This article aims to better understand basketball analysis in the media, the greatness of Stephen Curry, and the Warriors dynasty, all coming from a historical perspective to help draw conclusions and draw inferences. When discussing the four main sub-divisions of offense (off-ball scoring, on-ball scoring, on-ball playmaking, and off-ball playmaking), I believe no player in NBA history does it better than Wardell Stephen Curry. Curry’s on-ball scoring is listed as top-5 in true-shooting percentage in the history of the NBA. In a long list full of centers and power forwards, considered giants by the basket — those who live in the paint. Steph Curry is a 6’3″ guard, a jump shooter who is top-5 in efficiency in that particular category.
Now, to take it a step further, Curry is also the most efficient high-volume scorer in NBA history. Whether it’s in isolation, creating space off the dribble, or in transition with a step-back pull-up off the high pick and roll, he has many moves and dribble combinations to get by his defender and get his shot off. If the defender goes under a pick-and-roll screen, Curry can pull up from almost anywhere, from halfcourt, just inside halfcourt, or a few feet beyond the three-point line. If the defender goes over the screen, it’s a crossover two-dribble pull-up, or drive to the basket quickly where he finishes with either hand and his floater game. And he’s the second oldest player to win a scoring title, behind only Michael Jordan, which is a testament to his longevity.
Curry’s unique skill set while off brush screens, cross screens, pin downs, curls, split actions, back screens, back door cuts, relocation, and spotting up, with a catch and shoot. Curry’s incredible ability to manipulate defenders, getting them stuck between the screen, leveraging angles and positioning to get free and easily get his shot off. By play type from 2016 to 2022, here are the possessions since it’s been tracked
Off pick and roll: 1.05 Points per possession
In isolations: 1. 1 point per possession
Off screens and off-ball as a scorer: 1.18 points per possession
In spot-up situations: 1.29 points per possession
Offcuts: 1.31 points per possession
In transition: 1.14 points per possession
Going back to 2016, in what’s known as Steph Curry’s signature season, also well known as one of the greatest offensive seasons this league has ever seen.
In transition: 1.22 points per possession, listed 75th percentile
When Steph is the pick and roll handler: 1.11 points per possession, listed 98th percentile
Off of screens: 1.2 points per possession, listed 92nd percentile
In Isolation: 1.1 points per possession, listed 94th percentile
In spot-up situations: 1.5 points per possession, listed as 100th percentile
As a scorer on and off the ball, Stephen Curry is truly generational and something that I believe has never been seen before. His ability to dribble by defenders to get free, the awareness to navigate through screens as a scorer, and the simplification of the game by playing with high volume and efficiency. With on-ball playmaking, his assist/turnover ratio is 2.08 assists per turnover in his career. For comparison, Lebron’s assist/turnover ratio is 2.14, and Magic Johnson’s is 2.89. Curry’s assists for his entire career averaged 6.5, Lebron’s averages 7.3, a little less than 1 assist more. Magic Johnson is around 5 more assists with 11.2. Now, this isn’t only to say that Steph is the best when it comes to those four subdivisions of offense, but it’s the collective and composite of all four. Nobody can combine all four components of the game from an offensive standpoint better than Steph. He is one of the most complete offensive players we’ve ever seen, on and off the ball (playmaking & scoring).
Off-ball playmaking is where he is the greatest of all time. Being able to leverage his gravity, and the attention he commands while off the ball to create for his teammates, teammates who are nonspace players and aren’t known for shooting or are only looked at as respected defenders. Guys like Kevon Looney, Draymond Green, Gary Payton II, Jordan Bell, and Andre Iguodala during the back end of his career. Players who don’t necessarily have versatile filled-out offensive games, but are also still able to be plugged in spots and make an impact, leveraging from the thread of Steph’s presence off the ball, and being able to create 4-on-3 situations like open shots on the wing or the corner, or open lanes to drive to the rim. As a scorer and playmaker, he’s arguably one of the greatest off-ball scorers ever and an elite off-ball playmaker. Steph’s career plus/minus is a +4,803 when he’s on the court which leads the decade in plus/minus, when he’s off the court the warriors are a -1,249. In a decade’s worth of sample size, his playoff record is 22-4 for reference that’s a better record than Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. If you take out Steph’s games with The Warriors top players, his playoff win percentage is still better than Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Bird, including all of their top players. The fallacy around Curry that he needs a super team is absurd, and the fact that Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant won the FMVP is inconsequential because his impact was always there, the media just never acknowledged it. So, I will.
In all 3 years, Kevin Durant was with The Warriors, whenever Curry and Durant were on the court together, Durant’s shot was 62% effective, when Curry was off it went down to 54%. So that means one of the greatest scorers this league has ever seen, had an 8% increase in effective field goal percentage while Steph is on the court. Another example could be Andrew Wiggins whose effective field goal percentage was 58% with Steph on the court, and down to 50% with Steph off, again another +8 jump. Steph Curry makes his teammates look like help, better than other great players do. Jordan Poole who was in the G-league 2021, 28th pick, and was considered one of the worst players in the NBA his rookie season, shoots 56% with Steph on and 46% effective with Steph off (+7), he’s now been in the running for 6 Man Of The Year for the past consecutive seasons. Draymond Green is a nonspacer who at times struggles to score but is an all-time great defender and playmaker, 52% effective with Steph on and 46% with Steph off (+6). Andre Iguodala is a swiss army knife who can operate in various roles, a guy who isn’t necessarily a shooter but can hit an open shot, and Klay Thompson is all the help people complained about for the last decade. These are all players who are way more efficient when Curry is on the floor. So, is it that his teammates look like help or is it Steph making them look like help? Now non of this isn’t to diminish the greatness of Durant, Draymond, Wiggins, or Klay but this is to hammer home a point and emphasize the point that Steph Curry never needed a superteam to win. As we saw before and after Kevin Durant.
