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Is coach Steve Kerr not maximizing Stephen Curry?

Amidst struggles, criticism is mounting around rotations, personnel, and play calls

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NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors
Under-utilized, or protected? Kerr faces growing criticism for his schemes

Back in mid-December, Golden State Warriors coach, Steve Kerr took a risk. He messed with Stephen Curry’s minutes. After two MVP awards, and more accolades than I care to list here, Stephen Curry got bumped out of his normal rotation. Instead of playing the entire 1st and fourth quarters, Curry has recently been used to anchor the second unit and then blended back in for the closing minutes of quarters.

What this means is that he is now “staggered” from Kevin Durant more often, something that the team has played with multiple times - sometime choosing to pair the two together almost exclusively. The problem is that it leaves the team vulnerable when both players sit, so the Warriors have generally feathered the rotations so that at least one of the two is on the court at all times - with Durant generally carrying the second unit, along with Klay Thompson. But now Curry is being used to anchor the second unit, over Durant or Thompson.

This is a big change, but one that the Warriors coaching staff feel is necessary.

The change to Curry’s rotation has left many fans perplexed because it feels like we are unnecessarily hamstringing our fourth quarters by sitting him right in the middle of some of the most important moments. In a game that was essentially tied, Steph Curry was sitting on the bench with five minutes left in the 4th quarter.


But more than that, the team seems to be struggling to find their flow like this. Curry comes out with the second unit and goes and does his thing, then sits in the middle of the quarter, and then re-emerges with the closing unit.

In each of these installments, it feeds into the sort of “my turn, your turn” that contributed to the late game struggles last night against the Houston Rockets. It’s still experimental, but one that many fans would like to stop immediately.

What is Curry’s preference?

Anthony Slater already cornered Kerr, Durant, and Curry back in 2017 for quotes in an excellent article covering what does, and doesn’t work. Curry, who has labored through being benched in favor of Acie Law before getting handed the keys to the franchise didn’t quibble much. He has a clear preference:

“I’ve experienced it all,” Curry said. “But my preference is to, no matter what my minutes are, play all the way through (the quarter) and then come out for a chunk.”

Back in 2017, when Slater was getting those quotes, Kerr was hesitant to mess with Curry’s minutes, but as he says in the post-game presser posted above, this year’s team was having problems. My guess is that Kerr needed to get Thompson back into a more natural role, rather than trying to be a driving force that would come in and carry the scoring and playmaking load for the second unit. Curry, running the perimeter with Shaun Livingston serving as a post-centric secondary ball-handler seems like a much more capable pairing - especially when matched up with a couple of shooters who hustle for rebounds in Jonas Jerebko and Alfonzo McKinnie.

Is it really the rotations though?

Kerr’s ultimate compliment to any player is asking them to do more, so of course Curry was a solution that Kerr turned to.

But at what cost? One important final note here to discuss: what if it’s how Curry is being used, rather than the change in substitution patterns that’s holding him back?

Watching Harden jack up a ton of shots on high usage makes many fans ponder what Curry’s game would look like under a less egalitarian sensibility.

The Warriors lost last night because of poor play, it’s hard to single out one singular reason for it, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t at least think about it. Should Curry have the ball in his hands more?

Poll

Is this new rotation here to stay, or a failed experiment?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Free Curry!! Change the rotation!
    (664 votes)
  • 37%
    Who cares? Forget the rotations, give Steph the ball more!
    (482 votes)
  • 11%
    Nah, we good. Have you seen how many rings Steve Kerr has??
    (147 votes)
1293 votes total Vote Now

According to basketball reference, Curry and James are both putting up a similar(ish) number of shot attempts (27 for Curry, 30 for Harden) per 100 possessions. But where the real discrepancy is shown is in usage - which is an estimate of the number of possessions used by a player while on the floor.

For Harden, that number is an astronomical 38% (up from an “also high” value of 36% last season). Curry? He uses just about 31% of the teams possessions. While those three missed shot attempts hurt, the real damage is associated with what Curry can’t do - namely, destroy defenses - without the ball in his hands.

It’s the height or irony, but also fitting for how this season has gone. Curry, once freed by Kerr to play off the ball more en route to his first MVP award may now need to flip a 180 and go back to being the full time point guard that this team needs.

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