“Curry is nothing special, he just benefits from a great system and those around him.”
If there is one thing that makes Warriors’ fans blood boil to the highest degree, it is the statement above. Many detractors have used such an argument to take away from the greatness of Stephen Curry. As one of this site’s writers puts it, “If it’s a day that ends in ‘y’, there will be Steph slander.”
Despite many people’s perceptions that as the son of a former NBA player, he has had it easy, Curry has gone through a lot of hardships to get to his current status as a bona-fide superstar and one of the best players in the league. No one or their mother would have thought when he was drafted that he would become a transcendent player, one who would change how the game of basketball is played.
The hiring of Steve Kerr brought about a change in culture for the Warriors. Kerr’s egalitarian approach to the game brought about a new era in Warriors history, one that can be called the “Strength in Numbers” era. Every player in the team sought to benefit from Kerr’s philosophy, but Curry perhaps benefited the most. From being a rising and budding star, he transformed into an MVP-caliber superstar under Kerr’s tutelage.
The opening statement, which has been the rallying cry of Curry detractors for what has seemed like an eternity, could not be any more false. Stephen Curry is not a system player — he is the system.
His extraordinary gravitational pull
Curry’s legendary shooting ability has many already calling him the greatest shooter of all time, despite still being at the prime of his career. Currently sitting at 2,129 career three-point field goals — seventh on the all-time list — he is well on track to become the all-time leader in that category.
Curry’s ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor, coupled with his elite handles and shot creation, make him a deadly player, and defenses are forced to pay attention to him at all times, even when he doesn’t have the ball. He constantly moves, ready to pounce on small holes that the defense may present.
It is those aspects of his game that it is often said that he has “gravitational pull.” He often attracts double teams who try to deny him from getting the ball. Whenever he does handle the ball, practically all of the defenders’ eyes are focused on him, which creates huge openings for the rest of his teammates.
In Kerr’s equal-opportunity offense, Curry has even been used as a screener or decoy for the other players on the floor, much to the occasional chagrin of Warriors fans (e.g., Curry screening for Looney). Occasionally, his off-ball screening does produce gems like these:
But one has to admit that Curry’s gravity has made Kerr’s decision to make him an off-ball roamer and screener an Einstein-esque one.
Especially when one of the players who benefits from Curry’s gravity is none other than Kevin Durant.
In the sequence above, Curry is guarded by Kyrie Irving, while Durant’s man is LeBron James. Irving is closely hugging Curry, as he should. Durant notices that the paint is wide open, and fools James into thinking that he’ll initiate off-ball action with Curry. James, who cannot let either Durant or Curry get free for a wide-open shot, makes the fatal decision to bite on Durant’s fake. Meanwhile, Curry has Irving distracted to prevent him from rotating onto Durant, who suddenly cuts toward the basket, and Draymond Green gets him the easy lob for the dunk.
Here’s another sequence where Durant gets an easy basket off of Curry’s pull.
Curry handles the ball on the fastbreak. Tristan Thompson is forced to pick Curry up to prevent him from getting an easy shot. Curry passes to Durant, who is picked up by James. Durant recognizes that the paint is wide open, due to Thompson, the Cavs’ resident rim protector, being stuck on the perimeter covering Curry. Durant easily drives past James for the bucket.
And another sequence where a gaping hole in the defense is created due to the threat of Curry.
Durant pushes the pace off of a missed shot. Irving tries to pick up Durant, but the looming threat of an open Curry makes Irving — who probably thought that James would cover the paint behind him — change his mind. However, James is also mindful of Curry, and does not slide into the paint. Durant takes advantage and goes in for the easiest fastbreak dunk of his career. However, it would not have been that easy if it wasn’t for the threat of an open Curry on the perimeter.
In a rare basketball instance of déjà vu, this sequence happened again, with JR Smith being the offender this time.
