Playoff Video Playbook: The Stephen Curry Rules
(All stats accurate as of Game 3)
Stephen Curry has been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break, keeping his career-long ankle troubles from holding back the barrage of threes and slick dimes that have wreaked havoc around the league with no end in sight. His name no longer unknown, (we can’t be friends if it took you this long to realize who he was) Curry is now perched on the “superstar” pedestal, being only 25 years of age and yet dominating the NBA with ease. His averages on the year: 22.9 PPG, nearly 7 assists a night on 45.3% shooting from downtown and 90% from the free throw stripe. However, like most superstars, Curry is not an unstoppable force and can be contained when defended correctly. Let’s dive in, using footage from Games 2 and 3 against San Antonio in the second round of these Playoffs.
Pick & Roll
The focal point of Curry’s attack has been the pick-and-roll, where 32.1% of his offense is created, according to mySynergySports. Curry attempted the most threes out of the pick-and-roll compared to any other categorized play, shooting 43.9% on 173 shots from behind the arc. His defender going under the screen allows too much space for a Curry jumper, and when he goes over the pick his big man needs to step up and not allow Curry the three-point look. Big men will oftentimes be too slow to react or merely show and drop back, which usually ends up as three points on the board for Golden State.
Tim Duncan hesitates before stepping up to contest Curry, and it costs San Antonio three early points. In the closing quarter of this same game, Tiago Splitter awaits Curry around the screen and forces a tie up.
When a screen is called for Curry, the best way to counterattack it is with a trap or a switch in which the big gets right up on Curry. The Miami Heat are the league’s chief user of the pick-and-roll trap, and in Curry’s single game against them this season, he only attempted 10 shots and 3 threes with a 45% eFG% compared to his season averages of 17.8 FGA, 7.7 3PA and a 54.9% eFG%. A one-game sample size means nothing really, but it’s something to consider. As for the risk of Curry easily blowing by a big man coming up to meet him, I’ll address this in my next point.
Force Curry inside
As deadly as Stephen Curry is from the perimeter, the same cannot be said for when he attacks the rim. Blame it on his skinny frame or ankle troubles but Curry is a very poor finisher near the basket. Notice his shooting percentages at the basket and right near it during the regular season:
These percentages have been no better during the postseason:
Thus, a continuous thread throughout this post is forcing Curry inside. Obviously wide open layups are never shots you want to give up, but with the right amount of help, Curry will struggle to find his mark. There is always the threat of him finding the open man as Steph has tremendous court vision and passing ability, but this is something that will have to be dealt as your primary concern in defending Golden State is shutting down Curry. Danny Green has the right idea in the clip below, sticking right to Curry and not giving him any room for a jumper.
Spot in transition
According to Synergy, the transition game is where Curry finds the next biggest portion of his offense, behind only the pick-and-roll. It’s easy to understand why, with Steph flourishing from behind the arc on fast breaks or semi-fast breaks, shooting an unconscious 52.3% from downtown. This is a product of late reactions from the transition defenders, not realizing that Curry is on the break and that he will launch the ball from deep and will likely make it. Watch Danny Green and Tim Duncan allow Curry the space he needs to drain a three:
The key here is to spot Curry whenever the Warriors are on a break and send one man over to guard him. Even if this results in a lay-in, the three-point shot would have been prevented. Watch how Danny Green eyes Curry before he crosses halfcourt here, and is able to stop him from creating anything out of this semi-break:
The Warriors will often put point guard Jarrett Jack in the game to run the offense with Stephen Curry running around screens to get open looks. Curry’s quickness and agility are hard to match, so the best course of action here is to simply switch on any off-ball screens or crowd him, making it more difficult for him to maneuver about. Watch Bonner here leave his man in a switch to go meet Curry at the catch, restricting the open three and instead forcing Steph to create something inside, where Harrison Barnes makes a terrific random cut to draw the foul.
He’s still Stephen Curry
Like all superstars, you’re going to have to deal with getting beat sometimes. Even defended perfectly, the best scorers in the game will still find a way to burn you. Curry is no different, and sometimes you need to just take it and move on to the next play: