The 2016-17 season has been a season full of explosive and exciting play. The game has taken its place as the ‘run and gun’, ‘pace and space’ era where analytics and small-ball have taken over. There’s been a record amount of different 50 point scorers, a crazy MVP race as well as a possible trilogy. However, one
man genius involved in the trilogy has seemingly been neglected.
Speaking of the MVP race, the back-to-back reigning Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry has been overlooked, and under-appreciated this season. When Kevin Durant landed in the Bay Area this past offseason, Curry suddenly hit the back-burner and social media often put the microscope on his flaws. However, the reality is that Curry has indeed dropped off, but from an all-time level to an MVP-caliber level. Most players around the league would dream of this season Steph is having.
Player A: 23.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 7.7 apg, 48.7% FG on 16.8 attempts, 52.8% 2P,
44.3% 3P on 8.1 attempts, 91.4% FT, 63.8% TS.
Player B: 25.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.6 apg, 46.6% FG on 18.2 attempts, 54.2% 2P,
40.4% 3P on 9.9 attempts, 90.8% FT, 62.1% TS.
Player A is 2014-15 Steph Curry (where he won his first MVP) and player B is 2016-17 Steph Curry. Comparing those statistics, there is little deviation amongst all categories. The one that differentiates the most is the 3P%, but taking into the account the high volume, he’s shooting 40% on 10 attempts a game. WHAT!! To put that in perspective, no one else in the league that is attempting over 6 three point attempts a game is shooting over 42%. JJ Redick and Klay Thompson are those in that vicinity and these guys are some of the best shooters the game has ever seen.
Curry is still lights out on ‘balanced’ looks. On catch-and-shoots, he’s got an effective field goal percentage of 67.1%. Yes, that leads the league. Spot ups? 1.31 points per possession aka 63.0% EFG, and in the 97th percentile.
There is the general rule that there is a negative correlation between efficiency and volume, and the fact over the past two seasons Curry has been at an all-time rate of efficiency has resulted in fans being desensitised to his brilliance. His 30.1 ppg on 50.4 – 45.4 – 90.8 will forever be unmatched in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, but that doesn’t mean he still isn’t a highly productive player. The 2016-17 season has him posting the second most made 3 pointers in a single season ever and for the second straight year, over 300. And guess who’s first? 2015-16 Steph Curry.
Durant’s injury at the end of February let Curry step back into being the ‘best player’ where he has lead the Warriors to the 4th best record in March – going 12-4. This included a brutal back-to-back where they defeated the Rockets and Spurs on the road. The Warriors are currently on an 12 game winning streak, and the catalyst has cooked up a recipe for success. 26.3 – 4.4 – 8.0 on 49.1 – 45.9 – 88.5 percentage splits. How aren’t you amazed?
I recommend fans to just pay attention to Curry alone for a few possessions every game. He’s constantly moving, on and off the ball. Never is he just setting up his man for an isolation, rather he’s always initiating movement. Whether that’s working off screens, finding open space or simply contributing to the energy-flow of the ball. Drive and kicks, ball reversals, you name it. He’s got the impeccable vision to find any nook and cranny to get himself a basket or find the open man.
Even when Durant was healthy, you could still argue Curry still may have been their most IMPORTANT player. I repeat, most IMPORTANT. There is a difference. Durant is the better overall package, but Curry’s gravity on the court is substantial. Of the rotation players that have logged over 700 minutes, Curry leads the team in on/off court plus-minus. When he’s ON the court, the team is +18.0 per 100 possessions. When he’s OFF the court, he’s the ONLY Warrior to have a negative rating (-1.6). This includes fellow all-stars KD, Draymond Green and Klay.
This just shows the importance of Steph for this team. The Warriors are fine when KD, Dray and Klay are off the court but not when Steph is. Let’s not forget Curry has an real plus-minus of 6.24 (8th in the league) and is valued at 15.27 wins (5th in the league), so sometimes it’s more than meets the eye.
Over the course of the past few seasons, Curry has been dubbed solely as a one-dimensional shooter. I can crack that myth with the simple answer of saying “it’s incorrect”, but let’s dive into it instead. We all know that Curry is an all-time elite marksman, but he’s just as effective from within the arc. The shot is what opens up his game, and he uses that asset to perfection with his tight handle to make plays for himself and others. For example, he’s an ELITE inside scorer with his crafty way to utilise the angles on the court.
The uncanny ability to combine quickness and control with the soft finishes makes him incredibly difficult to guard. He’s able to use his slender frame to bump defenders (the slightest) off their balance in order to gain air space to finish. This shows in his shooting percentages. Amongst NBA guards, he’s 4th in the NBA finishing inside (those attempting over 4 shots a game within 5 feet) at 62.1%. Add to this that he’s scoring on 58.1% of drives! Both percentages rank higher than the John Wall’s, Russell Westbrook’s and Kyrie Irving’s of the world. I’m sure that’s surprised a fair few.
Here’s something else that will shock a good sum. Curry is actually a good defender! Where did this notion even arise that he was a poor defensive player? Because he’s lean? Because he had a big shot hit over him (that was well contested)? He’s 6’3″, intelligent and has ‘twitchy-quick’ reflexes. I break down defensive production into three categories: physical tools, IQ (knowledge and implementation) and overall effort. He may not be the biggest guy on the block, but he’s certainly got the IQ and effort at a consistently good level. Combine this with the agility and quickness of his hands and feet, you get plays like this:
This play can sum up Curry’s defensive impact even before the takeaway occurred. He’s able to fight and stay with Jeremy Lin over the screen with his agile feet, keep his body on the man’s hip and activating his pesky hands. He’s consistently doing this every game due to his work with assistant coach Ron Adams. Dealing with 4.7 pick-and-rolls a game, he’s allowing 0.90 points per possession – better than Kyle Lowry, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Eric Bledsoe.
The ‘PnR’ is the most common action in the NBA offence, and for Curry to be rated very solid at defending it, that screams reliability. He’s also contesting 9.3 shots a game and holding opponents to 45% – better than Chris Paul! The advanced metrics back-up these tracking statistics as well. Curry has a defensive real plus-minus of 0.09, and guards are always dealing with a deflation in the DRPM value. Defending on the perimeter and at the point of attack is very crucial to any successful defence, and hence why the value can be weighted more heavily. Curry has a better DRPM than Mike Conley and Avery Bradley, and although we shouldn’t solely rely on advanced metrics alone, it does show Curry is being overlooked on this side of the ball.
The eye-test will always show you HOW it happened, and statistics and metrics will always display WHAT happened. Both can be evidently used in the case for Curry as still being a top 10 player in the league (in my opinion 5th). Both sides of the ball, he’s still a very productive athlete that’s currently leading the best team in the league. With KD set to return, the next time we are quick to criticise his production, think again. He’s still ballin’.