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A play that captures Steph Curry’s greatness — without him even touching the ball

An all-time-great in everything, including as a cog in the Warriors machinery.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Steph Curry will once again grab the headlines — and rightfully so.

After a 40-point masterclass against the Cleveland Cavaliers — one where he put up 75/55/67 shooting splits (2P/3P/FT) and a 78 TS% — Curry continues to add to an early season statistical rampage that’s on pace to be historic.

In 11 games, Curry’s putting up astronomical numbers: 33.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 6.7 assists. His shooting splits are something you’d see from a maxed-out MyPLAYER in 2K: 64/44/91 (2P/3P/FT), with a 69.5 TS% — a mark that’s not only on pace to shatter his unanimous-MVP TS% of 66.9%; it’s 12.6 percentage points higher than the current league average.

This insane combination of high volume and high efficiency scoring is unprecedented, especially from a 6’2” point guard.

We’re running out of superlatives to describe what Curry’s accomplished throughout his career. At 34-years old — 35 by the time this current season ends — he seems to have replaced the quick burst and agility of his youth with the wisdom of experience, the strength of an “old” man (by professional basketball standards), and an enduring belief in oneself that can only be justified by the all-time greats of the sport.

The threes speak for themselves — he’s putting up a 44% mark (59-of-134) on an astounding 12.2 attempts per game. His 56% success rate on mid-range shots — important for someone who commands hard close-outs and tight perimeter defense — is the best among all point guards when garbage time is eliminated, per Cleaning The Glass. He’s shooting 78% at the rim — 91st percentile for his position.

Curry has always been an underrated three-level scorer because his long-range shooting has always taken center stage — but it feels like this season has showcased his all-around scoring ability to an extent where it has never been acknowledged before. He’s the best in history at shooting threes — but when defenses run him off the line, he can drill those mid-range shots or get to the rim and finish at an elite level.

Those traits are already enough for Curry to be considered an all-time great. You can point to the many pull-up threes, the exquisite off-ball wizardry, the ball-handling craft, and a bunch of other eye-popping offensive feats that he’s been performing for well over 14 years.

But it was this play against the Cavaliers out of a timeout that captures so many things about his greatness:

The meat of this play is the Curry backscreen on Andrew Wiggins’ man that makes it possible for Wiggins to dive and catch the lob. But it’s fun to break down each and every aspect of this play and enjoy the process that led to the finished product.

It’s interesting to note that the play itself started out with Draymond Green handling the ball. But the more intriguing part comes when Green crosses the half-court mark:

Setting double drag screens or staggered ball screens for Green seems counterintuitive — he’s nowhere close to being a pull-up shooting threat. Accordingly, Green’s defender (Jarrett Allen) ducks under the screens because of the non-threat he presents.

But that isn’t the point of why they’re setting screens for Green — it’s to put Wiggins (the first screener) in a position to dive toward the rim, and for Green to be in a position to have the passing angle for what’s about to happen next:

The pre-main-event positioning should be appreciated, but of course, everything doesn’t work if Curry isn’t the one setting the backscreen.

As to why it works, it’s quite simple: defenders simply don’t want to let Curry go. Like a jilted lover left behind in the dust by a romantic partner, it’s tough to get rid of habits; the habit of sticking to Curry and not taking your eyes off of him at all costs is difficult to get out of your system, more so in the span of one possession.

Darius Garland doesn’t want to switch away from Curry — but he also sees Wiggins sprinting his way toward the rim. He doesn’t want to get switched onto Wiggins, lest something like this happens to him again:

Garland’s moment of hesitation is all Green and Wiggins need for the alley-oop to be completed.

But even more amazing — and something that’s been repeated ad nauseam here and in other places — is the willingness of Curry to set the screen. Consider Curry’s standing in basketball history: arguably one of the 10 greatest players to have ever graced a court, and the face of a dynasty that has won four championships in eight years.

Not to mention the individual accolades: a two-time league MVP, an NBA Finals MVP, eight selections to an All-NBA Team (4x First Team, 3x Second Team, 1x Third Team), an eight-time All-Star, and a two-time scoring champion. Curry is more than entitled to demand that he be the star of every offensive possession.

But instead, he’s willing to be a cog — a potent cog, to say the least — in the overarching ethos of the Golden State Warriors’ offensive system because he wants to set an example for his teammates, especially to the young ones who are struggling to be part of the rotation.

See what I just did? Do the little things — the simple things — and you will find yourself on the floor with Coach Kerr’s trust in you. If I can do those things, you can, too.

With Curry on the floor, the Warriors are outscoring opponents by 8.5 points per 100 possessions — equivalent to the team with the best net rating in the league. With Curry sitting down, opponents outscore the Warriors by 12 points per 100 possessions — equivalent to the team with the worst net rating in the league.

That’s how important Curry has been to this team — for better or worse. Curry will be a cog when he needs to be a cog, but he’ll also take over whenever he needs to carry the team on his back. But he can’t shoulder the burden all by himself; he’ll need a considerable amount of help, just like all superstars do.

As I’ve previously said, amid all the notions of a two-timeline plan, Curry continues to prove why he’s the only timeline that truly matters. Talents such as him are considered generational for a reason. But his willingness to lead by example — captured perfectly by the play above — is what makes him irreplaceable.

And that is why — for as long as he’s able to play at this high of a level — there’s no proper course of action but to go all in.

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