Steph Curry is out a minimum of two weeks with a sprained right ankle. That timetable could change depending on his recovery period and the team’s desire to rush him back, or give him additional time. Luckily the MRI came back negative and showed no structural damage, which was excellent news.
Given Curry’s early history with ankle injuries, Warriors fans all cringed after watching the replay of that violent ankle roll during the Pelicans game. We all collectively held our breath awaiting the news. With Curry out of the lineup for an indefinite period, the team now has to pull together and find a way to win with Curry out for the time being.
So, how do you replace the production and court presence of Steph Curry? Trick question, you can’t replace it. Curry does so much on and off the ball that it is nearly impossible to replace that impact on the court. He pulls multiple defenders towards him, which creates wide open opportunities for his teammates.
Let’s look at how the Warriors can try to attempt to fill the void while Curry is out.
Curry is averaging a shade under 33 minutes a game. That leaves a fairly large distribution of minutes to be absorbed by multiple rotation players.
Most likely beneficiaries: Patrick McCaw and Quinn Cook
While Shaun Livingston is listed as the back-up point guard on the depth chart, he is already averaging about 18 minutes a game and Steve Kerr would prefer to keep him under 20 minutes per game. He’s averaged about 18-19 minutes per game during his Warriors tenure, so he is right on his average.
McCaw has only started one game this season and that was during Curry’s absence against the Sacramento Kings. He put together some of his best numbers as a Warrior in that game while starting at point guard.
Patrick McCaw is still in concussion protocol, won't play tonight. Has to get through 30 minutes of exercise. Kerr said he was on treadmill.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 8, 2017
McCaw is currently dealing with a nose contusion and concussion, which he suffered during a play versus New Orleans. This is a tricky situation as concussions can be serious based on the severity. Hopefully it is just a mild concussion and he will be back in a few games.
Currently he is averaging 15 minutes per game this season. Upon his return he can easily bump that up to roughly 25-30 minutes per game, which should give him plenty of opportunity to state his claim as the best back up to Curry. Having flashed his potential last season, McCaw can take this opportunity to flex his versatility and demonstrate his long term viability to the coaching staff.
Quinn Cook has recently been recalled from the G-League and in absence of Shaun Livingston (due to suspension), got the start at point guard versus the Hornets. He logged about 20 minutes and looked natural on the floor with the starters. He has been killing it in the G-League and deservedly has gotten the call up.
If McCaw’s situation is worse than expected, Cook can become a serious key in Curry’s absence. Over the last several seasons, the Warriors have been able to find excellent depth at the guard position through their developmental league: Kent Bazemore and Ian Clark are two of the best examples. Quinn Cook might just be part of that same trend.
For now, Cook is a great replacement but McCaw is ultimately the long term solution. When McCaw comes back, expect Cook to still get 10-15 minutes of action depending on game flow.
While Curry might be the most humble superstar in the NBA, there is no question that he is dominant leader of the team. You could argue that Draymond Green might fit that role better but Curry is the key that makes this offense go. When the game is on the line, Curry has the ball. When the Warriors need a bucket down big, Curry is taking the contested three-pointer.
Most likely beneficiary: Kevin Durant
We have all seen what Durant is capable of doing when he is the alpha or 1A while with the Thunder. He’s one of the most dominant scorers of all time and a generational talent. While the Warriors have not asked Durant to carry the load before, they will need him now more than ever.
The question is whether Durant can mentally carry that burden of being the go to guy again. There is a good chance he won’t have a problem but he has previously come out and told the media that he didn’t want to be the leader of the team. He seemed to indicate that he was more comfortable not being in the spotlight.
Durant will have to accept the role of the go-to guy in crunch time. While Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will always be there, the offense will go as Durant goes.
On the season, Curry has averaged about 9.5 attempts per game and converted on 38% of his attempts. Surprisingly, this has represented his worst three-point field goal percentage of his entire career and lower than the team average. The Warriors as a team lead the league in three-point percentage at 40% on 31 attempts per game.
The Warriors’ offense thrives when the team is knocking down three-pointers at a high percentage. With Curry representing 30% of the attempts, that leaves ample shot opportunities. The problem is that Curry often attempts and makes the shots that no one can make.
Luckily the Warriors have prolific shooters in Thompson and Durant. While both of these guys should see a slight uptick in three-point opportunities, there are a few others who might benefit more.
Most likely beneficiaries: Nick Young and Omri Casspi
While Nick Young has been known to be a serial chucker taking ill-advised three-point shots, he has quietly posted the best three-point field goal percentage of his career at 40.7%. While we don’t expect him to take a ton more shots, he is converting at a very high clip.
Omri Casspi has taken just 12 three-pointers all year (as of 12/9/17) but has been able to convert a mind-boggling 58% of those opportunities! While that percentage is unsustainable over a larger sample size, there is no reason not to give Casspi more opportunities to shoot from distance. Only 14% of his shot attempts have come from three this season, compared to 37% of his shots having come from three for his entire career.
How will the Warriors fare without Curry?
The last time the team lost Curry for an extended period of time was in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, during that horrible spill versus the Houston Rockets. The Warriors managed to still win games and advance in the first round to bridge the gap for Curry’s return versus the Portland Trail Blazers.
While the offense won’t be the same without Curry, the team may benefit by having to grow into new roles and Kerr introducing new rotations. The team was forced to adapt on the fly when Durant missed a month last season. While the team struggled at first, they rebounded extremely well and finished strong going into the playoffs. We should expect a similar outcome as there will be some mental lapses and offensive ineptness at times.
Curry’s abscence represents a significant downgrade to the offense. However, with all the talent on this roster, there is no reason they shouldn’t continue to win. The games will may just be a lot closer and more competitive than we have become used to.
[All stats per basketballreference.com]