We all know that the Golden State Warriors are playing magnificent basketball and that they’re poised to break the record for best-ever start to an NBA season. We also know that since the start of last season, they’ve been the best team in the NBA, compiling a staggering 98-20 record.
Throughout those 118 games, Stephen Curry, without a doubt, has been the team’s best player. In fact, he’s been the league’s best player, as his MVP award last year will attest. But if there’s something that’s gotten a little lost in the Warriors’ 15-0 start this year, it’s this: Curry is playing very differently this year than he has in the past, and, most specifically, last year.
His scoring is up almost 10 points per game (from 23.8 ppg., to 32.7 ppg.), which is astronomical for a player already at his level. But his assists are down – to playing-alongside-ball-dominant-Monta Ellis levels — and his turnovers are up. Last year, Curry averaged 7.7 assists and 3.1 turnovers per game. This year’s he’s averaging just 5.7 assists per game and 3.9 turnovers per game.
I had a chance to catch up with Curry after Warriors practice on Monday, to ask him about how and why his role has changed and why this team is playing differently than it did a year ago — but with no less success.
Here’s that interview:
Question: You’re averaging about 10 more points per game than last season. Why do you think you’re scoring is up so much?
Curry: “I’m shooting a better percentage, and obviously that helps. I think I’m taking a couple more shots than last year, a couple more 3s. And I’m getting them pretty much the same way. Most of the games have been more catered to being more aggressive scoring the ball. The way they’re defending a lot of our pick and rolls, a lot of our sets, I usually see a double-team coming off and Draymond’s been a hell of a playmaker in those situations, when I can get it out of my hands and he has a 4-on-3 situation. My assists aren’t crazy, what they were last year, but we’re getting the same great shots on our offensive possessions by reading the defense and figuring that out. It helps that more shots are going in that I’m taking. I pride myself on field goal percentage and try to keep that up.”
Question: When you give the ball up immediately at the top to Draymond Green, are you essentially a two guard there, playing off the ball, coming off screens, etc? Do you even think of it that way?
Curry: “I definitely consider myself a point guard. But it’s a certain skill set of being able to shoot the ball makes defenses play me differently than they do other point guards. And there are different reads I have to make in those situations. Thankfully, I have experience and confidence to be able to play off the ball, so I that I don’t need to give it up and then go chase the ball back, and then put it back on the floor and try to make a play.
“I can come off screens, move without the ball, and be able to space the floor, and we have so many great passers on this team that if I’m open, they’re usually going to find me. And I just have to knock it down at that point A lot of our system last year was based on our natural pick and rolls and me trying to play-make in those situations, in transition, whatever.
“But when teams, especially late in the season, would start to double team, Coach Kerr told me to have confidence to get the ball up and then play off of it. Even if they want to switch, we want to be able to attack the mismatch from the inside out as opposed to the other way around. So I’m comfortable playing that way. It might not be a traditional point guard style, but the way I’m defended, that’s the way I’ve got to play to be successful.”
Question: Why are the turnovers up? I understand why your scoring is up and your assists are down. But why are your turnovers up?
Curry: (Pause) “… They’re not up too much … It looks worse because my assists aren’t up. So my ratio is probably in the trash right now. That’s been a goal of mine, to get it (assist-to-turnover ratio) somewhere in the 3s (3-to-1), maybe. But the way the season is going on, the way I’ve been able to impact games is knocking down shots, being aggressive, finding openings and then drawing defenders and allowing my teammates to make plays.
“I’ve kind of got to bite the bullet on that one and not really worry about what the stats might look like. We could be 12-4 and I could have a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but I’ll take this situation a little bit better.”
Question: Do you think you’re looking at a year where you’re scoring and assists will stay at this level or do you think teams will start playing you differently and it will get back to the way it was? I’m just trying to figure out why this happening because it’s been different than last year.
Curry: “That’s hard to predict. No, It is different. In our pick-and-roll situations, I don’t have as many opportunities to come off and survey the floor and figure out who’s open, and they’re going to get a shot right away. It’s usually going to be two guys coming at me. My play is to find the outlet or whoever set the screen, and allowing them to make a play. I could give a 100 examples of that this season already, where we can either bait that situation or blitzing is in the other team’s game plan.
“I’m not out there on the floor saying, ‘All right, this possession I’m going to try to get an assist. Let me figure out how I’m going to get that done.’ It’s about reading the defense, whether they lay off, whether I can turn the corner and get to the rim or draw two defenders and make the easy play. That’s kind of my approach to it. Most of my turnovers, actually, probably are in transition situations, where I’m trying to make a wild play. I’ve done that.
“I’ll do that, trying to be creative. And Coach Kerr is OK with some of those. But the other ones are the ones I’ve got to work on – always making the right, easy play. That’s the goal.”
Question: Do you come into every game with a plan, thinking you might have to score more one night than another, or distribute more one game vs. the next? Or do you just go out and play and say: ‘If they do this, I’ll do that, and if they do that, I’ll do this.’
Curry: “That’s mostly it. Because our sets are the same no matter who we play. We try to make the defense react to us by the way we play, and in those situations is where I make my reads. We have our pick-and-roll sets, we have our secondary motion offense sets, where most of the time I don’t have the ball in my hands anyway. I’m setting screens or back cuts or coming off down screens, stuff like that That’s just reading how the defense plays you.
“Most of the preparation is on pick-and-roll defense, and trying to figure out if they’re going to blitz or not, if they’re going to ‘Corral,’ we call it, where they aren’t necessarily aggressive toward halfcourt with trapping me, but staying two on the ball until I give it up. In those situations I have to make the right reads. You figure that out pretty quickly in the first quarter – how they’re going to play it. I’m pretty comfortable making those game-to-game adjustments.”
*****Here’s a link to “NBA This Week,” a radio show Steinmetz co-hosts with John Dickinson.