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Tag Archives: Golden State Warriors
June 9, 2017Posted by on
In the fervor of the moment, three different players have been anointed best player in the world over these playoffs. It’s a fascination we collectively, even the smartest, most well-informed of us, can’t possibly avoid. I’m speaking about San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich who, during the first round of the playoffs, couldn’t help it and said, “Kawhi Leonard, is in my opinion, the best player in the league right now.” Paul Pierce, from maybe a more provocative motivation, said Kevin Durant, “may be the best player in the world today.” And of course, the LeBron James versus Michael Jordan discussion rages on out of boredom, fear, loyalty, and even rational thought.
As it has always been, this is a fluid conversation; one that will be answered today only to be debunked tomorrow. There’s a king of the mountain component to the conversation where the last man atop the hill, at the end of the season, assuming he’s in the conversation and proves himself, can seize the title – at least for the summer.
During the playoffs last year, after the hand wringing about whether James or the league’s first-ever unanimous MVP, Stephen Curry was the best, Bron demonstratively grabbed the title. Violently, sneeringly, shit talkingly. It was definitive to the point that he rode it into the 2016-17 season and all the way through to the finals where, in the dead week leading up to tip-off, the MJ/Bron debate peaked.
Now though, the Jordan/Bron debate is shelved, and quicker than a KD dunk smash, Pierce’s volley into the national TV consciousness that KD just might be the best player in the world is the topic du jour.
What actually is doesn’t even matter as much as what someone says is. If we’ve learned anything from the spectacle of Donald Trump’s ugly ascension to President of the US, it’s that reality is malleable and just because someone says something, that’s enough to make it worthy of discussion. I’m not here though, to debate who is the best basketball player on the planet.
Regardless of who you think it is, these playoffs, and the finals in particular, have become the tunnel through which the KD bullet train speeds towards inevitability in the form of a finals MVP and a first career title.
Despite amazing performances from Curry and desperate all out efforts from James, it’s KD who’s seized the media’s imagination in saving his best for last. At no point throughout his first season with the Warriors had KD scored 30-or-more points in three consecutive games and yet in these three finals, he’s gone for 38-33-31 including a game-stealing three in game three.
Unencumbered from the historic model of a single star carrying an out-sized responsibility for production, the beauty of Durant’s game has flourished. He’s not forced to hunt shots or isolate. Rather, he’s liberated to exploit mismatches and fluidly find opportunities within a balanced offensive flow. Playing aside another superstar in Curry has created a parting of the defensive seas whereby KD has encountered soft paths of undefended space free for his long-striding forays into one-handed dunks. In game one of the series, seven of his 14 made shots were dunks.
Life isn’t easy just because Cleveland’s defense is poor and they lack a rim defender. Life is easy because the Warriors pack the court with deadly attacking players. KD’s first dunk of the series was a lob made possible by three primary strengths:
- KD’s own range which requires that Bron play him tight
- Steph’s range which forces the defense to attempt to anticipate a downscreen from Curry onto KD’s man
- Draymond Green’s recognition and passing ability which pull the beautiful read together
- Bonus: Bron gets roasted on this back cut
His next bucket came off a Curry screen, the following two off Curry passes and strong Durant drives against Bron. And the fast break dunk after that was probably the most clear example of the Cavs caught somewhere between miscommunication and questionable defensive strategy and, again, the presence of Curry acting as a magnet attracting both Bron and Kyrie Irving towards him while KD flies downhill for his fourth dunk of the first half.
That’s five buckets, all assisted directly or indirectly, by Curry. This is luxury, for the rich and famous. This is the rich getting richer, the basketball equivalent of a tax break for the ultra-wealthy. KD didn’t need the game to be easier, but in its ease, we’ve been able to witness a full range of his game that’s rarely uncovered in this league due to circumstance, team construction, and all the other wonky shit that holds back NBA players and teams. The ideal scenario for any of us is the opportunity to achieve our potential, whatever that may be, and playing for the Warriors has allowed Durant to ascend in ways that most players don’t experience.
We know KD can do it on his own. He won his first scoring title at 21, his first MVP at 24. His finals performances have been less a surprise and a more a Cinderella-in-the-glass slipper moment whereby the most perfect player possible for the Warriors team schemes has slipped into the most perfect offense for his skills.
As Tristan Thompson has struggled through the series and the Cavs have no rim protector on the roster, Durant is often the tallest and longest player on the court. When the Warriors stretch the floor with their shooters, Durant as a ball handler is able to attack with multiple options. He shot four of eight from three in game two and the threat of that jumper keeps the defense perpetually off-balance. Defenders can’t give him space, but if you crowd him he can beat even elite defenders off the dribble and the Cavs aren’t exactly flush with elite defenders. When he puts the ball on the floor, he beats opponents with varying attacks. There’s the slaloming dunk shots, the one-legged off-balance kisses off the glass, and the pull-up jumpers. He’s too long for most any NBA defender, but particularly for a Cavs defense that lacks length.
If game one was a chance for KD and Golden State to show just how easy it can be, for KD at least, game two came with slightly increased degrees of difficulty as he had a stretch of play where he shot 14-straight jumpers from all over the court. Pull-up jumpers, step back threes, one-legged horse shots, fadeaways … it didn’t matter. He had a true shooting of 71% in game two. And when he wasn’t carving up Cleveland’s defenders from the perimeter, he joined Curry on the same backdoor cut off screen motion that he opened the series with. Again, Green with the pass, Curry with the screen attempt, and KD with the cut:
For the finals in the restricted area, Durant is shooting 16-21. He’s at 11-21 from three. I can only imagine Daryl Morey of MoreyBall fame watching this games salivating, fantasizing at the obscene efficiency and concocting crazy schemes to acquire the man. My focus here hasn’t even been his defense (two blocks and over a steal-per-game), rebounding (10-per-game), or passing (six assists-per-game). Despite his ability to both assimilate into the fun-loving Golden State infrastructure while still standing out with his precedent-setting combination of length, size, and skill; despite the fluidity of the socialist democratic team approach of these Warriors, Durant has been a one-man avalanche living in a new world with cool new friends, but doing the same old things and suddenly, somehow viewed differently because of it.
