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The Golden Breakdown: The recent struggles of Stephen Curry

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Curry managed to get his fill of points, but did so in an extremely inefficient manner. What should fans make of his and the Warriors’ current struggles?

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

At approximately the 1:05 mark of the fourth quarter, the Warriors were down by three against the lowly Orlando Magic. Desperate for a three-point shot that would have put the game at 97-all, the Warriors tried their best at getting Stephen Curry free for an open look. He finally got one courtesy of a hard screen from DeMarcus Cousins.

The screen was the best they could’ve hoped for in that situation — D.J. Augustin, who was doing an excellent job defending Curry all night long, was stopped in his tracks by Cousins’ big frame. Curry caught the pass and went up for one of the most open looks he would get the entire night.

The shot was on line, but lacked arc — it ended up catching the front of the rim, just a few inches short of swishing inside. After Cousins’ follow-up hook shot missed, Curry would clap his hands, clearly frustrated at himself that he did not bury a shot that he normally makes.

That three-point attempt from Curry was his 12th miss of the night from that range. He finished the night with a 5-of-17 clip from three, good for 29.4 percent. He still finished the night with 33 points, but took an alarmingly high amount of shot attempts to do so — 12-for-33 overall, good for 36.4 percent. The usual efficiency of Curry just wasn’t there.

Curry’s unusual role on Thursday night as a volume shooter probably wasn’t born out of a sudden desire by him to succumb to a superstar’s individualistic tendencies; he just isn’t wired to think that way. Kevin Durant, who played in all of their previous 61 games, was given a well-deserved night off by the coaching staff. The Warriors were suddenly without their second leading scorer, and probably the only other player besides Curry who can consistently create his own shot and generate points by himself. With Durant out, Curry’s 33 shots were simply out of necessity.

There isn’t much doubt that Curry is capable of carrying the Warriors in times of need and struggle — he has bailed his team out on many occasions, and has single-handedly converted many games that should’ve ended up as losses into improbable wins. He is revered by many as close to superhuman, divine even. But even the most godlike beings in basketball have their limits — they are, after all, still human. And like every other human, Curry does get exhausted.

Look at all of his other misses from three-point range. Curry manages to get most of these shots on line. The problem, however, is that most of them fall short and hit the front of the rim, just like his late 4th quarter miss shown above. On some shots, Curry overcompensates with the arc of his shots and ends up hitting the back of the rim.

If you ask me, these are signs of a fatigued player.

Curry played 37 minutes against the Magic on Thursday, which was the second game of a back-to-back, while he played 34 minutes against the Heat the previous night. He also shot terribly from three-point range against the Heat, going 4-of-14 (28.6 percent).

Going back further against the Charlotte Hornets, Curry also went 4-of-14 on threes. After hitting 10 threes against the Sacramento Kings and going 5-of-11 against the Houston Rockets, it would seem that Curry has hit a post-All-Star break shooting slump, perhaps caused by the fatigue from playing five games in a span of eight days.

To his credit, Curry did try to compensate for his lackluster three-point shooting against the Magic by trying to drive and penetrate. He is still one of the best finishers in the league, utilizing his handles, agility, and dexterity near the rim to blow past defenders and bypass attempts at blocking or otherwise bothering his forays into the paint.

Per Second Spectrum tracking data from NBA.com, Curry is finishing at a rate of 60.5 percent on shots that are less than 10 feet from the rim, proof that he isn’t “just a shooter.” He can very well choose to put the ball down, slash his way to the basket, and pretty much score at will. Against the Magic, he shot 7-of-16 (43.7 percent) on two-point shots. While that isn’t a percentage that particularly stands out, it was enough to at least give the Magic fits.

Curry did have scoring help from two of his other star teammates — Cousins scored 21 points while going 8-of-16 from the field. However, he missed all 4 of his three-point attempts, was a defensive liability exploited by the Magic in the pick-and-roll, and ended up as a minus-16. Meanwhile, Thompson also scored 21 points, but was just as inefficient as Curry, going 9-of-23 from the field (39.1 percent), 3-of-12 from three (25 percent), and ended up as a minus-8.

The Warriors’ bench didn’t help either — they were severely and utterly outscored by the Magic’s bench squad, 35-12. While Jonas Jerebko and Jordan Bell showed bursts of effort and hustle, the bench was counted on to show more than just the intangibles. Scoring from the supporting cast is all the more needed, especially without their sixth man and 1B superstar to help them out. But they simply could not give that kind of support, which may turn out to be a commentary on the bench’s overall lack of a singular player who is capable of giving them additional scoring punch.

So should fans worry about this recent stretch of bad games from the Warriors, as well as their leader’s current shooting slump? Curry himself doesn’t seem worried at all, and even if his answer amounted to a simple “no,” he does have a point.

If any sign of frustration or self-loathing came from Curry, he didn’t outwardly express that in public, instead reserving it for himself, his teammates, and everyone else in the locker room.

“We had some open looks. The ball’s gotta go in. Steph’s in there beating himself up because he knows he had a lot of open shots tonight that didn’t go,” Steve Kerr said after the game.

So again, should fans be worried about Curry and the team? The answer — like Curry said — should probably be a resounding “no.” Durant and Andre Iguodala were sorely missed, but the Warriors would have more to gain in the long run by resting both of them. Their habit for coasting in the regular season is a fine and dangerous line to tread, but they have proven in the past that they are capable of shifting into a much higher gear during the playoffs.

It is a phrase often used to the point of it turning into a cliché, but it has to be said — the Warriors can, should, and will turn on the switch when the time is right. Until it has been proven that such an approach won’t work anymore — that is, when an opponent in a playoff series manages to win 4 out of 7 games against the defending champions — then Curry and the Warriors should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Sixty-two down, 20 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.