Why Golden State Warriors' Playoff Hopes Are Riding on Stephen Curry's Health

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors and the Sophomore Team looks on during the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam at Staples Center on February 18, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

You may not think the Golden State Warriors are going very far this season, but they're headed absolutely nowhere without point guard Stephen Curry.

In what could have been the 24-year-old's first All-Star campaign, the 2011-12 season was derailed by ankle problems that eventually required surgery. Curry ended up playing in just 26 games, averaging 14.7 points in under 29 minutes per game.

After what quickly became something of a transitional season, Warriors fans were finally treated to some good news this summer with the additions of rookie Harrison Barnes, along with free agent Carl Landry and the Hornets' Jarrett Jack.

Thanks to Curry, though, they just got even more good news:

Finally got the go ahead to play some pickup with the squad today. Felt good to get back.

— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) September 19, 2012

CSNBayArea.com's Matt Steinmetz explains that Curry's return to the floor actually puts him a bit ahead of schedule:

Curry was in Oakland in mid-September and at the time said that the only thing he hadn’t been cleared to do was play five-on-five basketball. But he said his goal was to do that a week or two before training camp.

Apparently, Curry met his goal. Warriors training camp is set to begin on Oct. 2.

A recovery without any major hangups should be a good sign for the sweet-shooting guard's chances of staying on the floor. Though Jack's presence would at least partially ease the blow of losing Curry again, that won't come as much consolation to those who've watched this team rebuild since missing the 2007-08 playoffs despite a 48-34 record.

This may be the deepest roster the Warriors have had in some time, but a return to the postseason depends entirely on having a healthy Curry in the fold.

The career 44 percent three-point shooter isn't your average point guard. The Davidson product can spot up, score of the dribble and still finds time for nearly six assists a game when he isn't busy shooting.

With second-year shooting guard Klay Thompson, Curry gives Golden State one of the most intriguing up-and-coming backcourts in the league, one that's certainly capable of raining long-range buckets on any given night.

The organization's decision to exchange Monta Ellis for center Andrew Bogut didn't just create an opportunity for Thompson to start at the 2—it also means Curry will handle the ball and direct the offense even more.

We're talking about a front office that obviously has a lot of faith in its young guards.

And for good reason.

Even as a rookie, Curry was doing the little things you love to see from a floor general, adding 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals to his highly productive offensive game. The decision to build around him and increase his responsibility was a bit of a no-brainer, but it only looks good in retrospect if Curry can stay on the court.

Without him, the Warriors lack one of their best players to be sure, but they also miss this offense's engine.

The extent to which complementary scorers like Thompson and Barnes impact games will depend heavily on Curry's ability to occupy defensive attention and facilitate for others. Thompson remains more of a catch-and-shoot specialist at the moment, and Barnes will play a similar role early in his career.

Curry will also space the floor, making defenders think twice before helping defend Bogut in the post.

His presence on the offensive end is felt whether the ball is in his hands or not.

Reaching the playoffs isn't a given with or without Curry. The Western Conference is as deep as it's ever been, and Golden State will have to edge out similarly emergent clubs like the Utah Jazz and potentially even the Phoenix Suns.

But with the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers taking steps back as they begin their own rebuilding processes, the Warriors have a window of opportunity to make some noise.

Taking advantage of that opportunity will be a lot easier with Curry around.