The gifted point guard, who puts fear into the opposition with his ability to pull up for a shot at any given moment – with pinpoint accuracy – can also pass with the best of them. Because his ability to handle the ball has gotten better just about every year since he entered the league, Curry is one of the most unique and challenging players to guard.
What he’s not known for is the other end of the floor: defense. The general consensus is that Curry is not at all a good defender, and ex-coach Mark Jackson made that notion easier for everyone to assume last season by constantly putting Curry on the second best backcourt player on most given nights while giving the tougher assignment to Klay Thompson. Naturally, this made most believe that it’s all done due to Curry’s limitations as a defender.
That wasn’t the case, though, and the logic behind the move was actually sound enough for Jackson. Curry had to carry so much of the load offensively for the Golden State Warriors that he could ill-afford to exert too much energy on the defensive end as well. Something had to give, and with Thompson – who is now widely recognized as the best two-way shooting guard in the league – at his disposal, it really wasn’t a hard decision to let Thompson carry the load defensively.
Does that justify the idea that the tactic was done because Curry was simply unable to play better defense? Hardly, and the point guard is out to prove this year that he also is capable of becoming a terrific two-way player.
Through the first four games, here are the statistics of the opposing players he has guarded:
Darren Collison: four-of-12 shooting from the field (33.3%), one-of-four from the arc, four-of-six from free throw line for 13 points. On the season, Collin is averaging 15 points on 41.1 percent FG.
Jeremy Lin: zero-of-six shooting from the field (0%), zero-of-one from the arc, six-of-six from free throw line for six points. On the season, Lin is averaging 10.8 points on 37.8 percent FG.
Damian Lillard: four-of-18 shooting from the field (22.2%), one-of-seven from the arc, two-of-two from free throw line for 11 points. On the season, Lillard is averaging 17 points on 31.5 percent FG.
Chris Paul: six-of-15 shooting from the field (40%), one-of-three from the arc, two-of-two from free throw line for 15 points. On the season, Paul is averaging 15.6 points on 42.4 percent FG.
So to summarize, Curry has held the opposing point guards to 14-of-51 shooting from the field, which amounts to an ugly 27.5 percent. They are also shooting just three-of-15 from beyond the arc – good for 20 percent shooting. According to Basketball-Reference, Curry currently has the second best individual defensive rating in the league. Only one other guard is in the top 10 for this category: Tony Allen.
The only time there was a significant change in defense so far this season was against Paul on Wednesday, when Kerr elected to switch Thompson to Paul for a different look in the second half. Curry held Paul to two-of-eight shooting in the early going, but Paul started knocking down some jump shots, so Kerr decided to give him a different look with Thompson, with mixed results.
Of course, there are other factors to consider when crediting a point guard with his individual defense. For one, he needs a center who has a great understanding of help defense and positioning. The Warriors have that in Andrew Bogut, whose presence discourages the opposing point guards to drive into the paint area. Curry’s job is to play the screens a certain way (ICE, usually) and position himself in such a way where his man usually has two choices to make: take a mid-to-long range jump shot (the most ineffective shot that every great defensive team wants the opponent to take) or drive to the basket and run into Bogut. Great defense hinges on the rest of your team knowing where to be and how to rotate, and the Warriors are currently tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the best defensive rating in the league.
For Golden State this season, that great defense is starting with Curry. The sample size is obviously still minuscule with only four games out of the way, but the early returns have been absolutely terrific, and it doesn’t happen if Curry is a bad defender as the general public believes him to be. Check out this fantastic piece by Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN on what has changed for Curry on the defensive end:
“The second is more under-the-radar, and quite big if true. It’s best summarized by Kerr himself: “Steph is fully engaged defensively. He’s probably been our best defender through three games.” Yes, Stephen Curry is playing some great defense. He’s tied with Memphis’ Tony Allen for the league lead in defensive rating at 83.9, which looks like a typo crossed with small-sample-size theater mixed with a prank. That’s if you believe the hype about his bad defense — hype validated by Jackson’s staff outsourcing all Curry’s difficult defensive assignments to Thompson…
“He’s really taken it upon himself,” Golden State’s defensive guru Ron Adams said. “I give all the credit to him as a top-flight performer of internalizing stuff defensively that has made him better and has made his team a lot better.”
The expectation isn’t that Curry actually gets credit for improved defense, though that might happen. The expectation is that Curry sacrifices for his teammates in ways that are noticeable on the coaching level of scrutiny. His improvements won’t be obvious in a lock-and-trail defensive set-up where much of the job is shading and chasing your mark to certain spots on the floor. The task isn’t to dramatically wreck your opponent — it’s to funnel him to help, like a slanted putting green subtly guiding the ball away from its target.
To be clear, Curry is not the kind of ball-stopping, in-your-face, shut-you-down type of defender that a guy like Patrick Beverley is. Most point guards aren’t that. As of right now, though, you can say that Curry is an exceptional defender without looking like a crazy person.
OTHER NEWS AND ITEMS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE:
- Everyone assumed that Klay Thompson received a max contract from the Warriors. According to Zach Lowe of Grantland, that is not the case: “Case in point: Klay Thompson’s new deal is not a max contract, despite having been reported as such, per sources familiar with the matter. The first-year salary in a true max contract is set as a percentage of the cap1rather than a straight dollar figure — a 25 percent share of the cap for most players coming off rookie contracts, with 7.5 percent annual raises from there. Had Thompson signed a true max contract, we wouldn’t know his precise salary, since we don’t know the salary-cap figure for the 2015-16 season — the first in Thompson’s fat new deal. The league has projected the 2015-16 cap at about $66.5 million, and under that cap number, a Year 1 maximum salary for Thompson would come in at about $15.5 million. But if the cap shot up higher than that, Thompson’s salary under a true max contract would shoot up with it.
- Michael Jordan joked about the idea of playing golf with Barack Obama last week and took a playful shot at him. The favor has since been returned by the President, via Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk: “There is no doubt that Michael is a better golfer than I am. Of course if I was playing twice a day for the last 15 years, then that might not be the case. He might want to spend more time thinking about the Bobcats or maybe the Hornets. But that’s a whole other issue.”
- According to Chris Mannix of SI, the struggling Los Angeles Lakers may go hard after Rajon Rondo in the summer: “There is one player who makes sense in LA next season: Rajon Rondo. Several rival executives believe the Lakers will make a strong run at Rondo next summer, and it’s easy to see why. Rondo is young (28), plays a critical position and shares the same win-at-all-bleeping-cost attitude as Bryant. The Celtics are rebuilding and have a young playmaker in Marcus Smart, which may limit their desire to hand Rondo max money… But Los Angeles had a boatload of money last summer too and all they could do was overpay their own players ($9 million for Jordan Hill?) and absorb Jeremy Lin. They tried to improve — Bryant has attested to that– but playing in purple and gold wasn’t all that appealing to free agents, for whatever reason.”
- Chandler Parsons is still wishing the best for his former team, but has no interest in talking about or paying attention to the play of Trevor Ariza, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas: “I’m still a fan of those guys,” Parsons said. “Obviously, I want us to do better. When we play them, I want to beat them. But those are still my friends, and I’m still pulling for coach [Kevin] McHale. I definitely still keep an eye on what they’re doing.”…”I don’t pay any attention to him,” Parsons said. “Listen, many people replace many people every year in this league. He’s a good, proven player in this league. He’s supposed to play good for them.”
- J.R. Smith was suspended for one game without pay after hitting Glen Rice Jr. in the groin area. Here is the play. Was it intentional? He says it wasn’t, and the suspension will be disputed, according to Ian Begley of ESPN NY: “The National Basketball Players Association plans to appeal the Smith suspension, arguing that the groin strike was unintentional, a source confirmed. A successful appeal would allow Smith to recoup his lost wages.”
- Flip Saunders is not a fan of the “balls” gesture that got Kevin Martin fined $15,000 because he believes it cost him a run at a championship. Kent Youngblood of Star Tribune has details: “So was Martin paying homage to Cassell? “I think he started it,” Martin said. “Unfortunately, you can’t do that anymore.” Saunders takes a rather dim view of the gesture as well, but he has his reasons. According to Saunders, Cassell injured his hip doing that gesture that night, and was injured and ineffective in the conference finals, which the Wolves lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. “We lost a championship by that,” Saunders said. “When [Cassell] did that he had an avulsion fracture in his hip. … So, from that perspective, I’ve always been against that type of thing.”
- Matt Barnes says he is a misunderstood player to many. Check out the clip here.
- Jeremy Lin isn’t liking the way the Lakers are playing basketball these days, from Baxter Holmes of ESPN: JLin “We’re not necessarily playing the smartest basketball, but I can’t…say that we have guys that don’t want to try their hardest.”
James Park is a blogger and editor of Sheridan Hoops. Follow him on twitter @SheridanBlog.