When you think of all the things that Stephen Curry can do on the floor, defense is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. It’s understandable given all the impossible things he can do offensively, but the reigning MVP doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does on the defensive end on most nights.
In fact, he’s probably one of the most underrated defenders in the league given all the havoc he causes, which largely goes unnoticed by most because it’s natural to wonder if he’ll pull up from 30 feet on a fastbreak (because no one else ever does anything like it) while missing the play that led to the fastbreak in the first place.
Curry wasn’t always the defender he is now. In the two healthy seasons Curry played for Mark Jackson, he had the tendency to be impatient and often committed inexplicable fouls to get himself in foul trouble. From 2012-2014, Curry committed four fouls in a game 27 times, five fouls in a game 13 times and fouled out three times. What does that mean? It means he fouled a lot and often to the detriment of his team. Why was it a detriment? Because the Golden State Warriors without Curry on the floor were simply terrible (especially when coached by Jackson).
In contrast under Steve Kerr and the tutelage of Ron Adams since 2014, Curry has committed four fouls in a game 12 times, five fouls in a game four times and never fouled out.
Part of the transformation has to do with the fact that he keeps his hands up regularly so that the referees can’t call cheap fouls on him for reaching in. Instead, he keeps his feet moving and defends with a much stronger base that he previously did not have – Curry can deadlift 400 pounds. With a better approach on how to stay away from fouls combined with his quick hands and all the knowledge he already had on the defensive end (by largely having a great understanding of defensive positions to take away various points of attack), Curry has quietly become one of the best defenders at his position. That’s saying a lot, given his immeasurable impact on the offensive end. Most players who have such a high responsibility on offense drop off significantly on defense (see James Harden).
Of course, he has help from great defensive teammates like Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut, but a defense can always break down if a single player doesn’t do his part.
Curry is not that guy.
He is tied with five players with 2.1 steals per game – the best mark in the league – which makes it easy for those who don’t regularly watch him to believe that he gambles on defense. To gamble is to put your defense at risk, and that’s one thing Curry almost never does. All of his steals are a product of quick hands and instinct, reading the opposing team’s offense and simply having the knack for where the ball is going to be. In other words, it’s never from him putting himself out of position defensively in hopes of getting a steal. That’s what Russell Westbrook does on a regular basis, as you can see here, here, here and here. Good luck finding a clip of Curry taking such detrimental risks. His ability to consistently refrain from putting the entire defense in jeopardy makes Green and Bogut’s job much easier.
Interestingly enough, though, there’s a notion out there in the debating world (aka twitter) that Curry is not a good defender. Some theories for why this is includes him not looking the part of a rugged defender, not playing defense against the elite point guards in the league (a reputation Jackson helped build) and that he gambles on defense.
Klay Thompson, who is known as a very smart defender with size, will occasionally guard the opposing point guards who are ultra aggressive, like Westbrook and Chris Paul. Sadly, doing this on occasion is somehow good enough for some to assume the Warriors are “hiding” Curry on defense when they are actually utilizing one of the many advantages they have on the roster, which is defensive versatility. “But Chris Paul always guards his position” is one of the many arguments out there, as if the Los Angeles Clippers had a better option to guard the opposing point guards in their starting lineup.
A little tangent aside, Coach Nick of BBALLBREAKDOWN explained why Curry is an elite defender on Monday better than anyone probably could with plenty of footage. Enjoy:
Why Steph Curry Is An Elite Defender:https://t.co/IsI1w8iYYa
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) March 29, 2016
It takes incredible focus to play as well as Curry does on both ends and it’s something he should get more credit for.
Jim Park is a blogger and Tweet of the Night author of Sheridan Hoops. Follow him on twitter @SheridanBlog.