Jordan was a me-first ball hog before he won his rings. LeBron a choker who had to team up with other superstars to win (this narrative still pervades). Curry a gimmicky player who couldn’t possibly have survived the rough and rugged NBA of the 80s. The long list of denigrations and narratives are pre-packaged, ready to be consumed and spewed out at anyone who has the audacity to try and be the best. (How dare you?) But KD was always this guy, his head has always been shaped to wear this metaphorical crown. Between the boos and the cheers, between KD and Russ blowing a 3-1 lead last year and being on the verge of a playoff-sweep this year. Between it all, KD the player has remained steadfastly deadly; a Frankenstein amalgam of Tracy McGrady and Dirk Nowtizki. That he is or isn’t the best doesn’t matter, for a moment of some immeasurable transience in the summer of 2017, the crown is his.
March 1, 2016Posted by on
Like millions of basketball fans on Saturday night, I sat on my couch watching Oklahoma City’s lead squirt out of their hands like a slippery fish refusing to comply with a hungry human stomach or sportsman. And on the other end of that wriggling was Stephen Curry just waiting to create an iconic moment in the form of a 38-foot game-winning three that, to my understanding, everyone expected to go in. The supreme in athletics is when everyone knows what will happen and is powerless to stop it and this is what Steph created on Saturday.
In the process, he set the NBA single season record for threes made – even though he’s appeared in just 56 games of an 82-game season. But big deal, because it became clear sometime in late November that he had about as much regard for his own three-point record as I do for olives. He’s pacing to make more threes this season that Magic Johnson did his entire career and in the past week has hit nearly as many threes at the Chicago Bulls entire team. His wake is littered with discarded adjectives and comparisons, but it’s mathematically evident that there is no precedent for his season, which is the natural segue to asking what’s next?
Back in December I explored how Curry was experiencing such an explosion and concluded that a mix of increased volume and accuracy were the primary drivers and this continues to be the case as Curry’s FGAs and 3PAs/game are both at career highs while his FG%, 3p% and 2p% are all significantly above his career-bests. (It’s not that simple in the sense that ball movement, Draymond Green acting as primary playmaker, collectively elite passing, lineup versatility, etc are contributing.)
That’s how we got here and while those factors will continue feeding into what Steph does next, I started thinking this morning that his recent road trip could be indicative of what’s next to come.
For reference, over the seven-game trip he averaged 36-points while shooting 56% from the field and making 48 of 85 threes for a 56.5% clip and seemed to have reached some perpetual zone over the final three games of the trip when he shot 28 of 43 from three (65%) and averaged 46ppg. That’s a 9 of 14 average from three and somehow, in the same way that everyone expected him to sink that 38-footer to kill off OKC on Saturday night, in some way it doesn’t feel unsustainable. This isn’t at all to say that it will happen, but to explore whether it, or something like it, could happen.
When I wrote back in December, I operated under an assumption that the Warriors had achieved some sort of perfect balance between minutes and usage for Curry. I thought that 11 or 12 3-point attempts in 35 or less minutes was ideal. What this road trip has revealed is that maybe there’s room to bump up the three-point attempts so I started looking at two pieces of information:
- Curry performances in high-volume shooting games
- Shooting distance
Using basketball-reference’s handy dandy player game finder, I took a look at all games in regular season history where a player has taken at least 15 threes. It’s happened 129 times and includes everyone from Steph to Jeff Green to Gerald Green to Nick Van Exel. Not surprisingly, Steph appears on the list 16 times – seven more than J.R. Smith who’s second and ten more than George McCloud at third. In 11 of those 16 games, Steph shot over 50% and if we really want to find a reason to cock an eyebrow, he’s never shot over 16 threes in a game. For all the “that’s a bad shot for anyone other than Steph” comments out there, a sober man could counter that he should be taking more of any shot he can get.
Now let’s push the hypothesis a bit more. Of Steph’s 16 games with 15 or more attempts, 11 have occurred this season. This lines up nicely with the increase in volume, but what makes it more impressive is the accuracy. In these 11 games in 2015-16, he’s shooting 48% from deep on 300 attempts which is a full percentage point above his season average which is also his career-best. While it’s fair to assume a player who’s shooting well will shoot more, this 11-game sample shows that Steph still has room to increase volume without potentially sacrificing any of that accuracy. For historical comparison, only one other player who’s taken at least 15 threes in more than one game has a higher percentage and that’s his teammate Klay Thompson who’s shooting 56.4% on three career high-volume 3PA games. Steph’s is 53.2%.
But how do you get more attempts if defenses are playing you smarter? Oklahoma City switched on all screens that involved Steph and did a surprisingly decent job of it. Occasionally it left Steven Adams or Enes Kanter defending Curry, but more often than not, OKC was able to contain Curry from deep. There was a concerted effort to defend the arc and yet he still got off 16 threes and tied the record with 12 makes. (Quick aside, has a single game NBA record ever felt more vulnerable than the 12 threes made in a game record does now?) His quick release and ability to exploit the slightest defensive lapse created windows of daylight that few basketball players in the history of the game could exploit. And finally, just the threat of the deep three, the 28-foot and deeper bomb creates opportunities.
The expanded range is gaudy in the same way his fat 3PM/game is fat. It’s freakish and obvious in the way booming homeruns and knockouts are and has the appearance of being indicative of both an exploration and evolution of his game. An evolution in the sense that, year-over-year, he’s taking and making deeper threes. An exploration in the increased volume by distance. February and January accounted for 11 of his 22 +30-foot attempts. Is he getting bolder?
