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An extended Steph Curry absence is something the Warriors can’t afford

Curry is the Warriors lifeline. If he goes down for an extended period, they might as well pack it up.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The consequences of the possibility of not having Steph Curry for several games – even if the shoulder injury that took him out of the game against the Indiana Pacers doesn’t turn out to be season ending – are quite clear.

Curry is having one of his best offensive seasons. He’s averaging 30 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 6.8 assists. His 59/43/92 shooting splits (2P/3P/FT), coupled with a 66.8 TS%, represents just how efficient he has been as a scorer. Even while approaching 35-years old, he remains one of the best at creating shots for himself.

His 1.37 points per shot attempt is on track to be a career high, per Cleaning the Glass. His usual wizardry from beyond the arc is par for the course, but it hasn’t made it any less amazing to watch. He’s leveraging the threat of his shot to attack tight defense and hard closeouts; his rim field-goal percentage of 74% is on track to be a career-high, a testament to how sublime his finishing has been this season despite legs that aren’t as spry.

Per Dunks & Threes, Curry is the only player whose field-goal percentages at the rim (81st), mid-range (74th), and threes (91st) are all at least above the 70th percentile.

While no man is an island when it comes to winning NBA championships, Curry damn near inhabited one when his legendary performances powered the Golden State Warriors to their fourth title in eight years under Steve Kerr. If not for Curry – and the support he garnered from a roster that was built to provide adequate amounts of utility – the Warriors may have been staring down questions about their roster approach then that they’re staring at now.

The two-timelines approach always had risk baked into it. While many may point to such an approach being successful last season, take note that while the likes of Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody had moments in the playoffs, none of them had quite the impact that key veteran pieces such as Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., and Nemanja Bjelica had during the playoffs.

To some, it may be sacrilegious to suggest that the Warriors won the title last season in spite of stubbornly adhering to the two-timeline plan. But it’s becoming quite clear that it’s far from being preposterous, but an undeniable truth that must be addressed.

Curry is a generational talent that doesn’t readily grow on trees. He’s an all-time great who’s arguably already in the top 10 of the NBA’s pantheon of legends; if he’s not within your top 10, then he might as well be knocking loudly and demanding to be let in. Odds are that the Warriors will not see that kind of player in the near future, let alone in this lifetime.

The Warriors offense is a joy to watch when many of its moving parts work in perfect unison, but Curry is the reason why those parts move at all. While Kerr deserves credit for working the offense around what makes his superstar awesome, it’s Curry’s indispensable nature that spells the difference between the beautiful game and “bAsKeTbAll iS bEaUtIfUL.”

Curry played only 30 minutes against the Pacers and was ruled out of the game late in the third quarter. He exited with 38 points on 19 shots, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists on a 79.7 TS%. He may very well have been on his way to a 50-point triple-double had he not incurred an injury.

While the rest of the team did an admirable job in keeping things close, the lack of a beacon in the half court was apparent. Some shots were generated out of good offense from players who aren’t usually considered big-time shot makers. Some were products of stifling defense leading to offense in transition or semi-transition.

But the Warriors’ half-court offense (85.1 offensive rating) struggled mightily, even more so without their best player. With Curry on the floor, possessions like this were common:

Warriors run one of their half-court staples – “HORNS Flex”. “HORNS” simply refers to the formation: two bigs at the elbows, two shooters on each corner. Curry feeds Looney then cuts inside to set the “flex” screen for Jordan Poole.

Curry doesn’t even need to set a solid screen in order for two Pacers defenders to attach themselves to him on the “zipper” cut, freeing Poole on the flex cut for the layup.

It’s one possession that isn’t entirely representative of what happened during the rest of the game. Curry carried the offense. The Warriors didn’t take care of the ball (23 turnovers turned into 33 points by the Pacers, 22.4 TOV%). The Pacers shot 16-of-39 on threes, some of which were products of overhelp, unnecessary rotations, and being caught on the back foot during transition defense.

But what the possession above represents is how important Curry is and will always be to the Warriors’ identity. With him, the chances of contending for a title – no matter how slim – will always be there. Without him for an extended period, they might as well pack their bags and hope their lottery odds may ever be in their favor.

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