By Justin Cherot
First off, if you missed last night’s epic Golden St. Warriors/Oklahoma City Thunder regular season battle where Stephen Curry single-handedly broke Twitter (don’t worry: if you want to see some of the best tweets from last night, I’ll save you the trouble of you trying to unearth them yourself and ask for some simple follow action), I’m sorry. Double sorry if you’re a fan of great basketball, but even if you’re not… you missed some epic television. I have now used the word “epic” twice in one paragraph.
There are so many great angles I could take, including: Golden State responding to internal adversity; Curry heroically scoring 31 second half and OT points on a bum ankle; Curry tying the single game three-point record; Curry breaking the NBA three-point record with 24 regular season games to go; the fact that Kevin Durant‘s 37-12-5 with seven threes of his own was the second best performance of the night; the fact that if nothing else, last night pretty much narrowed KD’s choice to two destinations: OKC or Golden St.; oh, and I almost forgot… the Warriors clinching a playoff spot in February and still on pace to beat the Chicago Bulls 72-10 mark set during the ’95-’96 season.
Daaaaaaamn, Daniel. Back at it again with the plethora of storylines from last night.
But, I wanted to address what the Oscar Robertson said about Steph. A synopsis if you haven’t heard or you don’t want to click the link in my best Kanye voice:
“No disrespect, Steph, but I played in one of the best eras of all-time. ALL-TIME!!! You hit a three, next possession I’ll be all up in ya body like the Holy Ghost. Pick you up full-court or 3/4 court. These coaches don’t know nothin’ about defense.”
Facebook and social media boards have kind of calmed down on the hate for Curry ever since my last Steph post (shit, might as well call this site “the -ph is more like an ‘f’, tho”… #amirite), compromising with something along the lines of, “I mean he’s a great player, but those rule changes, though.”
Regardless of your age, raise your hand if you ever played for a coach whose primary philosophy consisted of “play defense with your hands”. None of you, right? I’m sure many of you had coaches who believed in “giving body”, but primarily, defense is based on two principles: staying in front with great foot technique and just straight up wanting it more.
I touched on my last Steph post about how players who were similar to Steph did fine in the ’90’s, but I’ll take it a step further and add in my thoughts on what if coaches tried to do what the Big “O” was proposing (shout-out to my boy Ahmed Elsayed on Facebook, who suggested that what Robertson was posting wasn’t far-fetched, and I slightly disagreed):
“True, Ahmed, he was talking more about the coaching. But I think the only person in the league who could play Curry like that is Patrick Beverley. I say that because you need a guy 100% focused on “D” and have him not get tired on offense. Since [James] Harden handles the ball exclusively for the Rockets and Beverley is more or less a spot-up guy on offense, it would work for them. But to have someone press 3/4 to full court on Steph, he would have to exert so much energy. Could you imagine guys like [Damian] Lillard, [Kyrie] Irving, [Russell] Westbrook and [John] Wall doing that for an entire game? Maaaybe you hold Curry to a bad shooting night… maaybe. But can their teams really afford for them to be gassed offensively?
Or in Cleveland’s case… maybe they can play [Matthew] Dellavedova 40 minutes. Only problem is (no disrespect to Delly) offensively you play 4 on 5, right?”
Back when Robertson played, and even in most cases up until the early 2000’s, the point guard wasn’t relied upon as heavily to carry the offensive burden. Maybe that’s the biggest philosophical change and not neccesarily the “lack of defense”. In fact, if you want to be completely real, in 1991 (considered by many to be in the middle of basketball’s Golden Age), there were four teams allowing less than 100 points per game vs. six teams in 2016.
Let’s do this exercise, and as someone who lived/lives behind the three-point line, I feel as though I’m an authority figure on this subject. We’re going to take a look at all 12 of Curry’s threes from last night. We’ll do them on a scale of 1-10… “1” being an uncontested jumper that might as well be in shoot-around to “10” being a “that was great defense/tough circumstances… how did that drop”.
Watch along if you’d like.
