Before the Warriors were set to face the Utah Jazz, Steve Kerr was asked about a small rotation tweak made during their game against the Memphis Grizzlies: instead of Klay Thompson starting the second and fourth quarters, he had Stephen Curry in that spot alongside Draymond Green. This is a rather significant adjustment for the Warriors, since it gives them an opportunity to have one of Curry and Kevin Durant on the floor at all times.
Steve Kerr has flipped his rotation patterns, putting Steph Curry with the second unit to start the 2nd/4th quarters instead of Klay. He discusses that change. pic.twitter.com/u0HGeMymrS— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) December 19, 2018
For what has seemed like eternity, Kerr has been insistent on marrying Curry and Durant’s minutes on the floor together. On more than one occasion, it has bitten the Warriors in the foot. While Thompson and Green are All-Stars, they are not the kind of elite, top-tier offensive talent that could single-handedly change the fortunes of a game. Thompson can score points, but his inconsistency and shooting struggles are wild cards that make the prospect of him being the go-to offensive player an infeasible one. Green is a defensive maestro and an excellent passer, but his inability to consistently score and create points is a handicap when Curry and Durant are not on the floor.
By inserting Curry in the second unit to start the second and fourth quarters, the Warriors open up a whole new set of possibilities. Curry and Green have always had great chemistry, especially when running the high pick-and-roll. Furthermore, Green is especially fond of finding Curry on cuts and off-ball pin downs; the fact that Curry is a perpetual motion machine makes Green’s job as a playmaker much easier. Curry’s shot-making ability from any point of the floor also opens up opportunities for his other teammates, who stand ready to receive the ball when Curry gets the full and undivided attention of the defense.
In the second quarter of their game against the Jazz, Curry was sent out along with Green and the rest of the usual second unit players. While the Jazz were able to come out of the first half with a one point lead, the Warriors were a +2 overall in the half — no doubt helped in part by the Curry-led second unit that started the period.
Let’s dive into the film and look at a few of the possessions that helped the Warriors cut the deficit in the second quarter.
It is a point that has often been talked about by pundits and faux pundits, but no matter how much it is mentioned, it is virtually a scientific law, as much as the real-world concept it is named after — the gravity of Stephen Curry is, simply put, game-changing. As much as real gravity provides weight to objects and human beings, Curry’s gravity gives weight to defenders — the kind that keeps them pinned to Curry and frees up the rest of the Warriors to feast on lapses and mistakes.
In order to put this next sequence into perspective, let’s take a look at a certain possession during Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
The initial action involves Thompson attempting to get open by running along the baseline toward the opposite side corner, with the assistance of several staggered screens being set by Green and Durant. Thompson’s defender chases him around Green’s screen, and he also tries to get around Durant’s screen.
Thompson’s threat as a deadly three-point shooter forces the defense to miscommunicate on a switch, wherein Thompson’s defender stays attached to him, while Durant is left all alone under the rim for the easy bucket.
In an identical sequence, the Jazz fail to communicate on a switch when Curry tries to get open for a three-point shot. This leaves Green all alone under the rim to receive the pass for the wide-open bucket.
In this sequence — a simple, yet excellent example of this second unit’s ability to quickly transition from defense to offense — the Warriors cough up the ball and allow the Jazz to run the ball in transition. But Shaun Livingston saves the day when he goes up for the block. With Curry and Green staying on the other end of the floor after the turnover, Andre Iguodala quickly passes to Curry, who plays a game of hot potato with Green to confuse the defenders.
The Warriors run their staple Motion Weak set, but with a small difference. With Curry on the floor, it is usually him who brings the ball down and performs the shallow cut; instead, it is Livingston who takes over the ball-handling duties. With Curry stationed and nailed on the weak side, Livingston gets a screen from Green to get closer to the rim. He buries the free-throw line jumper.
It is curious that Motion Weak was executed for Livingston in this play instead of Curry, but perhaps the Warriors intended to use Curry’s presence to open up opportunities for the other players on the floor.
In this sequence, the Warriors go back to running a simple low-post flare three for Curry. Green passes to Livingston on the post, while Curry runs his defender toward Green’s hard screen, freeing him up for the catch-and-shoot three. With no one to switch onto Curry due to the Jazz electing to have Green’s man drop back and station himself in the paint, there is no one there to contest Curry’s three.
Another benefit of Curry being inserted into the second unit is the ability to take advantage of matchups against opposing second unit players who he can easily take advantage of. In this possession, Curry gets switched onto Kyle Korver, who is a somewhat serviceable defender. But being serviceable on defense isn’t enough against someone like Curry; when he realizes who he’s up against, he smells blood and opts to go one-on-one against Korver.
Out of a sideline out-of-bounds possession, the Warriors run another split-cut. With Thompson and Alfonzo McKinnie stationed on the weak side wing and corner, respectively, the defense is stretched thin, leaving the paint open for Green, who slips a screen for Curry and cuts inside for the open layup.
As is the trademark of the Warriors offense when Curry is on the floor, Curry elects to push the pace off of a made basket in order to take advantage of a defense that is still in the process of getting set. He drives inside and nullifies the shot-blocking ability of Rudy Gobert by initiating contact with Gobert’s body to prevent him from getting up to contest the shot. Curry makes these kinds of shots look extremely routine and easy, but they are anything but.
Again, Curry looks to push the pace in this sequence. He uses Kevon Looney as a traffic cone, dribbling around to make his defender chase him. When he gets a small window of space, he pulls up for the three to give the Warriors a small lead.
And finally, before being substituted, Curry gets off one last bucket off of a curl and drive. The ‘defenders aren’t afraid of letting Curry penetrate, knowing that they can simply funnel him toward Gobert’s intimidating rim presence. But being the crafty operator that he is, Curry floats the ball before Gobert can get into a decent position to contest the shot.
Curry spent approximately six and a half minutes with the second unit during the second quarter. In these six and a half minutes, Curry scored 15 points, and his presence on the floor also helped several of his teammates score points of their own. Kerr’s adjustment of putting Curry as the focal point of the offense in the second quarter is a promising development. The Warriors were able to get baskets off of their usual motion offense flow, in addition to getting quick points when pushing the pace in transition.
But in the end, this small adjustment was rendered moot, when the Warriors were outshot from three-point range by a team that is ranked 26th in the league in three-point field goal percentage. Knocking down 10-of-31 threes against a team who made 16-of-42 threes is an obvious recipe for disaster, and the Warriors paid for it with their eleventh loss of the season.
Furthermore, the Curry-led second unit that started the fourth quarter had significantly less success than they had during the second quarter. Several missed shots, turnovers, and questionable defense were the culprits in helping the Jazz mount an eleven-point lead. The relatively early re-insertion of Durant helped the Warriors mount a furious rally, but even so, it wasn’t enough against the hot shooting of the Jazz.
Fourth quarter struggles aside, however, the new-look second unit is an interesting combination that should be kept and further tested. With Curry leading the bench mob, it will allow him to create freely for himself and for others around him.
It will also serve as the precursor to a potential second unit combination consisting of Curry and DeMarcus Cousins. If Cousins displays the same level of post presence and jump shooting ability that he had prior to his injury, then the Warriors will possess a supercharged second unit that will take opposing second units to the mattresses — and perhaps send them to sleep with the fishes.
Thirty-two down, 50 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.