball and fakes as though he going to rim but cuts immediately back to the arc to catch the pass from Mo Speights. At that point Kawhi already bit on Curry going to the rim, so when Steph steps outside, Kawhi has lost his footing. Steph then fakes as though he's going to shoot to catch Kawhi in the air. He then takes a quick dribble and hops to the right to create plenty of space for a open corner three. Whether the ball is in his hand or not, Curry is great at moving very fluidly. A lot of that power comes from the strength he holds in his hips to shift his momentum so easily. It's something we have come to see often, that huge lateral shift to create space. A move Curry utilizes very well.

The Weave - This is one of the more notable Steph Curry ball handling clinics. This took place during a regular season game vs the Clippers at Oracle Arena a few years back. Curry first rolls around a screen from Bogut after he tosses the ball to him. He cuts through a narrow window past Matt Barnes swiping down at the ball. He then goes through his crossover dribble towards Deandre Jordan faking as though he is going to the rim, then goes behind the back. Chris Paul is right behind him! He is able to manage to navigate the ball just under the swipe of Chris Paul’s hand. He then redirects himself back to the perimeter past Spencer Hawes and fires off a three as JJ Reddick of in the distance watches in complete awe (he was the only Clipper that didn’t gravitate towards Curry). Throughout this entire play, Steph maintains a fairly fluid motion even with the tight spacing as he weaves the ball through his legs and then weaves himself through a flurry of defenders, three of which are pretty damn good at their respective positions. Curry was able to navigate a crowded space with his shiftiness and cross over to keep the multiple defenders on their feet guessing if was going north/east/west/south.

Cut in, Cut out & Cut back in - Curry starts up top where he is defended by Randy Foye of the Thunder. Anderson Varejao rushes up top to set a screen that shifts Foye away from Curry and forces Steven Adams to switch onto Steph. Steph fakes as though he is going to cut towards the rim but then draws back out. Adams then throws his arms up anticipating a three point attempt. Steph gets him to bite as once he draws Adams back up top, he hops and shifts his momentum to the top of the arc. Steph then crosses over to the right and cuts back to the rim once he is able to get just a little more spacing. Maybe this isn't the most spectacular move, but during this play, Steph never stopped his motor. He kept his feet going and used a quick jab step in to pivot around Adams and shake him off. Adams played him quite well having had to switch.

Kyrie Irving

Slow & Go - Kyrie rolls off a screen from Channing Fyre after he hip checks Isiah Thomas out of the way. He then rolls into Jae Crowder with Gerald Green lurking close by to help double team. Kyrie starts by slowing down his cross over and drawing Crowder out closer to the perimeter as he he shifts closer to Kyrie. Little does he know that Kyrie is just trying to open the narrow gap between Green and Crowder. Once he has Crowder to space out a bit away from Green he speeds up his dribble and and maintains his crossover lower to the ground making it easier for him to shift side to side. Once he gets Crowder to bite left, he punches up the gap past a swipe from Green and drives down the lane to finish at the rim. Kyrie was able to trick Crowder into a steady rhythm as if Crowder thought he had cut off Kyrie, but once he sped up his dribble he had Crowder dancing left and right shifting his momentum until he was imbalanced. Kyrie knew he was going to the rim, he just needed to create the gap. Great example of Kyrie's deadly crossover.

Teetering - This is a much older clip of Kyrie from all-star weekend when Kyrie was in his second year during the Rookie vs Sophomore game. In this example, take note of Kyrie's footwork. When he starts his cross over, notice that he sort of teeters off of the inner lips of his shoe. This allows Kyrie to stay light on his feet. If you ever seen a pair of Kyrie's latest signature shoes with Nike, you will notice that his out-sole is rounded out on the bottom and around the lip of the mid-sole. It is very unique and ideally designed for the type of cuts and movement Kyrie does on a basketball court. It's not something you see with most basketball shoes. Kyrie also maintains a low center of gravity to keep the ball away from defenders reach. If they try to swipe at the ball, he is able to sort of block the defender with his body as he’s crowded closer to the ball leaving the ball less exposed for a clean swipe. In the full video, Kyrie gets Brandon Knight caught in the air as he does his jab step and pops back. Brandon Knight lost his footing and then fell down as he sat on the floor and watched Kyrie nail the jumper. But, I wanted to specifically key in on Kyrie's footwork. You can see the full video on YouTube, it's spectacular.

Threading the Needle - This one is work of art and worth watching in slow motion multiple times. As Kyrie is dribbling the ball up, he starts to charge up the middle where he is met by Patrick Beverley. He whips the ball around his back as though he is going to go left, which causes Patrick Beverley to swipe left and shift his body a bit more away from the gap that Kyrie is trying the create. Simultaneously he gets Montrezl Harrell to step a bit more to the sideline. Kyrie slows down, crosses over behind his back to the right to redirect the ball back towards the center. Then he threads the narrowest of needles as he then encounters Clint Capela swiping down at the ball both with his right and left hand. Meanwhile, Tristan Thompson does absolutely nothing to help create space, could have at least set a screen for Kyrie but he doesn't. Instead he leaves an open lane for Patrick Beverly to mosey on by. Kyrie pushes the ball out of reach of Capela far enough to where he has to charge towards the ball to reach it. He is then greeted kindly by James Harden at the rim where he throws up a high five to congratulate him on schooling all of his teammates as Kyrie finishes off the layup. This play is nuts, Kyrie had no where to go and by the smallest of margins, was able to create enough space and wisely push the ball up just out of reach of the crowded defenders to clear his lane.


Steph works with a certain level of fluidity as he moves around the court. He is consistently cutting and shifting with the ball and a lot of the time without the ball. So when he collects the pass his movements are seamless and he functions with the same speed.

Kyrie has a lot of patience. The way I like to analogize it is to imagine a running back in the backfield crowded behind his offensive line. He shifts lefts and right waiting for the perfect gap and then punches the open hole. His movement is very volatile in that it's unpredictable and he is going up down, right left in the matter of just a few dribbles.

Some interesting facts on each player:

Steph - A lot his body strength comes from his core and hips. Steph worked on redistributing his strength after his series of debilitating ankle injuries in his first few years. So, if it looks like he is able to make difficult moves in even strides, those hips don't lie (Source)

Kyrie - Growing up, he had practiced dribbling with a plastic bag tied around a basketball making it more difficult to grip the ball and predict the direction of the ball movement, especially with the knot that was tied from the bag creating an uneven surface. This has made it easier for Irving to speed up his dribble and maintain the handle so well (Source)

This FanPost is a submission from a member of the mighty Golden State of Mind community. While we're all here to throw up that W, these words do not necessarily reflect the views of the GSoM Crew. Still, chances are the preceding post is Unstoppable Baby!