Stephen Curry's Explosive Scoring Continues to Mask Golden State Warriors' Flaws

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Stephen Curry's Explosive Scoring Continues to Mask Golden State Warriors' Flaws
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With one flick of his right wrist, Stephen Curry put the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area in a state of apoplexy and sent Oracle arena roaring into the beautiful Oakland night.

Curry hit a game-winning pull-up jumper with 1.5 seconds remaining on Wednesday night, capping off a 16-point fourth quarter and giving the Golden State Warriors a 95-93 victory over the Dallas Mavericks. It was a shot like so many we've seen from Curry—only from a shorter distance.

Taking the ball in an isolation against Shawn Marion, Dallas' best on-ball defender, Curry patiently jab-dribbled his way to about 19 feet, ball-faked Marion into the air and pulled up for a clean look that touched nothing but net. Curry's game-winner capped yet another torrid home comeback from the Warriors, who were down by as many as 18. 

The only adjective that properly describes Curry's play is "insane." He scored or assisted in each of Golden State's last seven made field goals, finishing with 33 points on 13-of-25 shooting and 10 assists.

Perhaps his best play of the game was firing off a cheeky pass against a collapsing defense to Draymond Green, who knocked down his open three to make it 93-92 with 49 seconds left.

Without Curry, there is no question Golden State loses on Wednesday. Klay Thompson shot an atrocious 3-of-14. Harrison Barnes went 6-of-16 and had to spend a good amount of his night playing vastly undersized against Dirk Nowitzki on defense. The bench was an abomination other than Green.

And yet, superstar is what superstar does.

It's popular on nights like these—of which there are an increasing supply—to take a big ol' gulp of the Curry Kool-Aid. You don't have to try very hard to take a taste. Watching a #CurryGame is the type of intoxicating, transfixing performance art that gives us one of those truly rare organic moments in sports.

Everyone is buying in, because none of us can believe this (expletive) is actually going down.

Curry isn't without flaws. Anyone who watches the Warriors regularly can point out his ball-watching tendencies on defense, his struggles with pick-and-roll coverage and a generally frustrating propensity for turnovers. In fact, Wednesday was the eighth time he's had at least five giveaways this season (he finished with eight).

NBA.com

It's worth noting Curry has made strides defensively. Opposing pick-and-roll ball-handlers are shooting just 31.9 percent against him this season, ranking in the 75th percentile of NBA players, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). Still, his ceiling is probably at replacement-level on that end.

Mark Jackson has to switch Klay Thompson and even Andre Iguodala (pre-injury) on opposing ball-handlers at times just to hide Curry; it's why you can live with the occasional dud from Thompson offensively.

All that aside, Curry is the heart of this Warriors team. Not in the cliche, overwrought way writers counting down their days until retirement like to use the word. But, as in, Curry is the actual heart, pumping blood through the vessels of this roster and keeping an otherwise flawed organism breathing and happy.

The Warriors are scoring 112.0 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the floor this season—a mark that would thrash Portland's already-large lead on the field. They have a true shooting percentage of 59.2 percent and an effective field-goal rate of 55.9 percent, which are right on par with Miami's mark atop the league. Golden State outscores opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions with Curry, which would be good enough for second behind San Antonio prorated over the entire season.

These rates are important, if only because we can juxtapose them by how quickly things go careering out of control when Curry sits. That league-best scoring rate? Drops all the way to 86.5 points per 100 possessions, which would be the league's worst scoring average by more than seven points. Their advanced shooting splits, turnover rate, pace—nearly everything—goes sinking toward the bottom of the league.

NBA.com

The Warriors offense without Curry is like trying to throw a baseball after spending three days in the cold without gloves. The effort is there—you see it—but there is just no ability.

Thompson isn't advanced enough as a ball-handler to handle the spotlight. He has shot a combined 23-of-63 as a pick-and-roll ball-handler or in isolation this season, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). The NBA's SportVU data hasn't been updated for Wednesday's game yet, but Thompson came into the contest shooting a solid enough 38.3 percent on pull-up jumpers, so there is some hope there.

But too often, Curry-less possessions turn into a clogged-spacing situation for 20 seconds before someone throws up a bad, contested shot. No one else on this roster possesses the consistent ability to break down defenders off the dribble.

Per SportVU, Curry averages 6.4 "drives" per game, defined as "any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks." Curry's drive rate isn't actually all that high, ranking 26th in the league—a number that would be concerning if he wasn't so good elsewhere.

More concerning: The next-closest Warrior on the list is Harrison Barnes. He is averaging three drives per game. Curry and Barnes are the only two players who rank in the top 100 of that metric, though Iguodala just misses the cut. 

Spoiler alert: When no one on your team can get close to the basket, it doesn't matter if you're Kyle Korver with your NBA2K14 sliders turned all the way up. The spacing to get off good looks just isn't going to be there, because opposing defenders aren't going to have to cheat off their man. Golden State's offense craters without Curry because it doesn't have the personnel to sustain even a short break. 

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Admittedly, it's unfair to judge this Warriors team as currently constituted.

Iguodala has been nursing a hamstring injury since the NBA's Black Friday, and his absence alone irrevocably changes the team's constitution. The Warriors sacrificed their two best bench players from last season, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, to add Iguodala, and his absence—coupled with Barnes' entry into the starting lineup—has profoundly shown just how thin this team is.

Much of that has been due to the absences or ineffectiveness of the Jack-Landry replacements.

  • Marreese Speights has been so dreadful that Jackson has essentially scrubbed him from the rotation. Hilton Armstrong played more minutes than Speights on Wednesday.
  • Toney Douglas only just returned after missing nearly a month with a stress reaction in his left tibia.
  • Jermaine O'Neal is dealing with a painful wrist injury that kept him out Wednesday and will probably bother him all season. And he's also a 35-year-old dude pushing two decades in the NBA.

Jackson essentially had six NBA players on his roster—the five starters and Green—against Dallas. The others were encased in "in case of emergency" glass. Curry has played at least 40 minutes in eight of the Warriors' last nine games. Keep in mind this is a guy whose ankles are being held together by Elmer's Glue.

Jackson is playing the pants off his star because he knows he has to.

The Iggy Effect (MPG Leaders Since Iguodala's Injury)
Player MPG
Luol Deng (CHI) 42.4
Stephen Curry (GSW) 41.5
DeMar DeRozan (TOR) 40.2
Klay Thompson (GSW) 39.7
Kyle Lowry (TOR) 38.9
Brandon Jennings (DET) 38.9
Harrison Barnes (GSW) 38.7

NBA.com

Things will get better when Iguodala returns. Jackson had him essentially playing the backup point guard role before his injury, and Iguodala is a deft driver and a heady passer enough to make it work.

The Warriors have scored 0.95 points per possession with Iguodala on the floor and Curry off this season, per NBAWowy.com. That still represents a major drop-off, but it's a more livable one in short spurts than the offensive Ebola virus Warriors fans are subjected to at the moment when Curry sits.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A healthy Douglas will also help. He's more of a stationary shoot-first type—he's taken just five shots within five feet this season—but he'll turn up the aggression once he's better integrated and feels more comfortable cutting on his leg.

Still, this team is intrinsically tied to Curry and his shot-creation. No one other player—not Iggy, not Douglas, not Thompson—can do the things he does for this offense. If you think you appreciate the flick of Curry's right wrist now, just wait until you see the next time Golden State has to play a stretch without him.

Maybe then you'll see why even the most objective people can temporarily get lost in a state of hyperbole.

 

Stats are via NBA.com unless cited.

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