1. Durant gets Curry on a switch and closes out nicely. Curry loses him for a brief moment on a behind-the-back dribble, but don’t forget that KD has an eight-foot wingspan and still managed to get a lunge and almost block the shot. Did I mention how tall KD is? 9.
2. Might be one of his easier looks, set-up by his own wonderful backscreen off the ball. One of only a few lapses from Westbrook, but don’t under-estimate how hard it is to hit a three two feet behind the line when a pissed off animal like Russ comes running at you. 4.
3. I think his two easiest came back-to-back. Nice dribble hand-off, subtle brush screen for Draymond Green. But, it’s so hard to rate these because how many other dudes in the NBA would even try that shot, pseduo-fading in the corner with Serge Ibaka getting his hand up a fraction of a second too late? 6.
4. Seriously… tell me what Steven Adams did wrong on this shot. A 6’11” dude has his hand square in the face of a 6’3″ dude. I guess you can say that Adams could be a little closer… but then he’d essentially be in Curry’s drawers. 10.
5. Okay, I lied, but that’s just proof I’m watching these in real time. Enes Kanter, more known for his diverse skillset offensively, goes under the PnR against the one guy you would never do that against. Because it’s kind of off the dribble and kind of 26 feet, I’ll round up to a 2.
6. We’re so spoiled. How many players in the NBA… no… how many players in NBA HISTORY can fake a dribble hand off and rise up that quickly? Westbrook initial defense was good, but he faked the hand off to Leandro Barbosa Westbrook bit. But you know who didn”t bite? The much-maligned Dion Waiters. So yeah, it’s not that Steph faked him out. Waiters was just slightly late. But the beauty of turning on a dime and releasing that quickly… this is a bad shot for almost any other basketball player. You can hate… but this is an 8.
7. Don’t look at the player guarding Steph (Kyle Singler). Pretend for a minute you have no idea who Singler is. Just ask yourself, up until Curry took that shot, how hard did Singler make him work. Yes, Steph achieved the separation, but Singler’s recovery was decent. Coupled with the fact that Singler goes 6’8″, I’m sure his reach was enough to contest the shot. Solid 8.
8. Maybe no one defender is completely up on Curry… but Westbrook and Adams are right there, and Adams is 6’11” with more than enough wing.span to be right in his face. And it’s another shot where he rises quickly off the dribble and fires. This is a 9.
9. Westbrook backs off Curry for a split second and Steph nails a 28 footer off the dribble. Anybody who has ever taken a three off the dribble knows it’s harder to shoot off a right-handed gather than a left-handed gather. The reason is because your guide hand has to come to your shooting hand versus the other way around. Try it… it’s more awkward. Plus, it’s no big deal… just a “must-score” possession. 8.
10. Westbrook with a brain fart as he sinks all the way back into the lane and lets Curry come off a curl for an “easy” three. That said, Westbrook’s effort after realizing his mistake was good s he came full force to close out. 3.
11. Singler learned from his first time around, not backing off for any reason. Curry barely loses Singler with a behind-the-back dribble, which is just enough daylight for him to get off a three. But again, the 6’8″ Singler is right there and Curry has to take a tough fade-away. Again, don’t look at who the defender is. Think about the defender’s effort and the fact that he forced Steph to take a really, really tough shot. 10.
12. And finally… the 38.5 footer that broke Twitter. If you’re Andre Roberson, you have to think to yourself, “This dude has three seconds left. Surely he’s going to take a couple more dribbles and get clo… fuck.” And even in the process of (probably) uttering the f-bomb, he got a hand up. Against a dude shooting a 38.5 footer. With three seconds left. On the road. Even if you’re in the camp that, “He didn’t have anything to lose. If he misses, he goes to a 2nd OT knowing they don’t have to worry about Durant”… come on. 10. 10. 10.
My mom taught me math. The average degree of difficulty, even including the Kanter and Westbrook brain-farts, was 7.25. That’s a pretty good number considering the defensive effort and the high degree of difficulty shots. I’d go as far as saying if OKC guarded any other player in the league like that, that player probably scores, maximum, 18. Curry went for 46.
But I don’t have to explain my point. Ex-NBA Baron Davis can do it for me: