- Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) is a senior writer for ESPN Digital and Print.
It’s Friday, which means there are 10 more things from across the NBA that I like — and dislike. This week, we feature an underappreciated element of Stephen Curry’s extraordinary game, a thrilling Sixers sophomore, a turnover mess in Houston and dangerous developments from Donovan Mitchell.
1. The magic of Stephen Curry
So, here’s a stat: Luka Doncic runs 75 pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions, most in the NBA, per Second Spectrum. Trae Young and Chris Paul are in the mid-60s. A pile of guys, from Cole Anthony to Donovan Mitchell, check in at around 50.
Way down the list, right behind Josh Giddey and Jalen Brunson, comes the unprecedented and unsolvable Stephen Curry: about 30 per 100 possessions, almost identical to his rate in the Golden State Warriors’ 73-win season. That number has been the source of on-again, off-again consternation among a segment of Warriors fans who argued Steve Kerr suppressed Curry’s greatness in pursuit of “strength in numbers” dogma.
That was a semiworthy discussion at times — when the Warriors were wounded, or facing an opponent in tune with their motion offense. Curry even hinted at wanting to run more pick-and-rolls.
But the point of a pick-and-roll is for one player to draw two defenders. Curry does that without the ball — every time he cuts, runs the wing in transition, or scrambles around a teammate’s pindown. The panic his every move sews is borderline comical. Apex Curry terror: when opponents concede a dunk in transition because two or three defenders swarm Curry — who does not have the ball, and is not close to it — around the 3-point arc.
You can get caught up in playcalling semantics, but all those actions have the same result: multiple defenders surrounding Curry.
The difference, perhaps, is that Curry not starting with the ball might result in him taking fewer shots. But a lot of those non-Curry shots are dunks and layups Curry creates with his roving gravity. The underdiscussed ingredient in the Warriors’ dynastic sauce has been their generating tons of shots at the rim — including the seventh-most this season, per Cleaning The Glass.
Also, Curry is eating plenty: a top-10 usage rate, and 20 shots per game — including 13.5 3-point attempts, on pace for the all-time record.
Curry is a unique player who enables a unique style. Teams accustomed to typical NBA offenses get shell-shocked in the regular-season trying to defend it. Normal rules of spacing don’t apply to it. Golden State thrives with two and even three non-shooters because the greatest shooter ever warps the shape of entire defenses. It helps that two of those non-shooters — Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala — are among the smartest players ever; they need little time and space to advance the offense.
Those non-shooters move in concert with Curry. Stationary non-shooters can suffocate an offense. Their defenders rove without worrying about losing track of them.
Defenders can’t do that against the Warriors.
Their style inoculates them from the officiating changes; they are not dependent on one play type, or one star flinging himself into traffic.
The Warriors are not clear-cut championship favorites. They will have a ton of competition at the top, especially if one or both of Jamal Murray and Kawhi Leonard return to 80% of their peak form.
But the Warriors are very much back, and there is nothing in basketball like them.
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