Although it’s difficult to fathom, there seems to be a consensus that Stephen Curry — somehow, some way — is having an even better season than he had last year. In case you forgot, Curry was the league’s MVP in 2014-15 and led the Golden State Warriors to their first title in 40 years.
But as wonderfully good as Curry was a season ago, he’s putting last year to shame with the way he’s playing this year — or so most people believe. For example, I believe it; I think Curry’s playing at a higher level this year than last. Through 12 games, Curry is averaging 33.7 points per game on 52.1 percent shooting from the field, including 45.6 percent from beyond the arc. And perhaps the most important stat is that the Warriors are 12-0.
If Curry’s numbers were to hold, they would represent career-highs in points scored (by almost 10 points per game over closest season, by the way), field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage. Curry’s averaging 22 shots per game this year; last year he averaged 17. In other words, Curry is taking way more shots than he ever has, and he’s making them at a higher rate than he has in any other season of his pro career. That’s borderline incredible.
The question, though: Why is Curry playing better? Why has he been able to elevate his game? Why has he increased his efficiency from beyond the arc and inside it and raised his scoring average to a crazy number? There are likely many reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest is that he’s not playing a lot of point guard these days. Let’s face it 33.7 ppg., 5.9 apg., 3.4 tpg., are the stats of a two-guard.
Oh, sure, Curry is listed as the team’s starting point guard and of course he brings the ball up court. But other than that he’s doing fewer point guard things than he’s ever done in his career, thanks in large part to the incredible versatility of his teammates, particularly Draymond Green.
And now that he’s doing less point guarding, he’s doing way more scoring and doing it at a ridiculous rate — better than ever before. The team’s ball movement, though, hasn’t been affected one iota by Curry not handling it as much. In fact, as many seem to be saying, the team’s ball movement is even better this year. Curry is playing more like a two-guard right now and the Warriors are better because of it.
Curry is averaging 5.9 assists — and 3.4 turnovers per game — this season, which would mark his lowest assist output since the time of ankle injuries and playing alongside ball dominant Monta Ellis. This is happening for two reasons: One, defenses continue to “try to take the ball out of Curry’s hands,” and, two, because the Warriors’ offense is growing and becoming more varied with experience.
What’s become a real head-scratcher early this season is why team’s continue to try to “get the ball out of Curry’s hands” in the half court when the results continue to be Curry being fantabulous and the Warriors winning? By encouraging Curry to give up the ball, by running a second man at him or trapping, early in the shot clock, the defense encourages the Warriors to play with a man advantage.
It also allows Curry to get into the flow as a scorer, moving off the ball quickly and allowing his gifted teammates to find him via the pass. It’s a defensive fool’s errand, or at least has been early this season for opponents.
“Teams have to double him off pick and rolls and off a lot of our sets they have to commit two people to him,” interim coach Luke Walton said of Curry. “Obviously, Steph and the team have that trust and when he gets doubled Draymond is normally the guy in the pocket and he’s a phenomenal passer and intelligent player. He has the ability to know where everyone else is on the court and he has a lot of opportunities to make plays and he’s done a great job of it so far this season.”
Truth is, Green’s done such a great job of it that it might be time for defenses to re-think that defensive strategy, which, in essence, turns Curry into a lethal, off-the-ball two-guard type. Might be time to go back and see if you can get Curry to playing more like a point guard.