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Explain One Play: Curry spins Gortat like a record, baby

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We look at one of many Stephen Curry highlights from a quietly historic night in the Warriors-Wizards game on April 2, 2017. Plus, we examine the controversy of JaVale McGee’s late three-point shots in Warriors’ blowout win.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Golden State Warriors
you spin me right round baby right round like a record baby
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The game, in tweets — a summary

The game, in tweets — the details

Curry spins Gortat like a record, baby ... right round, right round

The highlight part of this play is Stephen Curry faking Gortat out of his boots. But the play begins with the Warriors’ new standard way of running wing pick-and-rolls. This began late last season when the Spurs inspired every team in the league to defend the W’s offense by switching assignments on all screens. If done smoothly (no small task), switching defuses a lot of the W’s plays and turns them into stagnant isolations. So the W’s developed next-level versions of their plays to counter the switching.

For instance, the humble wing pick-and-roll can be defused by switching. So the W’s began running a different version that had two elements built-in to discourage switching. Let’s see one of the earliest examples (from the innocent days of March 2016).

The pattern to notice is this:

  1. Curry swings the ball across.
  2. The eventual screener (here, Draymond Green) dribble pitches to swap places to end up on the far side.
  3. The small (here, Harrison Barnes) on Curry’s side runs cross-court from the corner to pre-screen for Green (sometimes called a “ram screen”).
  4. Green runs across the court to set a quick screen for Curry.

So, #4 makes it so Green’s defender is behind the play so he can’t easily switch the screen, #3 makes the defender even farther behind, and the fact that the small runs a long distance means the small’s defender can’t easily switch the pre-screen. In fact, the switch does eventually happen in the pick-and-roll, but the switch is forced to happen on Curry’s terms, where the big is scrambling to backpedal to stay with Curry.

This is typically how the W’s get into a wing pick-and-rolls nowadays. There’s a similar version of the play, even more common, where Curry ducks in and out the other side (“Motion Weak”... this one is “Motion Strong” because Curry stays on the ball side), and gets the screen from far away. You’ll see JaVale McGee run that a lot.

So let’s examine tonight’s play. It’s the exact same play, so you’ll see Zaza Pachulia (eventual screener) dribble pitch to swap places with Klay Thompson, and then Patrick McCaw will come up to pre-screen Pachulia, who then runs cross-court to set a pick for Curry. This will make a switch very difficult, and Pachulia’s defender, Marcin Gortat, will end up having to pick up Curry on his heels, trailing his drive.

Curry runs by Gortat like a pylon, but he doesn’t want to risk having Gortat block his layup from behind. So Curry quickly relocates to the corner where he’ll have an isolation on Gortat. Curry tosses it to McCaw, who recognizes the mismatch immediately so he clears out and hands the ball back. Curry already saw Gortat go up on his first shot fake, so he tries it again. It works great, and Gortat gets up in the air. Curry then throws the delicious fake pass which gets Gortat spinning further, and gets the bench jumping to their feet. He then finishes the highlight and triggers Andre Iguodala’s happy feet celebration.

On JaVale McGee breaking the unwritten rules

First, on this overblown outrage over JaVale McGee’s three in the closing seconds:

And, the cherry on top is my super cut of the late three-pointers the Wizards took in 2017 alone, when up by more than 20 points with less than 10 seconds to go. People in glass houses shouldn’t shove flagrantly.

By grabbing data from basketball-reference.com, I found in 2016-17, before Sunday’s game, that there were 118 plays such plays with less than 10 seconds, up by more than 10 points.

  • 58 shot-clock violations (49%)
  • 24 two-point shots (20%)
  • 36 three-pt shots (31%)

So it’s not a hard and fast unwritten rule to take the shot clock violation, as it’s only followed about half the time.

Final thoughts

It’s great to see Shaun Livingston’s game coming back. He has been finding good spots in the offense to take that little 12-foot turnaround jump shot, and that seems to energize his defense.

In fact, I was going to write about Livingston’s plays, but Curry’s night just kept getting more ludicrous as it went. On that note, here are the complete highlights of Curry’s night, which I won’t annotate, because it’s boring to read me writing “how did he do that” and “come on man” over and over.

Also, I just cannot stop calling them the Washington Bullets, which my kids give me crap about. Change is hard for old brains: I also often call the Nets the New Jersey Nets.


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.