Steph Curry Portrait (Getty Images, David Dow/NBAE)Steph Curry Portrait (Getty Images, David Dow/NBAE) © Copyright

Small ball death squad

Last season, Golden State Warriors won their first NBA Championship in 40 years. Their star player Steph Curry was awarded the league’s Most Valuable Player for his performances throughout the campaign. He received most votes (1.5 million) to be selected in the 2015 All Star Game and won GQ’s Man of the Year; all in all, it was a pretty good year

This season, Curry and The Warriors have entered overdrive, they’ve shattered NBA records for their unbeaten start to the season (24 games on the bounce, the longest such run in any professional team sport in the US), triggering (slightly premature) speculation about whether they are the greatest NBA team ever.

Curry for three
Over recent seasons NBA teams have become increasingly reliant on three-point shooting, typically the responsibility of a team’s shooting guard who’ll find some space on the perimeter and await a pass from his point guard (the team’s playmaker). As the point guard throws the ball, one of the team’s bigger forwards will set a screen to obstruct opposition players from blocking the incoming shot. The shooting guard gets an unopposed, open shot from beyond the arc. Easy money. Three points.

Steph Curry is now widely regarded as the best three-point shooter in the game. But Steph Curry is different.

He plays point guard, so as well as being the sharp shooter, he’s also the chief creator. Curry dribbles the ball up court looking to generate his own openings to fire shots away.

He has a distinctive quick-release action, and can move seamlessly from dribbling the ball to shooting. When he shoots he uses a high trajectory, which, combined with his action and pace, makes his long-range shots virtually unblockable.

He’s 6ft 3in and is usually marked by a small player who won’t have the arm length to block his shot. Teams have tried to put taller blocking specialists on him, but Curry possesses incredible handling skills and just dribbles the ball around them. Despite lacking size he’s also developed his ability to score from close range. They’ve tried to double team him, but this leaves one of Curry’s teammates unmarked elsewhere on the court and his passing is pinpoint enough to find Klay Thompson (Golden State’s other three-point specialist), who’ll drain uncontested threes all day. When Curry’s hot like he is right now, he’s absolutely uncontainable.

Last year – his MVP year – he averaged 23.8 pts per game, 7.7 assists, spending an average of 33 minutes on court. So far this year he’s averaged around 34 minutes per game, averaging 6.3 assists but taking on far more shots for a 29.3 points per game average. In terms of points per minute, these are better numbers than LeBron has ever managed. Better than Jordan ever managed. The Warriors’ record may have dipped below 100% , but only just and Curry is shooting the ball like a robot. 

Golden State Warriors celebrating (Getty Images, David Dow/NBAE)

 

Small ball specialists
Before we get too carried away, it’s worth reminding ourselves that basketball is a team game. With Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, Curry has helped form a formidable starting five.

In last season’s NBA Finals The Warriors were trailing 2-1 to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavs. GSW coach Steve Kerr switched things up tactically, pioneering the latest evolution in “small ball”. Small ball is a playing style which roughly relies less on the height of the individual players in the team and more on their ability to spread the ball around the court, stretch the opposition’s defense and utilise the open space (rather than breathless, end-to-end basketball). Barnes, Green and Iguodala often concede three or four inches in height to their opposite numbers, but compensate with superior speed and tactical nous.

Small ball isn’t a brand new phenomenon, but GSW has taken the tactic and honed it to the nth degree. Their bigger opponents now have to stumble around defending around the perimeter rather than beneath the basket.

Once GSW has spread the opposition across the floor, several of their players can damage the opposition from three-point territory. Curry, Thompson and Iguodala are all devastating perimeter shooters. They create clever, smarter screens than their opponents. GSW plays a team game, rotating personnel on the court. So far this season, Curry has sat out of most fourth quarters.

Offensively they’re incredible, but they’re not bad defensively either. The number of threes GSW scores forces their opponents to start shooting from the perimeter in order to keep up. GSW’s main strength is the team’s versatility; four of the starting five (Curry excluded) are elite quality defenders who can defend a number of positions. It’s rare that a team ranks so highly both on offense and defense.

Killer crossover
Basketball has long been accused of being a game for freaks: LeBron is built like a freight train; Kevin Durant is Stretch Armstrong in human form; Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis are both nearly 7ft. Few humans can hope to emulate their feats on court.

Curry, at 6ft 3in, is by comparison one of the smaller players on any NBA court. This is perhaps his most enduring quality, and what gives him genuine crossover appeal; he looks like a human playing basketball. It’s what brings hordes of opposition fans to games an hour early to see him warm up; the opportunity to witness a player in the white-hot form of his life. He’s one pretty good reason why you should stay up late and watch basketball this year.

Watch the 2015-16 NBA season live on BT Sport or via NBA LEAGUEPASS (www.nba.tv) 

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