Welcome to “One Play!” Throughout the 2021-22 NBA season, our Sporting News staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Warriors star Stephen Curry takes the spotlight.
Context: Curry was a different player in Golden State’s home-opening win on Thursday.
After struggling with his shot against the Lakers, Curry led the Warriors to victory over the Clippers with a game-high 45 points in 37 minutes of action. He shot 16-for-25 from the field, 8-for-13 from 3-point range and a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line.
Curry opened the game with 25 points in the first quarter alone and closed it with 10 points in the fourth quarter. He hit two massive 3s down the stretch, one of which was a perfect example of how punishing he is to defend.
You know what that means — to the film room!
Breakdown: Curry rebounds a missed 3-pointer from Eric Bledsoe and wastes no time getting the ball up the court.
On the floor with Curry are Damion Lee, Andrew Wiggins, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green. Lee and Wiggins park themselves in opposite corners to space the floor, Iguodala makes his way towards the basket and Green runs side-by-side with Curry.
Before he crosses the halfcourt line, Curry gives the ball up to Lee.
The Clippers are a little scrambled defensively. Paul George picks up Wiggins and Curry’s pass draws Terance Mann out to Lee. Marcus Morris follows Iguodala to the paint to prevent him from getting an easy layup, leaving Bledsoe and Reggie Jackson to cover for Green and Curry, both of whom are several feet behind the 3-point line.
The Clippers began the possession with two defenders in the vicinity of Curry, but both Bledsoe and Jackson take their eyes off of him when the ball leaves his hands.
Curry takes full advantage of Bledsoe and Jackson’s mistake by flowing directly into a cut towards Lee.
Noticing that they’re at risk of the greatest shooter of all time getting a wide open 3-pointer with the game on the line, Bledsoe and Jackson are relatively quick to recover. The problem? Green, who is almost always on the same page as Curry, parks himself in front of Curry like he’s setting a screen, which forces Bledsoe and Jackson to change direction ever-so-slightly.
This might not be a good look for many NBA players, but it is for Curry, especially when he’s red-hot:
This is your reminder that Curry connected on 43.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts last season.
Why it matters: There’s a laundry list of reasons why Curry is the greatest shooter we’ve ever seen, but one of them is that he never stops moving.
Funnily enough, one of the knocks on Curry coming out of college was that he was a shooting guard trapped in the body of a point guard. (Those concerns didn’t come out of nowhere, it’s worth noting, as he spent two of his three seasons at Davidson playing next to a traditional point guard. It wasn’t until his junior season that he took over point guard duties). Of course, he’s become the best of both worlds since then. Not only is he probably the best off-the-dribble shooter we’ve ever seen, but he’s equally as dangerous when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, capable of turning himself into a 6-foot-2 version of Klay Thompson at a moment’s notice.
There are various numbers that speak to his off-ball prowess — few players score as many points as he does off of screens, for example — but George had a particularly good quote about what makes Curry such a dynamic shooter after he scorched the Clippers to the tune of 45 points.
“You have to just know where he’s at,” George said. “He’s so good. Like, he’s the complete package offensively. He’s so good at shooting the 3 but he’s so good at getting open for layups. He’s mastered how to get free without dribbling a ball. He’s so elusive and quick. One second you look away, he’s gone. If you’re not attached to him, he’s gone.
“It just takes, honestly, a whole five players to have an awareness of where he’s at because one step and he’s out of there, and he shoots it so quick that you can’t allow him to get free.”
SN PREDICTIONS: Will Curry win the MVP?
Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards had something similar to say after he faced Curry for the first time in his rookie season.
“He never stop moving. You can try to switch everything, but you’re going to make a mistake. I don’t know how he got so much energy. He played the whole first quarter and never stopped moving. He’s just hard to guard.”
The above play is a perfect example of what George and Edwards are talking about. The Clippers were in decent shape following Bledsoe’s miss, but all it took for Curry to get a good look at a 3 was letting their guard down for a split second. Bledsoe and Jackson taking their eyes off of him was the beginning of the end.
Curry isn’t the only player who benefits from his constant movement either. Much has been made of Curry’s gravity over the years, a term used to describe how much attention he draws out of fear of his shooting ability. A well-timed screen or cut can throw even the best of defenses for a loop, like so:
He’s been doing it for years at this point, but his performance on Thursday was another reminder that there truly are no plays off when defending Curry.