Steph Curry is turning 35 years old on March 14, 2023. By the time the Golden State Warriors are competing in the playoffs (assuming they make it to the playoffs, which the odds say they will), Curry will have officially entered his mid-30s — and entered an exclusive club of all-time greats whose games have aged like fine wine.
In his current form, there are uncomfortable truths about Curry’s agility, athleticism, and burst. He can’t exclusively rely anymore on the perks and advantages he had during his physical prime. At this stage of his career, there will always be someone younger, faster, and more athletic than him to meet him head on.
But what he does have is the wisdom of age and experience. He may not have the fast-twitch muscles he had half a decade ago, but what he still has in his arsenal is shiftiness, handle, and manipulation — all fine-tuned and honed through years of repetition and hard work.
An old man by NBA standards he may be, but he arguably works harder than anyone, including the younger players who were supposed to supplant him in the pecking order. He remains the most conditioned athlete in the league; his focus on the fundamentals have been the building blocks behind his jaw-dropping feats.
After dropping 33 points on 22 shots against the Miami Heat, Curry is officially on an early season heater. He’s averaging 30.8 points on 52/46/93 shooting splits, along with 6.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists. His 66% True Shooting harkens back to his unanimous MVP campaign in 2016, where he put up a True Shooting mark of 66.9%. His scoring efficiency to start the season has been off the charts.
Curry made a loud and clear statement against the Heat — and no statement was louder than this possession against Tyler Herro, who himself has drawn some comparisons to Curry (perhaps unfairly):
The most “duh” statement that can be said about Curry at this point is that the Warriors are simply much better offensively with him on the floor. They sport a 122.8 offensive rating during his 167 minutes on the floor — equivalent to the most potent offense in the league.
Without him, they fall to a measly 94.8 offensive rating — two points worse than the Los Angeles Lakers’ league-worst offense.
As usual, Curry’s scoring against the Heat was of the flashy variety: pull-up threes, catch-and-shoot jumpers, and the usual fare you’d expect out of the greatest shooter of all time. There were also layups after beating his man off the dribble and getting into the paint against a tilted and compromised backline.
But it was intriguing to see that early on, the Heat were adamant about not giving Curry any sort of airspace. We’ve seen this film on repeat several times: around ball screens, Curry forces defenses to have to lean on the aggressive spectrum of pick-and-roll coverages.
The Warriors have seen the film themselves on many an occasion. They are arguably the foremost experts at carving up a backline defense with short-roll playmaking and cutting:
By virtue of the threat he generates as a shooter, Curry has historically put up elite pick-and-roll efficiency metrics, despite Steve Kerr’s preference for non-pick-and-roll-heavy schemes. Kerr increased the number of ball screens he dialed up for Curry during the 2022 playoffs; that increase has seemingly rolled over to the start of this current season.
Curry is in the upper half of the league in terms of the number of pick-and-roll-ball-handler possessions that end with him scoring or passing to a teammate who finishes the possession, per Synergy. Such possessions are generating 1.12 points per possession — placing him at the 82nd percentile in terms of pick-and-roll efficiency.
There is arguably no play type that induces the fear of God into defenses as much as a ball screen for Curry — whether in transition in the form of early offense drag screens, empty-corner ball screens, or “ghost” screens set by his fellow Splash Brother:
Curry understanding the pull he generates and finding his teammates whenever defenses are tilted will always be part and parcel of his greatness, the answer to those who don’t define him as a traditional point guard because of his general preference for shooting and scoring. What many don’t understand is that it’s his potency as an individual offensive force that generates playmaking opportunities.
The Warriors are adept at putting Curry in the best spots to succeed. Plenty of actions involving misdirection and second-side movement — most of which have Curry moving off the ball, setting screens for others, or otherwise pulling defenders into his orbit — are scripted within their scheme.
Kerr is one of the more underrated play-drawers in the league. When he has the opportunity to concoct a half-court possession during a timeout, his superstar is almost always central to his plans.
Peep at Draymond Green in the clip below flexing his biceps as Curry brings the ball down:
The Warriors run one of their old sets — “HORNS Flex” — that gets Curry a catch-and-shoot three. The misdirection component is clear; out of HORNS formation (two bigs at the elbows and two corner spacers), Curry passes to Green and sets a “flex” screen for Moses Moody to cut inside, after which he runs off of Looney’s down screen, forcing Kyle Lowry to chase him in a panic — to no avail.
Not every scripted play call or possession will work. In the end, the need for the ultimate shot creator who can get you buckets in a pinch will always be a trademark of a sturdy franchise. Time and time again, Curry has proven himself to be the man for the Warriors in isolation possessions.
Which is why the Heat decided to play their toughest card by having Jimmy Butler — an all-world defender — guard Curry in an effort to stop the bleeding. But the necessity of having to guard Curry as high up as a few feet away from the half-court line acts as a handicap on Butler’s ability to properly defend.
It also doesn’t help Butler that he leads too far out with his right foot, which Curry promptly recognizes and attacks:
There’s also the element of giving up the easy switch, something that has burned several teams in the past — namely, the Phoenix Suns against Luka Dončić during last season’s playoffs. It’s understandable that — personnel notwithstanding — teams will opt to switch every screen and prefer to keep the ball out in front to prevent being placed in rotation.
But it’s also way too easy for offenses to hunt for the matchups they want to attack. Curry is no different when it comes to hunting for the lowest-hanging fruit on the opposing team. For all his growth and excellence on the offensive end, Herro remains largely limited as an individual stopper.
The Heat don’t help him in that regard by giving Curry and the Warriors the matchup they were looking for:
Curry is putting up MVP-caliber numbers amid a field where his peers are all much younger than him. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokić, Ja Morant, and Dončić are all south of 30; all of them have legitimate shots at winning the top individual award this season, which makes Curry’s path to a third MVP trophy tough.
But does Curry really need more individual accolades at this point? Those may only serve as cherries on top of a brilliant career filled with championships and moments of greatness. His standing among the all-time greats has already been solidified — yet at the same time, more titles can place it even higher than where it already is.
Curry remains hungry for more — all the greats always are — and it looks like he won’t settle for what he has already accomplished. He remains in complete control of his game on the court — and in turn, in complete control of his destiny.