Steve Kerr's Hybrid Triangle Offense Will Unleash Stephen Curry

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Steve Kerr's Hybrid Triangle Offense Will Unleash Stephen Curry
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Stephen Curry thinks he's a better offensive player than LeBron James, and Steve Kerr's innovative new offense could prove the point guard right this year.

In an interview on The Dan Patrick Show (via ESPN.com), Curry said: "A better offensive player, me or LeBron? That's the first time I've ever been asked that question. Me."

A couple of things to know right up front:

First, James is and, to this point, always has been a better offensive player than Curry. Pick the stat—offensive rating, win shares, points per game—and you reach a similar conclusion: James is the more statistically dominant offensive talent.

Stephen Curry vs. LeBron James in 2013-14
ORtg Offensive Win Shares PPG TS% eFG% 3P%
Curry 117 9.3 24.0 .610 .566 .424
James 121 12.3 27.1 .649 .610 .379

Basketball-Reference.com

Even the shooting numbers favor LeBron. Last year was Curry's best ever as a professional, but he still ended up behind James in true shooting percentage and effective field-goal percentage.

We can fairly say Curry is a better three-point marksman, and it's also true that when combining points created individually and via assist, Curry narrowly topped James last year. That latter stat requires a pretty deep dive into the numbers, though.

The gap between Curry and James on offense may not be quite as significant as many suspect, but the Golden State Warriors star has some distance to cover before his claim rings true.

Second, before touching on how Kerr's offense could unlock another level in Curry's development, it's only fair to mention that Kerr isn't the sole architect of the scheme. He's the head coach, and we'll refer to Golden State's tactics as "his" from here on out, but the Warriors didn't hire Alvin Gentry, one of the sharpest offensive minds in the game, without planning to give him serious input.

John Locher/Associated Press

With parameters set, let's get down to business. How, exactly, is Kerr going to turn Curry, an already fearsome offensive player, into an even better one?

At first glance, that task seems impossible. Curry had the ball a ton last season. His 6.7 minutes of individual possession per game ranked just outside the NBA's top 10, per SportVU data provided to NBA.com. And he was absurdly efficient with those possessions.

Golden State posted an offensive rating of 109.7 when he was on the floor, a figure that would have topped the Los Angeles Clippers' league-best figure.

It stands to reason then that the first key of Kerr's offense is not taking away the things that made Curry so good in 2013-14.

From the sound of it, Kerr's got that aspect of things under control. He explained his offensive plans to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:

It will be influenced by the Triangle, but it will not look like the Bulls of the 90's, I can tell you that. The game has changed and I think my philosophy would reflect that. For instance, I would be crazy to do away with the screen-and-roll with Steph—he's devastating in it. We'll do plenty of that.

Crazy, indeed.

Curry averaged 0.95 points per play as a pick-and-roll ball-handler last year, ranking him in the 96th percentile of all NBA players, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). And he used more than 37 percent of his offensive plays on that specific set.

Making Curry better isn't about reducing pick-and-roll usage. It's about having a plan for the times when that set fails—something the Dubs lacked last year. When initial actions broke down, isolation play invariably followed. Anyone who's been paying attention to NBA hoops over the past few years knows isolations are the worst ways to use possessions.

It's no secret that a lack of ball movement held back a couple of the Warriors' key wing players:

The beauty of Kerr's proposed system is that it draws as much from the Triangle as it does the San Antonio Spurs' "motion weak" offense—which features nonstop movement, attacks and counters—all designed to get defenders on their heels in space. That means a play stymied on the strong side won't kill a Warriors possession this year. Instead, the ball will swing back to the weak side, where actions start afresh.

The ball won't stick, isolations will disappear and aimless dribbling will be vastly reduced.

It would take hours to hit on all of the ways Curry stands to benefit from this kind of style, but two stand out as most significant: He won't be forced to create all of the offense for the Dubs, and he should see more opportunities as a shooter off screens and on spot-ups.

That second part could be a real boon. As good as Curry was as a pick-and-roll orchestrator last year, he was even better when he got the ball from somebody else. In both spot-up and off-screen plays, Curry ranked in the 98th percentile in 2013-14.

The Warriors' summer league team featured heavy use of a triangle staple, one that immediately initiated possessions with a pick-and-roll in the corner.

If you can think of a single instance in which the Dubs attacked last year with that play type, from that location, you're imagining things. They never did it. The set isn't better just because it's different, though. It's better for Golden State and Curry because it forces impossible decisions on defenders.

Here's a full breakdown of those corner sets and some other secondary actions from summer league. Never mind the missed shots and shaky ball-handling; nobody involved here figures to log significant minutes during the regular season. Note, though, how even at this early stage the ball is hopping and quality looks aren't tough to come by.

When the defense doubles Curry (or whoever is initiating the play), it merely triggers actions like pin-down screens and back cuts that take advantage of the attention on the ball-handler. Things keep moving, and there's a clear plan in place to attack acts of over-aggression.

And when either Klay Thompson or Andre Iguodala initiates the set in one corner, that means Curry has already spaced to the other one, lying in wait for a down screen or a wide-open look as the ball whips back to that side before the defense recovers.

Toss in some of the motion-weak actions Kerr picked up in his days with the Spurs, and it's easy to see Curry feasting on simple plays defined by tons of space and basic decisions. Imagine what he'll do with situations like the ones Tony Parker exploits below:

An additional benefit of shifting players around to free up the weak side is that doubling Curry becomes far more difficult. And when Curry isn't doubled, his turnover problem (perhaps his greatest weakness as an offensive player) becomes less of an issue.

As the Warriors headed into the playoffs last year, the book on Curry was out: Pressure him relentlessly at the top and hope he panics. Kerr's system should drastically reduce those opportunities by taking the ball out of Curry's hands at vulnerable points, only to return it to them when the defense has been manipulated into a position of weakness.

Unleashing Curry isn't just about a new offense making him better. It's also about putting his teammates in positions where they're more dangerous.

Kerr's summertime offense utilized centers and power forwards at the elbows, which makes the passing of both David Lee and Andrew Bogut far more valuable. Last year, Lee got too many touches on the low block, where he could score but didn't get many good angles to pass.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

"We have great passing bigs with Andrew and David (Lee), and I want to put them in passing situations," Kerr told Diamond Leung of the Mercury. "I want the ball to move. That's the biggest thing. We've got to get more ball movement, more passes per possession."

Get ready for more crafty handoffs and cutting actions with Lee at the elbow—actions that could lead to some easy looks for Curry.

The ultimate upshot is this: Golden State underachieved on offense last year, relative to its personnel. It still has a great defense in place that should comfortably rank in the top five this season, and with the tweaks we've already heard about and seen, it's tough to imagine the offense ranking an underwhelming 12th again.

Curry, already one of the best offensive players in the league, elevated the Warriors' offense whenever he was on the floor. But he had to work extremely hard to do that last season, and tired legs probably didn't help as the playoff intensity picked up and he became the sole focus of every defender on the floor.

This time around, expect his shots to come more easily.

When we revisit the whole LeBron vs. Curry debate a year from now, we might be doing it after a deep Dubs playoff run. And Curry, crazy as it sounds, might have just finished putting together a season that validates his claims to offensive supremacy.

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