Less than 4% of Curry’s threes this season have been from 30-feet or deeper. That number is super small, but it’s also more attempts than five of his nearest peers in terms of deep shooting. Thompson, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Kobe Bryant, and J.J. Redick are a combined 3-20 from beyond 30-feet this season while Curry’s hit 11 of his 22 attempts. He’s shooting 50% to his peers’ 15%. It’s unfair and borderline useless to keep making these comparisons, but contextualizing something abnormal remains necessary.
But it wasn’t always this way for Curry. Last year he was 3-16 (19%) beyond 30-feet and that was the best season of his career; prior to that he was an underwhelming 5-53 for his career. That type of inaccuracy is enough to make a coach or your teammates ask you in what the devil’s going on in your thick skull, but nope. In 2016, he’s still bombing with low frequency, but frequently enough to be relatively prolific. It’s one thing to rain area code jumpers in warmups when children are crying like the Beatles are about to perform, but it’s something altogether different when an above average NBA defender is guarding you, thousands of fans are shrieking cacophonously in your ears and the damn game is on the line. Hitting that shot? What is that? In game for Steph, it’s a 50% shot.
So what’s next? Is he pushing the envelope, taking opportunities the defense gives? In a world of vulgar, offensive certainty, not knowing what’s next creates a magnetic sense of anticipation. We knew that game-winner was going in, but really who hits a game-winner like that? The crystallization of our hopes and fears lands us somewhere between numb and elated at the improbable inevitability of it all. I was going for Oklahoma City and Russ and Durant and even Enes Kanter. The last thing I wanted to see was a season-defining from a player in the midst of a historic run and yet here I am sucked into the vortex, levelheaded and whole with all my bearings making sense of that which makes no sense and wondering, with mixed emotions, what in the Land of Chamberlain comes next.
December 17, 2015Posted by on
The Golden State Warriors didn’t make any significant roster changes between 2014-15 and 2015-16 and yet they’ve come into the season a better version of themselves, most notably embodied by Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Draymond’s been amazing and deserves his own writing which can be found on other parts of the internet, but I keep going back to Steph and trying to understand how a 27-year-old can experience such a statistical explosion.
Contextually speaking, we’ve only seen one (maybe two, but I’ll get to that) scorers go from good to great the way Curry’s done this year. I took a look at every player in NBA history who has qualified for minutes played and averaged over 30 points for an entire season, then looked at their previous season to identify the greatest leaps season-over-season – essentially players going from good scorers to great scorers, or great to greater in some cases.
The outliers were players that experienced massive leaps between their rookie and second seasons as no baseline of performance had been set. Three of the four greatest season-over-season increases in points-per-game were from players in this outlier set:
- Jerry West: 17.6ppg as a rookie to 30.8ppg in year two (+13.2)
- BoB McAdoo: 18ppg as a rookie to 30.6ppg in year two (+12.6)
- Rick Barry: 25.7ppg as a rookie to 35.6ppg in year two (+9.9)
Then there’s Michael Jordan’s second season which I threw out because he appeared in just 18 games and played 25 minutes/game. So instead of comparing Jordan’s year two average (22.7ppg) to his year three (37.1ppg), I used his first season as a baseline (28.2ppg) which gave him an increase of 8.9ppg. I tossed this out as well.
Once we clear out the noise, we’re left with a sample size of 57 occurrences of players averaging 30 or more – 43 of which saw a season-over-season increase, 14 had a decrease. The greatest non-rookie-to-second season leap ever was Wilt Chamberlain in 1961-62 when he set the league record with what is still a confounding 50.4ppg which was a 12-point increase over the previous year when he scored a paltry 38.4.
Next on the list is our subject, young Mr. Curry. At 32.3ppg (as of Saturday night), Curry’s a robust 8.5ppg more than he scored last year. That makes for a 26% season-over-season growth which is the highest percentage growth of the entire sample of 57 30-point seasons (with outliers removed). I don’t care or know who the best scorer is on this list, but through 25 games in 2015, Curry’s experiencing an unprecedented growth rate. If we want to get deeper on how silly his season’s become, he’s averaging the lowest minutes/game of any player to ever score 30ppg at 34.9. George Gervin is second at 35.7, then Michael Jordan in 1991 at 37mpg. And maybe it’s not fair to compare percentages from the three-point era to the pre-three-point era, but by any measure that includes weighting the three-point shot (TS% and eFG%), Curry has the all-time highest accuracy rates – 68.8% TS and 64% eFG – of any players to score 30 or more. Adrian Dantley circa 1983-84 is second in TS at 65.2% and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is second in eFG at 57.7% — a full 6.3% behind Curry. But why stop there when Curry also has the highest 2-pt% of anyone on this list at 58.4%.
This feels awfully Bill Simmonsy to write, but re-read that last paragraph. Within the context of volume scorers in league history, no one’s ever done it anywhere remotely similar to Curry this season.
Which leads to the question: Just what on god’s green earth is happening to Steph this season? I did some work on this in early November when Curry was averaging 37ppg and some of the trends from then still hold up now: Curry’s opportunities are up year-over-year in terms of FGA/game, 3PA/game, and FTA/game while his accuracy for each is at or above his career-bests – only his free throw percentage is below career-best and he’s still making 90% of them.
But I don’t feel satisfied just saying volume and efficiency have risen even if those things are true. There are notions and theories at play here that I feel compelled to explore. I went back to the start of 2013-14 (starting with game 11 of that season – the reasoning will become clearer) and broke out Steph’s ensuing 201 games into 25-game chunks that include regular season and playoffs. The patterns are intriguing in that we’re able to see sporadic trends during Mark Jackson’s final year with the team when Curry’s three chunks of 25 games saw his minutes fluctuate between an average of nearly 40 in games 11-35 down to just under 36 in games 36-61. When he was playing nearly 40mpg, his FG% and 3p% were the worst of this 8-set sample, as were his turnovers/game – nearly 5.
As Kerr came on in 2014-15, there’s an immediate shift in Curry’s minutes down to a much-more-manageable 32-34/night with a steady rise in his three-point accuracy and a slight dip in total points. During that first regular season under Kerr, he took less field goal attempts, averaged less assists, and turned the ball over than he did under Jackson the previous year. It’s necessary to call out that Kerr taking over as coach led to a lot more changes than Curry’s role in the Warriors offense, but for the sake of this post and your time, we’ll focus on how Curry responded.
Last year’s playoff run is where we get a preview of what’s to come for Curry. Where he shot around eight threes/game in the regular season, it spiked up to 10.6 in 21 playoff games and final four games of the regular season. His three-point percentage stayed right at his average of this 201-game sample size – 43.6% during playoffs/reg season vs. 43.5% overall.
It’s that rise in the three-ball volume that appears to have carried over to 2015-16. Beginning in the sixth chunk of 25 games – game 52 to 76 of 2014-15 – Curry experienced his most accurate stretch of three point shooting: 107 of 208 – a 51.4% clip which accounted for 54.1% of his total points. For context, his average percentage of points from the three over this entire sample was 39.4%. From that block of games forward, his volume of three-pointers attempted has only increased. Curry was a great shooter before this stretch, but let’s look at the previous 126 games (start of 2013-14 thru game 51 of last season) against the most recent 75 games (game 52 of 2014-15 to present):
- 126 game stretch: 412 threes made on 1003 attempts, 3.3 threes/game, 41% accuracy, threes account for 41% total points
- 75 game stretch: 350 threes made on 751 attempts, 4.6 threes/game, 46% accuracy, threes account for 50% total points
- 25 game stretch in 2015-16: 127 threes made on 277 attempts, 5.1 threes/game, 46% accuracy, threes account for 47% total points
What we’re seeing now is like late-career Barry Bonds crushing all MLB walk records. In 2001, Bonds set the record with 177 walks, then bested it in 2002 by 21, and in 2004 put an exclamation point on his own theater of absurd by walking 232 times. This is Steph with threes – minus the weird head enlargement and freakish physical metamorphosis. Curry is taking a truly great skill (he already holds the top-two single season marks for threes made) and building upon it, but in a way that appears to be a collectively conscious extension of last season’s second half run. It’s not just that he’s taking and making more threes, but that his range is extending – or it was always there and his confidence and the team’s confidence in him taking deeper shots has grown (per stats.nba.com):
- 2013-14: 5.1 3PAs/game from 25-29ft
- 2014-15: 5.5 3PAs/game from 25-29ft
- 2015-16: 7.2 3PAs/game from 25-29ft
He’s already hit as many threes from 30-34 feet (three) as he did all of last season (regular season and playoffs combined) and more than he did in 2013-14 (playoffs and reg. combined). The impact of extending his range out further isn’t lost on his two-point game (again, he’s shooting 58.4% on twos) or his teammates who experience a wider, more open floor. Harrison Barnes approves.
Whatever Golden State saw in last year’s playoffs has carried over into this new season. The volume, the freedom, the carte blanche to shoot from anywhere at any time is open. We’re seeing Curry’s Davidson days replicated at the highest level of basketball in the known universe (when NCAA opponents decided they’d rather lose than have Curry go off on them, they were essentially waving a white flag in the same way MLB pitchers did when they intentionally walked Bonds all those hundreds of times). But what’s most fascinating to me is how Golden State appears to have tapped into an optimal playing time balance for Curry and the rest of the team. As I mentioned earlier when comparing Steph to other 30-point scorers, we’ve never had another 30-point scorer play this few minutes. Last year Curry won the MVP with the fewest minutes ever for a winner at 32.7. This isn’t just happenstance, but occurs when your margin of victory is somewhere between 10-13 points/night and your lead at the end of the third is 20-30 so your starters can kick back and rest during the final period.
If we break out his efficiency and scoring output across five-minute splits, we can see a sweet spot in the 30-40 minute range. The sample below is from 2013-14 to present with playoffs included. It makes sense that in closer games where Curry struggles individually or the Warriors struggle collectively, Curry would play more minutes and see his efficiency dip and indeed his TS and eFG for games where he plays over 40 minutes are below averages in this sample set. What’s interesting though is that Curry’s output is greater in games where he plays 35-40 minutes than 40-45. For some players on that 30-ppg list, there’s a straight forward line between volume (minutes played and shot attempts) and points. For Curry, more doesn’t always equal more and Golden State appears to grasp that.
My suggestion that Golden State may have landed at an optimal spot in terms of Curry’s usage and minutes/game is the last area we’ll touch on. Last year they won 67 games in the regular season and went 16-5 in the post-season. This year, the playmaking responsibilities are increasingly falling in Draymond’s hands and the results are indisputable to-date. I’m curious about how far this envelope can be pushed though. We already see that Curry’s efficiency and even output in some cases takes a hit the more he plays, so pushing the envelope is finding ways to get more shots. It’s easy to look at what this team is doing and suggest that if ain’t broke, don’t break it, but they’ve made changes from last season with nothing but positive outcomes. Steph’s already stolen about two shots/game from Klay and two from somewhere else (David Lee?). Are there two more to go round? Is two more three-point attempts from Steph per game a better use of possessions than a shot each from Bogut and Draymond? Man, I don’t know and I’m not convinced it even matters, but while they’re here they may as well push it to the limit.
November 18, 2015Posted by on
Rainy Saturday nights in November against the lowly Brooklyn Nets. Quiet, tired Tuesday evenings when the wind is whipping outside and the Toronto Raptors are in town. We’re 12 games into the 2015-16 season and every game the Golden State Warriors play has become an event.
I don’t mean this in the Bill Simmons sense that that they’re so good they’re can’t miss TV though I also understand approach. I mean it in the Floyd Mayweather sense. (I considered titling this piece The Floyd Mayweatherization of the Golden State Warriors, but opted not to because the click baitishness of it all, but really this post is about a type of Mayweatherization.) I don’t know why people tuned into Floyd’s fights, just that the top-three buys for Pay-Per-View fights are owned by Mayweather. Most people either tune in to see him keep winning or hope tonight’s the night he finally loses. With his unblemished record and bombastic embrace of the villain role, he created an atmosphere where at his peak, each and every one of his fights became a mega event – though one can legitimately counter that his swan song against overmatched Andre Berto failed to meet the can’t-miss-TV status of his previous fights. And he’s managed to do it with unlikable, non-fan-friendly style.
Over a short three weeks, these Warriors have amplified the magnitude of their games from entertaining basketball games to high powered events. It’s not just that they’re 12-0 and threatening both the best opening record in NBA history (15-0) or that they’re a realistic possibility to reach 70 games. It’s that their margin of victory is over 15 points/game. They haven’t just adopted the NBA’s love of the three ball, but have mastered it through a blend of style and personnel. If that weren’t enough, the magnetic dichotomy of the best baby-faced player on the planet in Stephen Curry with the cockily confident/confidently cocky Draymond Green has offered up something for fans or non-fans of various stripes.
Much like a Floyd fight, the beginning of every game starts out with an iota of hopeful anticipation. For the Warrior supporter, a relaxed expectation that they will witness greatness yet again, further cementing a growing confidence of both fan and team. Where this begins to coincide with the Floyd fan is the zero in the loss tally. Over 82 games, perfection appears to be unattainable, but our species can’t help but rise and fall within the moment and as long as they’re 11-0, 12-0, 13-0, 14-0, the weight of each game will elevate. And if/when the Warriors finally lose and creep and climb through the winter and spring months, the emphasis will shift towards 70 wins and the weight will come back – probably soft and slow, like a small earthquake (hat tip Neil Diamond). For the Warrior opponent, the hopeful iotas are aimed at an opposite result – the Warrior loss. The non-fan views Warrior wins through the lens of the give-away. The Kings, the Nets, the Raptors had their chances and they gave it away. But they/we will tune in and hold on waiting for the knockout punch and pending desperate, satisfying catharsis.
And what of the connoisseur? The objective critic of Mayweather or Golden State is hard-pressed to find fault in the execution. The results speak for themselves. Championship rings, championship belts, flawless records. My Twitter timeline lights up with gushy excitement when the Warriors ride the improvised waves of basketball circumstances. Steph catches an intended receiver napping and finishes a righty layup in traffic. Floyd rolls his shoulders back, his opponent’s goal (a brutal headshot) less than an inch away but may as well be in Turkmenistan and he counters with a peppering jab to remind the hopeless that the goal, the purpose is and will remain unattainable. The analyzing fan and writers smile in appreciation.
Even the space is part of the event. Oracle Arena tucked along a random highway in Oakland, a strange neighbor to industry, nothing close to a theater of dreams, but a house of worship nonetheless. Despite an ever-growing disparate fan base split between expensive courtside seats and less expensive upper-level seats, the attendees rise and fall in harmonious agreement. As I resided comfortably in my climate-controlled apartment watching the opening of Golden State-Toronto, I was inspired by the moment and the moment finally resonated (after the pre-game Ernie/Webber/Anthony chatter and the post-east coast games) when I recognized the fans. From the opening tip there was a palpability to the game and it started with the fans grasping the sense of the moment and raising their energy accordingly. Some have said that the real Warrior fans are being priced out by the fair weather Silicon Valley crowd and that may be the truest of the trues, but these past couple games where the undefeated start is at stake has produced May-level excitement from Warrior fans regardless of economic status.
This is peak Warriors. Steph Curry is at his other worldly best and Draymond Green is the clear cut second best player on the team. Andrew Bogut is leaner and bouncier. The team can play better, but they can’t be anymore 12-0 than they are 12-0 today. And as long as that zero sits in the loss column and as long as 70-73 wins is in place, every Golden State game will be an event in the Mayweather sense of things.
November 3, 2015Posted by on
We’re in November and the Golden State Warriors have played less than five percent of their total regular season games. The most recent, their fourth of the young year, was punctuated by a violent 119-69 Mike Tyson-over-Michael Spinks type victory over the Grizz – the same Grizz that took a 2-1 lead over GSW in the playoffs just six months ago. In the breezy 28 minutes he played, reigning MVP and pioneer of “new NBA” style basketball Steph Curry incinerated the Grizz for 30 points on 16 shots. Speaking in purely statistical terms, this was a below average game for Curry in 2015-16, but like I cautioned, we’ve got 78 games to go.
But in the young offering of the new season, Steph’s taking what was already a nuclear game and style replete with some kind of next world hand-eye coordination, progressively audacious handle, Doc Holliday trigger finger, and already all-time range and accuracy combination, and building on it.
In 2014-15, his first season under the guidance of Steve Kerr, Curry was a joy to behold, roughly achieving the same averages he had in 2013-14 (pts, rebounds, asts, 3s, stls, etc) while appearing in four less minutes per game. Comparing his 2014-15 to 2012-13 is even starker: he played six more minutes per game that year, but his per-game averages were lower as were his shooting percentages. His per-36 numbers from 2014-15 outshone what had already been all-star caliber numbers. Improvement is expected, but as we’ll see, the type of improvement is mostly unprecedented.
I’m going to paraphrase here and most likely screw this up, but there’s a four-quadrant concept that occurs in learning and task mastery:
- You don’t know what you don’t know – you’re unconscious
- You become aware of the things you don’t know – your consciousness develops so you can at least identify what you want to improve upon
- You consciously begin to tackle those things of which you recently became aware
- You unconsciously do the things you recently did in a conscious state
If last year’s MVP/NBA champion season was step #4 for Steph where execution became second nature like breathing and sneezing and laughing, then the four games we’ve seen of him in 15-16 are closer to that scene in The Matrix when Neo is all “What are you trying to tell me, I can dodge bullets?” and Morpheus responds, “No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.”
Was there a point where Steph realized he didn’t have to metaphorically “dodge bullets,” that it would just happen instinctually? On opening night last week, his first quarter should’ve been an indication to all of us that instead of seeing the illusory images on the court, he was deep in some meta coding, interpreting his opponent’s futile defensive efforts as nothing more than unprejudiced attempts designed to deter him. In the first quarter alone he shot 9-13 (would’ve been 9-12 had he not heaved up a 40-footer as time expired) with 24 points. It was lightning, violence, blitzkrieg, all-out attack, a metaphor for war. It was, intentionally or not, a battle hymn that rang out across the TNT-powered sound waves through speakers and pixels into our feeble senses.
But it didn’t stop there and hasn’t stopped. We’re still hibernating in small sample size theater season, but something strange is afoot, like white walker afoot or when the levee breaks afoot. Through these piddly four games, Steph, this time under the substitute coaching of Luke “Son of Bill” Walton, is obliterating his own MVP-level stats and he’s somehow doing it with rarefied combination below:
- Less minutes/game
- More shots (more on this)
- Increased efficiency (very little on this)
Because the Warriors can beat other playoff teams like the Grizz by 50 points on random Monday nights, there’s no need for Curry to play big minutes. This is our loss. In four games, all against playoff teams, GSW’s closest game was a 14-point victory. He’s averaging under 32 minutes/game. What we’re seeing though is that his slice of the offensive pie has grown in 2015-16. Where Curry’s career average for field goal attempts/game has sat right 16 attempts with a career high of just under 18 FGA back in 2012-13 in 38 minutes/game, Curry’s now cramming in 21 shots/game. He’s somehow getting up 32% more shots/game than his career average while appearing in the second lowest MPG of his career.
It doesn’t stop with field goals. As part of that 21 FGAs/game, Curry’s pushing an unprecedented nearly 11 3s/game. To put that into context, the most 3PAs a player has ever attempted on a per-game basis was Baron Davis back in 2004 when he put up 8.7/game. Curry’s clearly a prolific gunner himself and holds the top two single-season records for 3s made. His career high of 8.1 3Pas/game is good enough for sixth on the all-time list. But if we compare his current little four-game stretch to his career average of 6.5 3PAs/game, we see a ballsy bold leap of 64%. And if we’re truly interested in blowing our minds all over the walls in blue and gold Warrior-themed blood spatter in queer basketball-themed Rorschach patterns, then layer on the context that Curry’s spike in volume is being accompanied by a career best three-point accuracy (48.8%). He’s hitting five threes/game!
So Curry’s hovering around the perimeter, chucking record-setting threes and hitting them at paces typically reserved for guys who trade volume for efficiency. He’s taking advantage of spacing and passing and ball movement and all that good stuff. Yes to all of that, but for any notion that he’s merely perfecting the areas of already-existing strength while other aspects of his game stay flat or see small rises, he’s again a step ahead. For his career, Curry’s shooting a paltry 3.5 free throws/game. He’s third all-time in FT% just behind Steve Nash and Mark Price, so he’s getting the most bang for his free throw buck, but at 3.5 attempts/game with a career best of 4.5, he’s good at getting to the line for a point guard, but nothing special. In our shortened present season he’s somehow expanded his offensive range to include seven FTAs/game. For a guy that shoots over 90% from the line, seven FTAs/night is free points, a rhythmic bonus that builds on what’s already elite confidence. Where his increase in 3PA/game was a stunning 64%, his increase in FTA/game relative to his career average is nearly double at a 99% increase and the graph below more so than the others above clearly illustrates this spike.
While I’ve touched on Steph’s increased makes, I chose to focus on the attempts to show the early tidal change from last season. Maybe it’s having Walton at the helm instead of Kerr or maybe Klay Thompson has a bad back. Perhaps Kerr and company saw something in the numbers or on film, something like, “More Steph is better.” Regardless of the impetus for the jumps in volume, the return Golden State’s seeing on his increased offensive aggressiveness are eye popping and head shaking. Who averages 37ppg in under 32mpg for a team that beats all comers by double digits? It is unprecedented, I swear it is. It has to be.
We’re dealing with the smallest of sample sizes to the degree that every stat called out in this piece should have an asterisk next to it (“Hey man, it’s less than 5% of games, chill!”), but what we’re seeing even through these four games is borderline comical in the way that peak Pedro Martinez or Aroldis Champan were/are comical; we know what to expect and the opponent thinks they know what to expect and it doesn’t matter. The stats tell this truth as well as any verbose language or overused thesauri ever could. And sure sure, it’s probably unsustainable, but what if by some dint in the makeup of things, it is sustainable? If there’s even a shred of sustainability going on here, may god have mercy on all their basketball-playing souls because in this new NBA, the man shooting 50% on 11 3s/game is king.
