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The Golden Breakdown: Trying to make sense of Steph Curry’s recent play

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Steph Curry has often come out of the All-Star break with MVP-caliber performances. But this year, he is struggling more than usual out of the break. He will need to show more if the Warriors want to finish strong.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

You can describe this loss in a lot of ways — one step forward, two steps back; a case of the team not getting up for an opponent perceived to be levels beneath them, therefore resulting in them playing down to their level; or a team simply tired of these seemingly meaningless regular season games and not finding the motivation to give their all.

You can, however, most certainly describe this loss as downright ugly. Going into Sunday night, the Phoenix Suns had a record of 15-52 — the worst record in the Western Conference. It’s a position not too unfamiliar for the more tenured members of Dub Nation, who remember those cellar-dwelling days when the Warriors themselves were the proverbial punching bag for the rest of the league.

But that was an eternity ago. The Warriors are now a dynasty, a championship-level team who are expected to win against teams like the Suns. Granted, there is no such thing as an “easy win” in the NBA, where even the worst of teams are expected to provide problems for those who occupy the top part of the standings. But even so, those elite teams are expected to win in the end, with those expectations being higher when the teams they are facing are occupying a much lower rung of the NBA ladder.

The Warriors didn’t seem to get that memo against the Suns. They started off well enough, erecting a huge lead in the first quarter that ballooned to as high as 16 points. They didn’t show signs of taking this game off, nor did they seem like they were back to their old, egregious habit of sleepwalking their way through an entire game.

After the first quarter, however, was an altogether different story. The Warriors’ play took a near 180-degree turn — and the Suns, who didn’t show signs of being a team coming off a game the previous night, took advantage.

Steph Curry’s shooting struggles

Looking at the box score of the game, the Warriors actually took more shots than the Suns, 95-86. In terms of two-point shots, the Warriors shot 32-of-52 (61.5 percent), while the Suns shot 32-of-61 (52.4 percent). That seems fine enough ... until your eyes finally scan over the three-point shooting column of the stat sheet, and you suddenly get that feeling of wanting to throw up.

In a clear case of efficiency beating volume, the Warriors took 18 more threes than the Suns, but shot at a much worse percentage — 10-of-43 (23.3 percent), compared to the Suns’ 10-of-25 clip (40 percent).

The Warriors’ three best shooters — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant — all struggled from beyond the arc. Durant’s season long struggles from three-point range have been well-chronicled, with his current 36.0 percent clip being below his career average of 38.2 percent. However, he was much more conservative in his attempts, taking 4 threes against the Suns and making only one of them.

Thompson, on the other hand, took 15 threes on the night, but only made 4. It was an unusual off-night for Thompson, who is having one heck of a 2019 in terms of shooting the three, with a 49 percent shooting clip from that range coming into Sunday night — which, I might add, was good enough to pull his three-point field goal percentage for the season to 40.6 percent. His shot took a night off against the Suns, and it was a huge part of the Warriors’ struggles on offense. There is reason to believe, however, that this is a one-off performance from him, and that his shooting will bounce back in the next game.

The real concern lies with Curry, who is currently having one of the worst shooting stretches of his career. Over his last seven games, Curry is shooting 30-of-95 on threes (31.6 percent). If you stretch that to the ten games that have been played since the All-Star break, Curry is shooting 45-of-122 on threes (36.9 percent). Traditionally, Curry has been the kind of player who storms out of the All-Star break not only with guns blazing, but with guns on mark and hitting the target. As of late, however, he has been firing more blanks.

I previously went over Curry’s shooting struggles against the Orlando Magic, pointing out how the lack of arc in his shots were possible indications of fatigue. Shooting 4-of-15 from three against the Suns, Curry’s shots also were uncharacteristically off-line or short.

Most of these shots were either wide-left or short front-hitting clankers. There doesn’t seem to be any visible change in Curry’s mechanics — he’s still shooting the same balanced form, little-to-no dip, lightning-quick release jumper that he has perfected — but to no avail. As I said before in my previous analysis, it could simply be due to fatigue, and resting for a game or two could be a good thing for him. But with a tough road trip ahead — and the possibility that Durant may miss some time due to an ankle injury — that may be out of the question.

Curry’s turnovers

Another point of concern for Curry are his turnovers. Since the All-Star break, Curry is averaging 3.6 turnovers per game, a team-high. He has always been knocked for his passes being thrown too lazily or recklessly, but it seems like his passes as of late have been extra lazy and reckless. He committed three turnovers against the Suns, which is a relatively low amount for him — but as can be seen from one of the clips below, two of them would be crucial, end game turnovers that would deter the Warriors from a possible comeback.

Curry’s turnovers over the course of the past three games have been due to several factors. At times, excellent defense forces Curry to cough up the ball, and credit must be given to the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and the Suns for those defensive sequences that force him to be uncomfortable. Curry also has a knack for making slingshot, one-handed overhead passes while being double-teamed or trapped. Defenders pretty much know what to expect from Curry — they know that he has a tendency for making those kinds of passes, and they readily deflect those away almost every time.

Curry doesn’t look like he’s injured or otherwise physically impaired, nor is he particularly out-of-shape. He may just be plain old tired, both physically and mentally. He has had a lot of things on his plate this year — he was forced to act as peacemaker and mediator between Durant and Draymond Green earlier this season, and may still be acting as the glue that holds a seemingly-fragile locker room together; he has had several off-court engagements and commitments in the middle of the season, including acting as the informal host and person of interest during All-Star festivities in Charlotte; his groin injury forced him to sit out eleven games this season, a period of stagnancy that may still have lingering effects up till the present time.

Whatever it is, Curry doesn’t seem like he’s letting it affect his mindset.

“One game, you miss shots. We took ones we thought we could make. Like I said, if they go down this would be a totally different conversation, so I don’t overreact to that. Just one of those nights,” Curry said after the game.

When comparing this year’s season-end struggles to last year, Curry didn’t give off the vibe of someone who was worried at all. Ever the laid-back person that he is — PR or not — Curry brushed away all notions that this season was any more difficult than last season.

Perhaps Curry is right — after all, the Warriors are still in possession of first place in the Western Conference, with a roster that is still intact and healthy as well as a schedule that is only going to get easier after the upcoming road trip. On paper, the rest of the games should be an ideal time for fine-tuning, preparation, and perhaps even resting some of the key players in time for another playoff run.

On paper, they were also supposed to win against the Suns. But as the NBA has often taught many of us, things that are supposed to happen in this league have a knack of not happening at all. That is not due to fate, luck, or misfortune — but rather due to self-inflicted problems.

The Warriors will need more out of everyone if they want to finish the regular season strong, assuming that they still care about that sort of thing. Everyone needs to do their jobs better, and the blame doesn’t belong to one person alone — but it all starts with the leader. Curry has proven to be an example-setter for the team in the past, and now is the time to be setting an example on the court.

Sixty-six down, 16 more to.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.

*All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com