If you end up in a 7-game series against Curry it’s going to be a dogfight to beat because of the way he creates at such a level from possession by possession, he’s essentially wreaking havoc, scoring the ball at a time-efficient clip. Regardless of his spacing, regardless of his teammates, and the talent around him, it’s going to take a lot to beat Stephen Curry. We saw something like this back in 2013 against a Spurs team that had a +12 net rating on the season and took the Warriors out in 6 games, The Warriors were the 6 seed that year, and Curry also rolled his ankle and was playing compromised. David Lee, who also miss the entirety of the series and just to refresh your memory on how the series went, it ended up going down to the 4th quarter of game 6 with the Spurs being able to close it out in the last final possessions.
Now, my conclusion and the bottom line is that every team that has been around Stephen Curry is greater than the sum of its players. None of these stats shown on the stat sheet can truly quantify his impact on the court and has been like that for a better part of a decade. However I want you to ask yourself this, how does a player at 6’3″ a rim grazer with a 34.7 usage rate, lead a team to the most dunks in the NBA? 370 to be exact, on a team that’s top 5 in points per possession and bottom 5 in pick and roll frequency. The numbers are there and the 2022 playoff run was the final piece to the puzzle. I believe no player needs the circumstances less in their favor than Stephen Curry. Think about it, When you are on a court with multiple nonspacers the burden of offensive limitations is on Steph to be able to find ways to make his teammates effective because they’re players that have to stay on the court for defensive purposes, and the next thing you know a roster of g-league players leads the league in dunks. Forcing teams to change their true coverage from drop coverage to trapping the ball screen. Steph bends defenses and he can do it with all-time talent, with g-leaguers, with spacing without spacing he would essentially be able to make it work. No conditions on the basketball court can criticize Steph’s offensive impact.
But for the better part of the decade, the media would punish Steph for playing with people like Klay, Draymond, and Durant. Completely dismissing his ability to be able to optimize them into a system that prioritizes motion, player movement, and ball movement a derivative of a triangle that requires him as their best player to be malleable, and scalable. Steph was not playing the same way in all four rounds of the playoffs last year, from series to series because every team would be guarding him differently and would have counters for every one of them and The Warriors beat every team in their path for that reason. At times Steph has dialed it back and allowed his teammates to get points up, we’ve seen these on countless occasions, and we saw something similar to this in last year’s playoffs when teams would face-guard, top-lock, or trap him this happened in the Grizzlies, and Celtics series, In the Dallas series when they would trap or pin down Curry, his points would go down but his assist would go up, and allowed all of his teammates to eat and get their own points because they utilized the advantage situations even on 4v4’s.
One of the main points I wanna hammer home before I end this is that basketball can 100% be a 1v1 sport. But it’s also a 5v5 sport and that is irrefutable. In a sport filled with professional athletes and the highest level attainable, The NBA is a collection of 30 teams and 400 players who play 5v5 basketball for a course of 82 games, and the first to 16 wins in the postseason is crowned the champions. these are the parameters for the best of the best and the greatest of the greats and the whole NBA plays under that. So whenever we have player comparisons, we can’t evaluate them from 1 to 1, averages, totals, points, rebounds, assist, efficiency, and individual accolades are all one side of the coin, individual greatness is important but that’s just one side of it. Individual greatness matters but how can you compare individual production and conclude that one player is better than the other when every player is playing in the context of a 5v5 sport where the primary objective is to be the last team standing? When we talk about the greatest, playstyle plays a big role such as usage and again on-ball and off-ball playmaking and scoring and the ability to counter defenses and whether these individual players can perform them or not and at what level they can do them, those are the separators for the greats.
The best players are usually on the best teams because they’re the best player, you need the talent to win and there is no doubt about that. But first what we need to look at is if there is an intangible impact, if there are times you can do it in quantifiable forms in other words statistical dominance. But that, of course, doesn’t capture the full picture. Not only did Steph change the game and define an era, but he dominated the era. Steph’s Playstyle is another thing people diminish, the commitment to playing off the ball and leveraging the threat of his shooting on the perimeter, to create quality shooting opportunities for his teammates goes undervalued and is something the stat sheet fails to capture. Last season in game 5 of the finals Steph had 16 points and went 0 for 9 from the perimeter most media and fans harped on his overall efficiency and production, but there was a reason Andrew Wiggins had 26 points on 13 rebounds that game because of Steph’s off-ball movement off of the trap and creating lanes for Wiggins, Draymond, and GPII, this is an aspect of Steph’s game that rarely gets discussed because not many people understand the idea that evaluating Steph’s performance goes beyond shooting splits and statistical dominance. Steph makes below-average talent look like role players, makes role players look like stars, makes stars look like superstars, and makes superstars look like all-time greats. The winning didn’t happen by accident.
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