When looking at matchups, it’s always tempting to focus on something unique and under-the-radar. Something that may not be mentioned in the SportsCenter highlights, or talked about excitedly by the broadcasters in the opening minutes.
Like, will the Golden State Warriors bench, so packed with depth, yet so lackluster thus far, find success against the Washington Wizards’ biggest weakness, their borderline nonexistent reserves? Will Draymond Green bully Otto Porter Jr., forced to play up a position in the absence of Markieff Morris?
But instead, I’m going to focus on something much more banal: Stephen Curry vs John Wall.
It’s a bird . . . it’s a plane . . . it’s . . . John Wall
Let’s get one thing straight: there isn’t a player alive who is as fast with the ball in their hands as John Wall is. And yes, if you’re asking, I’d pay a lot of money to see a dribbling race between him and Russell Westbrook, but that’s not the point: Wall is the champion of basketball speed.
Wall’s speed causes all sorts of trouble for opposing defenses, who lose him after his first step, and have virtually no chance in transition. While Curry will be tasked with guarding Wall much of the time, shutting down Washington’s bolt of lightning will take all five Golden State defenders rotating, communicating, and getting back on defense.
With that said, disciplined defense is often Wall’s kryptonite. Despite his blistering speed and ball-handling . . . ahem . . . wizardry, Wall is pedestrian in many areas. Last year he scored 1.12 points per possession in transition, a mark that was barely above the league average.
He toys with his defenders like a cat with a mouse, but, if defended well, is far too content pulling up from a spot where his number are ghastly. At the rim last year, Wall was nothing short of brilliant; but from anywhere north of three feet away, his shooting percentages fell off a very steep cliff.
It sounds shocking given his gaudy point totals, but Wall has never had a season with an above-average true-shooting percentage. In other words, he gets his points, but most of the time the defense will happily live with it.
Of course, Wall does a lot more than just score. Since 2013, he’s averaged a whopping 10.3 assists per game, and even that doesn’t do his playmaking ability justice. He remains an elite pickpocket, stealing passes and dribbles at all times, and in all places.
Curry’s marked improvements on defense
Stephen Curry has been an underrated defensive player for a long time. But while he’s been defensively decent for a while now, this year he appears to have turned a corner.
Yes, there have been silly, inexcusable fouls. But otherwise, Curry looks dramatically improved on the defensive end, from his stance, to his movement, to his ballooned biceps and shoulders.
Curry and Wall have always been a must-see matchup, but that’s primarily been for the offensive highlights. Tonight, we get a chance to see Curry attempt some defensive highlights.
Wall has been posting up more this year. With his deceptive strength and his low center of gravity, he has the ability to bully less-athletic specimens. In just four games this year, he’s already made numerous highlights when starting with his back to the basket, including this stunner in the season opener:
Curry’s improved strength should make him a capable adversary if Wall decides to post up, or back Steph down. In the past, this would have been a call to switch Klay Thompson onto Wall, but now we’re going to see just what Curry is made of defensively.
But it all comes back to discipline. Curry has been defensively delightful when he’s been on the floor, but nonsense fouls have taken him off of it far too often. Not only does he need to remain on the court if the Dubs want to win, but he needs to be disciplined in order to shut down his star counterpart.
Swipe or gamble, and Wall will be at the rim in a nanosecond, where he finishes with aplomb, and draws fouls with decent regularity. Stay focused and disciplined, and Wall will happily shoot a mid-ranger, floater, or three-pointer: shots he makes at a much lower rate than he seems to believe.
Curry has all the tools. How he uses them is key.
And on the other hand . . .
Of course, we cannot ignore the other side of this matchup. Wall is master thief, and an above-average defender, but no one can quite guard Steph Curry, the greatest offensive player on the planet.
Discipline again reigns supreme, and that’s an area where Wall struggles. He often gambles, over-commits, or closes out too hard, which opens up space for Curry. And when Curry has space, scoring is like taking candy from a baby for him.
Over the last two years, Steph has absolutely torched Wall. In the four meetings during that span, Curry has averaged 36 points per game, while shooting 57.8% from the field, and a stunning 60.8% from distance.
Wall gives Curry an opening, and the outcome is predictable.
If either player is undisciplined on defense, it’s going to be a long night for his team, and the highlights could rain down at any moment.
It’s why, despite being the obvious pick, this is clearly the matchup to watch.