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Stephen Curry is perfectly fine with being a decoy for his teammates to flourish

Curry decided to use himself as decoy and table setter against a Raptors defense intent on limiting his touches and scoring.

SFChronicleSPORTS Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Whenever the Toronto Raptors face the Golden State Warriors, Fred VanVleet is always given the task of face-guarding Stephen Curry — and throughout their battles over the years, it’s easy to see why.

VanVleet is as close to the quintessential Curry “stopper” there is. He is short, stocky, and highly physical — but he also possesses astute defensive fundamentals. He is handsy without fouling. He makes screen navigation look almost as easy as Curry running defenders toward screens.

Most of all, VanVleet is well aware of Curry’s offensive tendencies.

VanVleet knows rule number one when defending Curry: stay attached to him at all times. But even when Curry gets momentary respite from VanVleet in the possession above, VanVleet instantly reacts and recovers in time — while navigating around Draymond Green’s screen perfectly — to block Curry’s quick-release shot.

From a scoring standpoint, Curry had one of his least productive and least efficient games of the season, something that was almost expected against a Nick Nurse coached squad. Curry finished with 12 points on 10 shots, which included 1-of-4 on twos and 1-of-6 on threes.

There isn’t much Curry can do to establish an offensive rhythm when he faces extreme coverages such as this one:

But unlike previous years where the quality of Curry’s scoring was the difference between victory and defeat, the Warriors were able to defeat the Raptors by 15 points, a lead that once ballooned to as high as 21, and in a game the Raptors never once led. The Warriors outscored the Raptors by 19 during Curry’s 37 minutes on the floor.

This is pretty much stating the obvious, but it speaks to two things:

  1. Curry’s willingness to use himself as a decoy for his other teammates
  2. Having better-fitting personnel surrounding Curry to take advantage of his pull

The Raptors’ defensive game plan — as it has always been whenever they play Curry — was to try to eliminate him completely from the equation, and live with his teammates creating their own offense. That strategy was viable without Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant two years ago in the 2019 Finals; the infamous box-and-one gave Curry plenty of trouble, while the following two seasons continued to lack the appropriate personnel to punish a Curry-centric defensive game plan.

This year, however, is turning out to be monumentally different — and one possession that was exemplary of the Warriors’ improved supporting cast this season came during the fourth quarter. With the Raptors cutting their deficit to 10, Nurse went to his patented box-and-one, with VanVleet face-guarding Curry and the other four Raptors in a zone.

Suffice to say, Jordan Poole reminded Nurse and the Raptors that he is no Quinn Cook:

The effectiveness of a box-and-one is nullified when you’ve got a Curry doppelganger running around while trying to get an open look. While VanVleet is perfectly content with sticking to Curry in the possession above, the other four Raptors defenders are hard-pressed at containing Poole’s perpetual motion, which eventually nets him a three.

Whenever Poole is in a groove, you can see all the attributes that make him a fit as Curry’s backcourt partner. He essentially replicates Curry’s equity as an offensive presence. He rarely stays still without the ball in his hands, knowing that he himself is garnering attention from defenses.

But with Curry beside him, Poole can feast on a defense that pays attention to a man possessing gravitational pull unlike any other. In 262 minutes of Curry and Poole on the floor together, the Warriors have outscored opponents by approximately 12 points per 100 possessions, per PBP Stats.

However, in 243 minutes with Poole on the floor without Curry, the Warriors outscore opponents by a more humble 2.7 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors still very much need Curry on the floor to reach elite offensive status, but they are hanging in there with Poole as their sole offensive protagonist.

Especially when you’ve got Poole replicating Curry-esque moves, like in the possession below:

Over the last two games against the Detroit Pistons and the Raptors, Poole has put up eye-popping shooting splits: 68.8% on twos, 63.2% on threes, and 87.5% on free throws, while scoring in an ultra-efficient manner, as evidenced by his 84.4% True Shooting.

Poole has also managed to increase his three-point percentage by a significant amount; his cumulative 12-of-19 clip on threes against the Pistons and Raptors shot him up to 33.3% for the season — a near five-percentage-point increase from his 28.6% clip before the Pistons game.

While Poole benefited heavily from Curry’s presence, it wasn’t only him who took advantage of the opened avenues and generated space. Andrew Wiggins’ 32 points on 20 shots — which comprised of a 6-of-12 clip on twos and a 6-of-8 clip on threes — was made possible through a combination of his own assertiveness and help from Curry.

Wiggins’ renewed rim aggression continued to pay dividends:

While Curry, both directly (through his passing and screening) and indirectly (clearing driving lanes and generating open three-point looks through his movement), made some of these looks for Wiggins possible:

Ever since their November 10 matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins has been displaying renewed offensive vigor. Over that seven-game span, he averaged 24.0 points on 56/41/78 shooting splits and 65.6% True Shooting. Not only has Wiggins willingly played the role of scoring support on the wings — he is fully thriving in it.

Even Kevon Looney — whose 26 minutes on the floor saw the Warriors outscore the Raptors by 25 points — was able to get a piece of the Curry-baked pie:

Curry running around Looney’s wide down-screen above — therefore drawing two off the screen — essentially creates an empty side screen-and-roll action, with no help from the strong-side corner. The sole help comes from the weak-side in the form of Gary Trent Jr, but he is too small to affect Looney’s downhill dunk.

From a pure box-score standpoint, Curry did not have the best game of his season. If MVP awards were to be handed out solely on statistical standing, this wouldn’t be included in Curry’s portfolio that builds up his case.

He would’ve preferred to have a better performance himself, but Curry — whose unselfishness as a superstar of his magnitude is arguably unprecedented — was most likely content with the outcome of this game and how he approached it. If serving as a decoy means the likes of Poole, Wiggins, and Looney can feast upon a disadvantaged defense, it will be more than worth it — especially if the outcome justifies the process.

Such a mindset from the Warriors’ best player and leader is culture defining.

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