December 26, 2012Posted by on
It wasn’t always about Jarrett Jack, but for now at least it will be about him; this burly, hard-headed (in appearance) man with his brick wall frame, compact like a boxer’s, eyes locked in what appears to be a perpetual squint—in anger or humor—eyes given by mom or dad, eyes passed through the gene pool generations ago perhaps, a head that looks almost too big for its body; always cleanly shaven as if he calmly stands in front of the mirror before games and at halftime, straight razor in-hand, head covered with thick white shaving cream, slicing the hairs away from that immense rock-like brown dome with the same precision he’d cut open an adversary’s throat; a face and appearance (particularly in scowl mode) that draws comparisons to emcee Sticky Fingaz and could land him a spot in the aforementioned’s aggression-fueled hip hop group from the 90s, Onyx, with their furious black baldness, black hoodies, black pants, black boots. This is about Jack, who’s traveled the jet streams of the NBA; from and to teams I couldn’t even recall off the top of my head (completely blanked out on the long lost Pacers days). A journey begun back at Georgia Tech with BJ Elder and Paul Hewitt and moved on to Portland and Indiana and Toronto and New Orleans and now Oakland. Always steady, but never anyone’s first choice. Passed over in favor of Jose Calderon, traded for Jerryd Bayless not once, but twice, a multi-time trade casualty …
When I see Jack in 2012 playing with Steph Curry (as a replacement of sorts for Monta Ellis) I see indispensability and luxury. In terms of pure ability, it doesn’t matter how he compares to Monta, but in terms of the Golden State Warriors, he’s a flawless fit, pragmatic and versatile, complementary and embraceable. He’s glue, Velcro, a viscous player that appears in 83 games in an 82-game season, oblivious to any limitations. He’s the kind of dude every team needs even though they’re quick to send him on his way. Call him a liberator in that he can relieve Curry of his playmaking duties.
2012 isn’t the Year of Jarrett Jack, it’s just another in a career of underappreciated years. What’s so profound about Jack is that there’s nothing profound about him. He does what he’s called on to do and in a league of specialists and superstars, he’s easily taken for granted—just like the PJ Browns and James Poseys of the world. I’ve been thinking about this all season and now I’m expressing it in full, or maybe just in part because I’m fairly certain Jack will provide plenty more reasons to write and think and consider his uniquely simple place as a backup guard in a league gone mad with awards, titles (of the individual variety) and over-analysis.
(and no, this hasn’t turned into a Golden State Warriors fan blog)
December 6, 2012Posted by on
Don’t get it twisted, this isn’t my foray into a new genre of basketball erotica and I am wearing (sweat) pants while I write this. It’s about me accepting the aesthetic of Stephen Curry’s game: a sweet, sensual convergence of college fundamentals with the boldness of Marvin Gaye on his classic I Want You.
I live on the west coast, so I get the great pleasure of watching west coast teams play at a reasonable time—at least reasonable based on my 32-year-old/married standards. The straight up west coast options we have: Lakers, Clippers, Kings, Blazers, Suns and Warriors. The Lakers are a comedy of errors, a team without a collective identity even though they have players with well-defined identities. The Kings have really disappointed; particularly because of their decision not to re-sign Terrence Williams. I don’t care for the Blazers, but I do like some Nicolas Batum and Young Mr. Damian Lillard is pure joy—regardless of how you feel about point guards. The Suns are another laughable comedy routine on a nightly basis. Shannon Brown as your get buckets guy? It takes a rare NBA roster architect to devise that scenario. Then there are the Clippers and the Warriors, a couple of teams that are entertaining for entirely different reasons. The Clippers are potential-in-the-process-of-being-realized and this kind of maturation is so magnetic because we’re eagerly anticipating their ongoing improvement. Once the ceiling is reached, we can get bored because we’re simple people with short spans of attention living in a world full of attention grabbing experts. As a group, the Clippers are more fun than Golden State and yes, Chris Paul is the PG archetype, but there’s nothing human about Paul single-handedly demoralizing and discouraging defenses or Jamal Crawford heat checks or Blake Griffin or even Los Angeles for that matter. But up in Oakland? Oh, up north it doesn’t get much more human than Bogutian tragedy, the erosion of Andris Biedrins’ confidence, Brandon Rush’s torn ACL, David Lee’s around-the-basket intuitiveness (it’s still underrated) or Steph Curry’s nightly flirtations with basketball death, a dreaded Grant Hill career arc.
The crowd in Oakland pleads a great case for watching the Warriors, but Lee’s interior aptitude and the development of Harrison Barnes are entertaining too. The primary reason to watch, the main event … that’s Curry. There’s a reason he’s still the (baby) face of the Warriors despite missing nearly 25% of his team’s games through his first three seasons (of course, part of that reason is that they were never able to find a trade partner willing to take on those papier-mâché ankles). They’re still going to war every night with Curry as their lead guard because the kid (he’s still just 24) is disruptively good and can get better.
I’m not positive if the NCAA’s and ESPN’s and Dick Vitale’s infatuations with Curry during his Davidson days soured me on him or if I was too distracted following the explosions of Monta Ellis (fiery spectacle one night, snap pops the next), but I only studied Curry from afar for his first few years. His ankle(s—was it both?) turned last season into one long, depressing sputter. And if it was frustrating for fans, imagine how Curry felt riding that physical and emotional roller coaster: special shoes, protective boots, ice bags on ice bags in ice baths, multiple doctors, fear that something’s wrong, that maybe it’s somehow his fault … failure; letting down your teammates, fans, the people who pay you huge checks to be on the court performing. So when he rolled his ankle (again!) in the pre-season, I think there was a part of me that lightly erased Curry from the NBA panorama. He wasn’t a ghost yet, but he was fading.
