Stephen Curry crosses halfcourt without the ball in his hands. The Golden State Warriors intend to run pick-and-roll action for Andrew Wiggins up top, with Curry and Draymond Green stationed on the weak side, seemingly content with watching the action and standing still.
If you’re the New Orleans Pelicans, you’re perfectly fine with trying to defend anything that doesn’t involve Curry. You put all of your attention toward trying to stop Wiggins. He’s no Curry – but he’s still a dangerous scorer off the dribble.
But the Pelicans are ranked 27th in defensive efficiency for a reason. Bottom-ranking defenses have a difficult time thinking way ahead of the curve. They have a severe case of tunnel vision – they can only see what’s in front of them, not what’s going on around them on the periphery.
Curry thrives on the periphery. He makes his living within teams’ defensive blind spots. Once you take your eyes off him, even for a split-second, he will make sure to punish you for it.
As he did to the Pelicans here:
The transgressor in the sequence above is hard to point out at first, but look closely and you’ll notice Eric Bledsoe helping way off of Green, shadowing in the paint and getting ready to help on a potential Wiggins drive. Without anyone guarding Green, the weak side is virtually being defended by one man – Lonzo Ball, in this case.
Green takes advantage. Once the ball is swung toward him, he immediately initiates pitch action with Curry and sets a hard screen on Ball. With Bledsoe too far away to switch and close out, Curry drills the three with ease.
Green has seen many defenders sag off and ignore him throughout his career. Defenses know he doesn’t seek to score first. He is whatever the opposite of a magnet is on offense; he repels defenders like the plague.
But Green is cognizant enough to know that his defender-repelling nature can also unlock the powers of his running mate, whose ability to draw defenders onto himself makes him the polar opposite of what Green is on offense.
We’ve all seen what Green and Curry can do on offense together. It’s a partnership that has previously destroyed contenders and championship-level teams. In this case, it destroyed a team that has yet to blossom into anything successful.
Green has a sense for when teams are explicitly showing their fear of Curry. He feeds off of the nightmare of a potential Curry three.
The fake hand-off to Curry has been the catalyst for many Green rim runs. Even without the ball, Curry continues to dole out psychological damage to defenses, and Green is, more often than not, the extension of Curry’s ability to do such a thing.
The Warriors have posted a 116.8 offensive rating in the 1,546 minutes that Curry and Green have played together, per PBP Stats. That puts them well within the top-5 offense category. With both of them sitting down? An offensive rating of 103.9 – slotting them just above Oklahoma City as one of the worst offenses in the league.
The importance of both Curry and Green being on the floor as much as possible has been magnified to the highest degree, especially with Curry playing at an MVP-level throughout the entire season.
Curry put up 41 points against the Pelicans on 54/44/83 splits, shooting 8-of-18 on threes and putting up a true-shooting percentage of 71.6%. After putting up one of the hottest months of his career in April, during which he averaged 37.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists on a shooting split of 52/47/91 and 71% true shooting, he is off to yet another hot start in May.
Against Houston and New Orleans combined: 35.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 6.5 assists, on a shooting split of 47/43/77 and 65% true shooting.
Curry has been on his usual shenanigans. Name anything he can do on offense: pull-up threes in transition, where a defender lulled into a false sense of security gets burned by his unlimited range.
Or on threes off the dribble, the thing that separates him from other great shooters in the league – past, present, and most probably in the future – and cements his legacy as the greatest shooter the basketball world has ever seen.
(In their first matchup against each other, Zion Williamson was on the receiving end of a couple of these pull-ups off the dribble. Needless to say, Williamson got his first full taste of the Steph Curry experience.)
The danger of a Curry three acts a feedback loop of sorts for cuts and dribble penetration. Afraid of not sticking close to Curry, defenders will start “top-locking” him – that is, deny him the usage of screens or obtaining the ball – which only opens up cutting lanes for Curry:
As well as opening up slip-screen opportunities for his teammates:
The sequence above has occurred so many times, yet defenses are none the wiser. Curry’s movement generates panic; Ball tries to stay with Curry and successfully does so.
But Willy Hernangomez is also paying attention to Curry and forgets his own man, Juan Toscano-Anderson, who takes advantage of Hernangomez’s ignorance by slipping the screen and diving to the hole for the dunk.
“Anytime you step on the floor with Steph Curry, there’s an advantage there,” Green said after the game. “Teams are terrified of him. Everywhere he runs on the floor, with or without the ball, teams are terrified.”
In their 9 years together, Green has seen many instances of teams being terrified of Curry – after all, Green has been the key to unlocking many Curry buckets throughout the past decade. He has Curry to thank for most of his assists, whether Curry is the one scoring or not.
Green put up his 5th triple-double of the season against the Pelicans: 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists. In 29 career triple-doubles for Green, the Warriors are an astounding 28-1, which solidifies the assertion that Green is equally as paramount, if not more, as Curry when it comes to the Warriors’ success.
More so than filling the stat sheet, it was Green’s defense against the Pelicans – particularly against Williamson – that took center stage.
It’s easy to look at the box score and assess that Green and the Warriors failed to stop Williamson, who put up 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting from the field. But a transcendent talent and freight train of a human being such as Williamson truly cannot be stopped – he can only be slowed down to a near crawl.
Slowing down Williamson was all the Warriors could have hoped for, and at several points of the game, Green was able to stick to the game plan.
“I think we did a pretty good job, all things considered,” Green said of defending Williamson. “He’s a force, especially once he gets the ball in the paint. He doesn't take too many threes. He likes to get to his spot, get to his left hand, and finish.
“You’re just trying to beat him to the spot. You know where he’s going. Everybody in the league knows where he’s going… He’s not out there tricking you.
He’s putting his head down and getting to his spot and you’ve got to respect that. For me personally, I just try to make him take tough shots over me… You can’t stop on the first move… If he finishes it, you live with the results and go back the other way.”
Green lived with some of those possessions. He wasn’t perfect – no defender, including the best in the league, can truly put the clamps on the best offensive players in the league.
But Green gave as good as he got. For every Williamson scoring possession, it seemed as if Green went back at him with equal defensive verve. The defensive IQ was apparent: getting in front of Williamson and staying as vertical as possible without fouling, and trying to take away the usual angles that Williamson often uses to get his points at the rim.
Green is perhaps the only defender in the league who is capable of holding his own against Williamson in single coverage. It’s a testament to Green’s greatness as a defender that the Warriors felt no need to throw double teams toward Williamson.
“If you had to pick one guy in the NBA to guard Zion, Draymond would be that guy,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s seen everything. He’s the smartest defender in the league, but he’s also got the strength to be able to stay in front of [Williamson].
“When you have Draymond, it’s the ultimate weapon defensively.”
Having both the ultimate defensive weapon in Green goes hand-in-hand with having the ultimate offensive weapon in Curry, even if the impact metrics haven’t placed their partnership as high as it’s supposed to be. The Curry-Green duo has outscored opponents by 6.2 points per 100 possessions – 93rd out of 130 duos that have clocked in at least 1,000 minutes on the floor, per NBA.com.
A huge part of that can be attributed to the lack of a viable supporting cast surrounding the pair. That has been a problematic theme throughout the season, and it is why the Warriors are currently 8th in the standings and are fighting to get one of two playoff spots.
But if anyone can be trusted to lead the Warriors toward a matchup against a top Western Conference seed, it’s the Curry-Green duo, a pairing that has proven to be dangerous not only for the teams surrounding them in the standings, but also for the teams above them.
“[Curry and Green] together are so special,” Kerr said. “There’s this special connection that you see obviously on the offensive end, but even on the defensive end they know each other so well.
“The two of them give the whole group confidence. Steph and Draymond have won championships. They’ve seen it all.” – Rappler.com