Steph Curry isn’t just the overwhelming favorite to repeat as league MVP, he could also be the NBA’s most improved player. Curry averaged 26.2 points per 36 minutes in 2014-15. This year he’s up to 32.2 over that time frame.
Only seven times has anyone scored more than 30 points per 36 minutes (Michael Jordan did it four times, Wilt Chamberlain twice, and Kobe Bryant once). If Curry ended the year at this mark, he’d finish third all time behind Chamberlain (37.4 points per 36 minutes in 1961-62 and 33.9 the following season) and Jordan (33.4 points per 36 minutes in 1986-87).
Curry is the most dominant offensive force in recent memory, leading the league in real plus-minus, PER, true shooting percentage, offensive win shares, total win shares, and VORP.
The Stephtistics are fun, especially when Curry is riding a hot streak. One can consider this entire season to be one of those, but his numbers are more absurd than usual over the last few weeks — he’s 56-for-111 on threes in his last nine games while averaging 34.1 ppg (35.7 points per 36 minutes).
The key to Curry’s continued ascendance
It’s not like Curry is forcing the issue, either. This is nothing like Bryant’s amazing “Kobe Against The World” 2005-06 season, for instance. Last night Steve Kerr was asked by ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss about Curry’s ability to score within the flow of the offense, and when that began.
“I think Draymond, last year,” Kerr said.
“Taking that starting role really helped Steph a lot, because Draymond is such a lethal playmaker. We made a point from the beginning of training camp last season, ‘the ball has to move, the ball’s gotta move.’ When the ball moves and you’ve got playmakers like Draymond or Andre or Shaun Livingston, Bogut, then you can really cut and move and the ball can start flying around. As long as you make good decisions, it’s tough to guard all that.
“So the ball movement was an emphasis, but I think Draymond’s emergence has helped Steph more than anything because he’s frequently the guy setting that screen up high. And if the double-team comes on Steph, then he finds Draymond and we’re still capable of attacking. That was probably the key dynamic for Steph, at least since this staff has been here.”
Teams can’t guard Curry, and not just because he’s the most skilled athlete in North America. Press Curry all 94 feet, and he’ll either scoot by you with an array of moves, or give it up to a playmaker. Trap him at halfcourt, and suddenly the ball is in Green’s hands and he’s got a full head of steam, forcing the defense to make a decision with the numbers against them.
Clipse taught us that “keys open doors,” and Green opens so many for the Warriors.
The key to ruining LaMarcus Aldridge’s week
The weight Green lost from high school to college, and from his rookie season with the Warriors to now, has gotten a lot of attention. But Green’s ability to use strength and leverage against bigger players, on both sides of the floor, is taken for granted.
The Spurs’ strategy going into this season was obvious when they gave Aldridge $84 million over four years, then added David West at a discount. They want to out-big the Warriors.
Green found himself on Aldridge quite a bit. He was humble after holding Aldridge to just five points on 2-of-9 shooting. (“I’ve played better defense on LaMarcus than that before and he had 35. So, that could’ve went the opposite way as well.”) However, there was nothing approaching luck here. This was strength, speed and smarts.
Green continues to get better, seemingly by the game, while Aldridge has been the same player for years. It’s not that Aldridge is easy to guard, but Green is intelligent enough to know that his strategy against Aldridge isn’t something the Spurs can avoid or use to their advantage the next time these teams face each other.
“Every time he had the ball, just try to pressure him. He’s already got five inches on me, so I’ve got to try to do what I can. One thing I know I’ve got on him is speed. If I pressure the ball, if he gets a step on me, I can make that up. If I let him get to a spot, he’s going to shoot over top of me,” Green said.
The effort left Green exhausted, but Aldridge was so distraught afterward that he deleted his Twitter and Instagram accounts. The Warriors have been breaking teams all season. They broke the Grizzlies when they beat them by 50. The Cavs fired their coach four days after losing to Golden State by 34. It’s too early to say they’ve broken the Spurs, but what possible counter can Gregg Popovich have to the Curry/Green tandem of destruction, especially when they’re surrounded by such a lethal supporting cast?
Green is the key to so much more, too
— Curry has swagger to spare, but Green’s swag with a tilt toward toughness not only keeps their small ball “death lineup” from getting bullied, it gives Curry an entirely different kind of confidence than he had in his first few seasons.
— How is it that the Warriors never find themselves in an extended funk? Kerr leads the way on this, but don’t discount Green’s positivity. Whenever a loss is broached as some sort of reason for concern, Green swats it away like a mistimed floater in the lane. I had this happen to me last night, when I brought up whether the loss to Detroit (which was followed by four wins by a combined total of 107 points) was a turning point.
“I don’t think at this point in the season we really needed a turning point. We just had a bad game there, and they had a good one,” said Green.
This reminded me of last year, when he complained during his weekly show on KNBR about people coming up to him at a gas station after a recent loss, wondering what was wrong. Green’s response: nothing’s wrong, our record is pretty damned good (in so many words).
— He’s the best stretch-four in the league. Only four power forwards with at least 60 made threes are shooting 40% or better from three-point range: Green, Omri Casspi, Mirza Teletovic (who literally does nothing else), and Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki is a Hall-of-Famer, but Green is easily the best player out of that group now.
— He’s a great communicator.
“Our communication defensively was excellent tonight,” Kerr said after last night’s win. “Draymond and Bogut work really well together. San Antonio executes better than anybody in the league. Every cut is a hard one and every screen is a solid one. The ball really moves side-to-side and they use a lot of deception, so if you aren’t communicating you are going to get beat.”
— He also happens to be the league’s most versatile defender while averaging 15.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes. He’s fourth in the NBA in real plus-minus. A couple months ago, some scoffed at Jerry West for calling him a top-10 player (I didn’t). As the key to so many things for the best team in the league, I’m not sure how anyone can dispute West’s claim now.