This is a terribly unfair thing to do, particularly given the steadily impressive performances of Curry’s first two seasons in the league which compare better than favorably with Derrick Rose’s and Russell Westbrook’s:
Not too many people put Curry in the same echelon as Rose and Westbrook and there are a couple of obvious reasons why:
- The Third Season: While Curry spent his third season on crutches, in walking boots and enduring a bombardment of tests on his ankle(s), Westbrook and Rose made a motherfucking leap in theirs. Remember how similar these three guys were through their first two seasons? The third seasons created a massive chasm:
- Playoff Appearances: Rose was a black NBA version of Rocky Balboa as a rookie when he led the 8th seed Bulls to a memorable seven-game series against the defending champion Boston Celtics in the opening round. Westbrook made a name more violently for his volatility—eruptions of athleticism versus decision making follies and the unique ability to forget Kevin Durant was on his team (and in the damn game!). Where Russell made the playoffs three of four years and has Rose has advanced to the postseason every year, the ill-fated Curry is still awaiting his first appearance.
I didn’t set out to write a story about how Steph Curry does or doesn’t compare favorably to two of the best young point guards in the game, it just organically occurred this way and I’m happy with that. Beyond the inconclusive stats we have above, the Curry I’ve seen this year is a smooth ball handler with great court awareness, passing ability and a hyper fast shot release. His handle is so much better than I realized, but it looks like he’s still figuring out how to fully utilize this skill. You see Rose and Westbrook combine their ball handling with raw speed and quickness: Rose more lateral quickness with the ball in-hand and Westbrook more straight ahead speed. Steph’s handle is so often used on the perimeter to keep defenders at bay instead of attacking with it. If and when he improves that part of his game, he’ll be able to create more space and get to the rim more frequently than he already does which would make him close to indefensible. Of course, the more he penetrates, I feel like the odds of rolling an ankle increase (is that true?).
So while the rest of you east coast and Midwest fans are sleeping away the nights or blowing rails just to stay up for the west coast games, your brothers and sisters on the left are settling in on couches and recliners from San Diego to Blaine with beers and green teas while our spouses and partners and roommates flit in and out, oblivious to our fascinations with a guy named Steph…and even more oblivious the fingers we have discretely crossed under a pillow or blanket, vainly hoping those tender ankles hold up.
December 20, 2011Posted by on
Milton pitching in to cover the Warriors and the crew Don Nelson left them with.
For the roughly 20 years I’ve been a basketball fan with any level of cognitive awareness, the Golden State Warriors have been an intriguing franchise. From Run TMC, to the infancy of Chris Webber’s career to Sprewell vs. Carlisemo there has been no shortage of topics to dissect and debate. For 11 of the last 23 years Don Nelson coached this franchise. Those 11 years were not in succession – Nelson’s tours with GSW were from 88-95 and 06-10 – but the influence of his alchemy appears to have been so prevalent that no other coach could find success. As if Nellie poisoned the East Bay waters, the 12 other seasons GSW was coached by another man were all sub .500 finishes. Nellie wasn’t without his own poor seasons (34-48 in 93, 26-56 in 2010) but he led GSW to .500 or better in 6 of 11 years at the helm.
In 2007 the 8th seeded Warriors pulled off the improbable by knocking off MVP Dirk Nowitzki and his vaunted, 67-15 Mavericks. That GSW group was full of perimeter players who created mismatches on offense and utilized toughness to bang with bigger guys defensively. The outcome was viewed by some as affirmation that Nellie’s mad scientist approach can bring to life a contender. The reality is they got hot at the right time and Stephen Jackson scared the crap out of Dirk.
Since then GSW has tried desperately to get that swagger back. Cap’n Jack, Jason Richardson and Baron Davis are long gone. In their place, Nellie acquired the likes of Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Corey Maggette and things haven’t been the same since. Monta Ellis might be the fastest player in the NBA but he gives up so much defensively that the overall impact of his speed is negligible. Stephen Curry’s playmaking and defensive abilities have surprised me; however he appears better suited to play the two. His best skill is his jumper and his instinct tells him to shoot first and ask questions later. Andris Biedrins had one solid year and has since been injured or disengaged. How can you blame him for losing focus when Nellie didn’t even suit the same players up on a nightly basis from 08-10?
Near the end of Nellie’s second tenure with GSW, stories began to emerge about his affinity for liquor. Whether true or not, things had gone so awry in GSW that I often pictured Nellie wobbling drunkenly into the locker room on game nights like Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own. The end was near and everyone knew it. But after a long night of drinking comes the inevitable hangover.
Keith Smart coached the Warriors last year and the results were mixed, but mostly disappointing. The final tally was 36 wins and 46 losses but what do we really know about Smart as a coach? Not much. How can we judge him? He tried to play a more conventional style with a team of Nellie ballers.
Two key additions to last year’s squad who didn’t endure the bizarre Nellie experience, David Lee and Dorell Wright, provided solid production. Wright contended for Most Improved Player and Lee bounced back from a freakish tooth-in-the-elbow injury to average nearly a double-double (16.8, 9.8 reb). Lee and Wright are above average players but it’s hard to fit in with a Nellie roster if you’re not a Nellie player. Klay Thompson was selected with a lottery pick and is expected to contribute immediately. He’s got the pedigree (former Laker Mychal Thompson is his father) and can shoot the ball. Ekpe Udoh is long and has potential but looks more like Thabeet than Mutombo.
Smart didn’t make it to a second year. An ownership change may have necessitated a move at head coach but the hire is still perplexing. Mark Jackson has never coached in the NBA as an assistant or a head coach. He was one of the finer players at his position in his era (and a mediocre announcer). The challenge for Jackson will be to combine the Nellie players (Monta, Biedrins, Udoh and to a lesser extent Steph Curry) with non-Nellie players (Lee, Wright, Thompson, Brandon Rush) to find a suitable team identity. It won’t be easy … certainly not for a coach with no experience. And word is he wants this team to focus on defense.
Nellie hosted an enjoyable party with booze aplenty, but for Golden State’s loyal and basketball wise fans, the hangover still lingers. The challenge for this great fan base is to keep downing the Advil and Gatorade and hope the headache slowly goes away. Another trip to the lottery is likely in the works.