Off of a James turnover, Durant again pushes the pace, with only Smith in front of him. Smith, like Irving before him, sees Curry hovering to his right, and chooses to cover Curry. This leaves the lane wide open once again for another easy dunk for Durant.
His ability to distract defenders from other teammates
Curry has pull not only on the perimeter, but also when going inside. He is one of the best finishers in the NBA, and opponents have come to respect that aspect of his game. His drives draw a lot of defensive bodies, which leaves opportunistic teammates open for a pass inside, a kick-out to the perimeter, or hauling in offensive rebounds off of a miss.
In the sequence above, Curry gets the step on Deron Williams, which attracts the attention of two other defenders (Thompson and Irving). This leaves JaVale McGee free to tip the missed floater for the offensive rebound. He tips it twice, with the second tip going to Curry, who has relocated to the right corner. With the defense in a state of bewilderment, they are unable to do anything about Curry, and he buries the three-pointer.
The presence of Curry on the floor alone warps defenses in a way that no other player in the history of the NBA has done. Opposing teams are forced to pick him up at every point of the game, and at every point of the floor. If they were allowed to, teams would probably start picking him up the moment he steps off the team bus.
This sequence doesn’t exactly start on the team bus, but it’s close enough.
The threat of Curry on the fastbreak results in three pairs of eyes gazing at him. Both Iman Shumpert and Richard Jefferson have their attention focused on Curry, while Kyle Korver is also focused on him. Korver’s attention on Curry results in Shaun Livingston being wide open under the basket, and he promptly receives the no-look pass from Curry for the easy dunk.
Here’s another sequence that displays the uncanny attraction that Curry gets from the defense.
This time, there are four pairs of eyes trained on Curry. Kevin Love, Korver, Smith, and James are all paying attention to Curry, while Andre Iguodala strolls past the Swiss cheese defense of the Cavs and finds himself alone under the basket. Curry whips the pass to him for the easy bucket.
With the myriad of visual evidence that exists, it is still baffling why detractors point to Curry as a mere system player, a simple cog that is being held up by the other pieces in the Golden State machinery. Sure, Curry is a cog — but he is the vital cog which holds the entire machinery together. When such a cog breaks down and is taken out, the entire system just does not work as well as it did before.
His statistical impact on teammates
As further proof of Curry’s importance to the Warriors, during the 2017-18 regular season, they had a 41-10 record when Curry was in the lineup, with an offensive rating of 120.4 per 100 possessions. Without Curry in the lineup, their record was 17-14, with a league-average offensive rating.
Curry’s presence in the starting five also impacted his teammates. His fellow starters were simply better when he was on the floor with them, with their individual eFG% and offensive ratings being much better. Take Curry off the floor though, and their numbers take significant hits.
In light of @StephenCurry30's injury last night, here's a look at how his presence on the court impacts his teammate's individual effective FG% and offensive ratings.— The Basketball Economist (@bballeconomist) March 24, 2018
Ex: Klay's eFG% is nearly 14% worse when Curry if off the floor so far this season. pic.twitter.com/w9uvEvzhXV
Sure, the Warriors can win games without Curry — after all, they still have 3 other all-stars in the lineup. But with Curry, they go from the Death Star that destroyed Jedha City to the Death Star that annihilated the entire planet of Alderaan.
The amount of visual and statistical proof for Curry’s status as the core of the Warriors’ offense is staggering, but it won’t stop his detractors from spewing false gospel. The Warriors are undeniably an extremely-talented team, and each of their all-stars benefits from each other’s presence. But the one player that holds them all together, the one that serves as the leader and fuel that keeps the engine going, is most definitely Stephen Curry.
So the next time someone tells you that Curry is just a system player, then this article is just one of many ways that you can prove them wrong. If they still don’t believe like the heathens they are, then roll your eyes and take solace in the fact that he is the heart of the Warriors — their team doesn’t have a Stephen Curry, and that is to their detriment.
All hail Threezus.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series focusing on Draymond Green, and how he has become the Warriors’ central defensive figure.