Would Golden State Warriors Be a Playoff Team Without Steph Curry?
It's the one realization that every Golden State Warriors feared they might be faced with in the 2012-13 season.
Stephen Curry, the team's most dynamic threat and fearless (should-have-been) All-Star leader, landed awkwardly on a drive late in the third quarter of the Warriors' 114-102 road win over the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 28.
The injury kept him out of action during the Warriors' 108-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers the following night.
What looked like nothing more than a common occurrence in a basketball game carried a different weight for the Warriors' floor general. The ankle that he tweaked during the play was the same one that he'd had surgery on in each of the past two years. The same one he sprained less than two weeks ago.
While neither injury has looked particularly bad (his first sprain cost him two games), each aggravation has the potential to (at best) limit confidence in the ankle or (at worst) force another extended stay in the training room.
The Warriors hoped these ankle injuries were a thing of the past, but the four-year, $44 million contract extension they gave Curry earlier this season marked a mutual understanding that a recurrence of the injury was at least a possibility.
But Golden State didn't simply plan for this possibility by saving some money on a contract far below Curry's value based on production (career 18.2 points per game). They also added veteran point guard Jarrett Jack in the offseason and kept sophomore guard Charles Jenkins on the roster.
It was a rare moment of foresight from an organization with just a single playoff trip since the 1993-94 season, and one that will save the postseason hopes for this success-starved franchise, no matter how long Curry's ankle injury lingers.
Jack had led this club to victories long before Curry's most recent injury. The late-game distributor and season-long closer has demonstrated a veteran craftiness and mental toughness on both ends of the floor.
Jack's locker room presence has been a welcome addition for a team that's spent the better part of the past two decades searching for veteran leadership.
The Warriors won't hurt for offense in Curry's absence—not with David Lee putting forth another All-Star effort (19.6 points per game), Klay Thompson emerging as more than just a long-distance threat (16.1), Andrew Bogut back in the rotation and a supporting cast rife with potential production.
Defensively, this team has made great improvement, led by Jack's toughness and instincts. Even Curry has made significant strides on that end of the floor under coach Mark Jackson and assistant coach Mike Malone.
And on a night when the Warriors were missing their star point guard, the opportunity presented itself for reserves to play their way into more action. Against Cleveland, that player was the tenacious rookie Kent Bazemore, whose suffocating defense helped limit Cavs' All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting:
Bazemore is kissing his Santa Cruz days goodbye right now—Marcus Thompson (@gswscribe) January 30, 2013
If Curry is held out of action, Jackson will get an even better chance to evaluate the rotational options available to him when his starting point guard returns. Bazemore and sophomore Charles Jenkins will look to prove that they're capable of more than just the end-of-quarter stopper roles that they've been largely restricted to so far this season.
It should also offer Jackson a lengthier look at both Richard Jefferson and Draymond Green, with each player looking to solidify his place in the rotation moving forward.
Which reserve should see the most minutes in Mark Jackson's rotation?
The 28-17 Warriors are in fifth place in the Western Conference and have built a 3.5 game cushion over the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets (both clubs tied for seventh in the Western Conference), so the playoffs should not be in question.
Even if Curry misses extensive time, the team's favorable schedule down the stretch (they close the season with 16 of their final 22 games at home) should keep the club in the conference's top six seeds.
Of course, if Curry's ailments linger into the postseason, then things become more daunting.
In the slower, controlled postseason setting, the Warriors could ill afford to be without Curry's offensive creativity. He's one of the few players on the roster capable of creating his own shot. He commands extensive defensive attention and has the court vision and distribution skills to punish overzealous help defenders.
But that's a conversation for another time.
A conversation that Warrior fans are thrilled to finally be having.
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