Preview: Championship door is open, but the ride ain't free
What happens when Curry doesn't go crazy? Thankfully, it doesn't come up much!
NBA fans are a fickle bunch. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the online chatter went from one side to the other in less than 24 hours. Weird though. For as hard as it is supposed to be to win a ring, it’s almost like title-contending teams aren’t allowed to lose games sometimes.
And this is a champion-caliber team. Even without Klay Thompson, missing Iguodala for over two weeks, and regularly sending their two promising rookies to the G League, the Golden State Warriors are one of the best teams in basketball this season. With the best Net Rating, the best Defensive Rating, and the second-best Offensive Rating, Golden State is sill ruling the league - even after dropping two of their last three games.
But these two recent losses have exposed a universal struggle: what do you do when your best player is having an off night?
Tonight’s opponents is one of the softest the NBA has to offer. The perpetually rebuilding Orlando Magic will stop by Chase Center to see if they can reawaken a Warriors team that opened their last game with a meager 21-36 first quarter.
On the injury front, still no word at time of writing. But you can sure see how the Magic found themselves struggling so much this year:
WHO: Golden State Warriors (19-4) vs. Orlando Magic (5-19)
WHEN: Monday, December 6, 2021 // 7:00pm PDT
Yes, the sky does fall if Curry gets cold
I keep thinking of that motivational poster, where it’s just the one set of tracks. It’s no secret that Stephen Curry is a prerequisite for the Warriors winning. Sure, maybe a role player can get hot, or the whole team will rally around him; but in general if Curry isn’t absolutely demolishing the competition, Golden State will probably lose that game.
That this is such a well established fact - and yet Curry still goes as nuts as he does on the basketball court - bodes well for the effectiveness of the Warriors systemic approach. My colleague, Daniel Hardee looked into this a bit in his article yesterday, and sure enough, it is a rare occurrence.
Just five games?
For perspective, I’d like to reiterate the point made in my intro above: The Warriors still have (by far) the best net rating. They’re tied for the best record, and are still waiting for a Splash Brothers reunion that is sure to ignite the championship chase like a booster rocket on the space shuttle (wait… is that still a thing? I’m so old).
This team wins by leaning this heavily on Curry. It’s not a design flaw, it’s a feature.
Curry is killing teams this year. According to Cleaning the Glass, he’s scoring 124.3 points per 100 possessions, an efficiency that puts him in the top 8% of players at his position. And he’s doing this under heavy usage (90th percentile). So it’s hard for me to entertain any arguments about this not working. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Not after winning 19 of 23 games - tied for the best in the NBA.
But it is frustrating at times, watching Curry do so much when he’s struggling. But for me, rather than an argument for more Curry, it’s telling me that the Kerr system is working well. And the Warriors #2-ranked offense would seem to support that premise. Golden State’s offense works.
(well, except for the 5 games out of his entire career where Curry goes super cold)
As friend of DNHQ, Joe Viray recently wrote, Curry is struggling a bit from the field, and in particular shooting poorly (for him) at the rim.
Curry has been finishing at a rate that is below his usual standards. He has converted 58% of his shots at the rim this season, placing him at the 49th percentile among point guards. The last time he was below the 70th percentile in finishing was 2012-13 — 9 seasons ago.
His floater game hasn’t been as dependable — only 32% of his shots from floater range have been successfully converted, putting him in the 26th percentile among point guards, and a drastic drop compared to his 53% rate on floaters last season.
Viray also points out that Curry is getting to the rim at something around his career average rate though, which brings me to the next point here: the beauty of the Kerr offense.
Every season, Golden State averages high assists, high turnovers, and one of the league’s best shooting percentages as a team. Kerr is flexible to an extent - we saw this with his increased usage of pick-and-rolls last season.
But to me, the idea that you should spam more Curry plays is dangerously inviting. Part of what makes this offense (and Curry) so lethal is the efficiency. Looking at Synergy, I noticed that Curry is scoring well in isolation - though the Warriors run it just 5% of the time. Turns out, it’s the highest efficiency of his career.
And yet, the Warriors hardly use this play. Why?
According to Synergy, not only does the team run it just 5% of the time, but they’ve only got three players on the entire roster that have run enough of it to qualify for tracking data.
That image is from the team overview, but Synergy also offers us the ability to dial down deeper. Check out Curry’s profile page on the site. Notice anything in his “rating” column?
The way Curry plays - the way Kerr is using him - is working pretty darn well. That isolation number is partially a result of Curry being able to be so selective about his spots.
Coach Steve Kerr built a career of not wasting shots, and that’s how he’s decided to use Curry’s offensive power. Not just as a huge cannon that gets wheeled out in front of the army, but more like a support howitzer that covers the entire field.
So yes, when Curry struggles, the team struggles. But what’s your plan for your car if the engine doesn't work?
On the whole, the system is working well this season. Despite a couple of tough games, I don’t expect any major adjustments. Remember that all these elite scoring stats are inclusive of the last three games. Curry has had a few tough ones, but it’s rare, and even with those tough games on the docket, the Warriors (and Curry in particular) are destroying opposing defenses, by and large.
It’s a preview, so… the Magic?
Whew. Let me step down off my soap box for a moment and refocus on the next opponent. The Orlando Magic. Folks let’s me tell you, they are not having a good season. They were bad before they got bit by the injury bug. Now? Literally one of the worst teams in the league.
They’re getting outscored by about 10 points per 100 possessions, have the 26th-ranked defense, and the 27th-ranked offense. They’ve got… first year player Franz Wagner?
This is like in wrestling when Hulk Hogan would take on some random guy named Ben Jones. Mister Jones didn't have a character or anything, it was just some dude in a red singlet.
There is no good reason for Golden State to lose this game.
It should be pretty fun though. The Magic play at the 10th fastest pace according to basketball reference, and they have a top 10 three-point shot attempt rate. Run a lot and fling a bunch of threes? Sounds like a game that Curry and the Warriors will enjoy. Oh, and the Magic are shooting 32% from deep as a team, which is the 3rd worst? Good fun.
Smells like a rebound victory in here to me.